Gov. Tony Evers’ top Comms director did not receive any written performance evaluations despite her $112,008 taxpayer-funded salary, Wisconsin Right Now has learned through an open records request.
Evers chose her as his spokesperson with no other applications and no job posting, we’ve learned, although state law allows governors to forgo the civil service process when picking their office staff.
“Performance of all Governor’s Office employees is evaluated on an ongoing basis and is typically provided verbally,” the governor’s legal counsel wrote WRN in a letter.
We asked Evers’ office for “any documents indicating who conducted the evaluations of Britt Cudaback from 2019 to present” and for the “personnel evaluations/performance evaluations of Britt Cudaback from 2019 to present.”
By using passive voice (“is evaluated”), Evers’ legal counsel wrote around WHO evaluated Cudaback verbally, if at all.
Read the legal counsel’s letter here:
Although state statutes give governors a lot of latitude in how they hire, evaluate, and manage their office team (they don’t have to follow the rigorous civil service hiring process), Cudaback’s employment is a very unique case. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this line should spare you an exhaustive story explaining that Scott Walker did it too…)
What makes this case different from past governors’ office staffs: It’s alleged that Evers’ powerful chief of staff, Maggie Gau, is in a romantic relationship with Cudaback, whom she supervises, according to an email Cudaback sent to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice, and which WRN obtained through an open records request.
On Sept. 4, we asked Cudaback, Evers’ top spokesperson, “Is Maggie Gau still supervising you?” and received no response. On Nov. 22, 2023, we asked Evers’ office, “You say Britt Cudaback’s personnel evaluations were made verbally. WHO made them? Who conducted her personnel evaluations?” We received no response.
The governor’s legal counsel’s letter to WRN provides no evidence that Evers has built an office firewall to prevent Gau from evaluating or continuing to supervise Cudaback, whose pay increased dramatically from $62,000 as deputy comms director in 2019 to $112,008 as comms director in 2023.
It’s unclear how the governor is making sure Cudaback’s evaluations are fair. It’s all a recipe for disaster; should litigation ever arise from the relationship, taxpayers would be on the hook because both are public employees.
Bice reported that Cudaback and Gau appeared to live together, and this was causing consternation among some office staff.
The vagueness about how Cudaback’s performance is evaluated and by whom continues a troubling pattern of non-transparency from the Evers’ administration when it comes to the alleged abuse of power. Evers has claimed it’s no one’s business whether a supervisor dates a subordinate in his office, and, as we reported Sunday, Cudaback spearheaded an extraordinary attempt by the governor’s office to pressure the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to censor the story.
Evers told Bice, “One of my jobs as governor is to monitor the performance of my staff, and I believe they are doing a good job.” But there’s no record of that when it comes to Cudaback, whose salary is paid by taxpayers.
Sources told Bice that “the relationship was creating a difficult environment in Evers’ office, especially because they believe no one can raise concerns to Gau about her partner,” and he added that concerns were being raised by Democrats.
“Britt Cudaback was appointed as deputy communications director, effective January 7, 2019,” the governor’s legal counsel wrote WRN in response to our open records request. We received the response the day before Thanksgiving.
“In this position, Cudaback reported directly to the communications director. Cudaback was promoted to communications director effective November 8, 2020. The decision to promote Cudaback as communications director was made by the Governor.”
The governor’s office also said that there was no job posting or other applications for Cudaback’s position as comms director but noted that this is not unusual because gubernatorial office positions are at the governor’s discretion and not subject to civil service protections seen in other areas of state government.
The office added: “The Governor’s Office does not utilize the personnel management system that is used to fill civil service positions throughout state government, including the performance evaluation rubrics that may be seen at other state agencies. Wis. Stat. §14.02 provides that ‘[t]he governor may appoint and fix the compensation of such employees as he or she deems necessary for the execution of the functions of the office of the governor and for the domestic service of the executive residence. The governor may remove any of the appointees appointed under this section at pleasure.”
The governor’s office continued: “As such, particularly for senior staff positions, there are not job postings and applications are not specifically solicited. The Governor’s Office would also note that performance of all Governor’s Office employees is evaluated on an ongoing basis and is typically provided verbally.”