New details emerge in audit of Department of Human Services

More information revealed about the audit of the Eau Claire County Board, as investigation continues


Photo by Miles Plueger

“There is no missing money,” Smiar said. “These are management issues, not criminal issues.”

“All of this comes on the heels of one of the biggest scandals in the state of Wisconsin,” Steve Chilson, an Eau Claire County Board supervisor, said. 

As the investigation of the Department of Human Services continues, a company that is affiliated with the DHS had their financial documents searched by the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Department last week, according to an article in WEAU.

The scandal, Chilson said, occurred three years ago when the county treasurer and his deputy were caught embezzling nearly $1.3 million. 

Because of overspending, financial errors and theft, Chilson and supervisor Mark Beckfield said there were grounds for an audit of the DHS.

Instead of bringing it to the attention of the Board though, Chilson and Beckfield went to the Sheriff, County Board Chairperson Nick Smiar said. 

According to an article in The Leader-Telegram, two supervisors (Chilson and Beckfield) went to the Sheriff with support of a “double-digit” number of supervisors in favor of having an audit.

This resulted in the investigation, and the audit, being taken out of the hands of the Board and out of public view, Smiar said. 

Chilson said he was not able to comment on how many supervisors had his support and why he and Beckfield decided to go to the Sheriff first about the audit request, instead of the Board.

Smiar said he could not speak to why Chilson and Beckfield went to the Sheriff first, but he said he could speak on behalf of their behavior.

“They are acting outside of their authority,” Smiar said.

Eau Claire County Board members are not supposed to act on their own, Smiar said. They have an obligation to the Board first, and their liberties to act as private citizens come second. 

Whatever the motivation may be, Smiar said, he believes it was deliberate. 

However, support for the audit doesn’t stop at a handful of Board members and the Sheriff, Chilson said. The county treasurer, the district attorney and lead auditor for CliftonLarsonAllen, which oversees audits for the county, are all on board.

“I want to go where the facts take us,” Chilson said, “take it out of the county board supervisor’s hands for a second.”

On Oct. 14, WEAU reported financial documents from Alia were seized as part of the ongoing investigation. 

Alia is a non-profit organization that works with companies for management consultation, Smiar said. They began working with the county since budget overages began in the DHS, he said. 

The original consultation they received was free of charge — however — the DHS asked for additional help in management leadership, which was a fee of $70,000, Smiar said. 

According to Smiar, the contract made for this was legal because the county has been making contracts like that for 35 years under the authority of the Board’s rules.

Now, Smiar said, county administration has sought outside counsel from a law firm, Weld Riley, in order to offer individual protections to Board members. 

The legal team for the county was unable to represent them due to conflicts of interest, Smiar said.

Read the first coverage on the DHS audit here.

Plueger can be reached at [email protected].