MADISON — This is how incompetent Gov. Tony Evers’ bloated bureaucracy is:
The agency charged with licensing and regulating businesses in Wisconsin is investigating an Appleton hair salon owner for failing to comply with a state order invalidated three months ago by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Trey Armstrong, an investigator for the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), sent Kingdom Kutz owner Jessica Netzel an email advising her that the agency had received a complaint against her.
“The Division of Legal Services and Compliance is conducting an investigation of this complaint and I have been assigned as the investigator,” Armstrong wrote in the email, dated July 24. He demanded Netzel provide a “detailed written response” to the attached complaint by no later than Aug. 7.
The “complaint” is actually just a copy of a report written by Captain Todd Freeman of the Appleton Police Department. Captain Todd tells DSPS that Netzel was issued a formal cease and desist order by the PD “after being found to be in violation of the governor’s order on May 6, 2020.”
There was no order issued on May 6. Evers and state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm issued Emergency Order No. 35 on May 3. It does involve DSPS.
That edict, however, was issued just 10 days before the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the Evers administration’s expanded lockdown, ruling that the state needed to confer with the Wisconsin Legislature if it wanted to extend its original stay-at-home orders beyond the 60-day statutory limit.
So the Department of Safety and Professional Services is claiming to investigate an alleged violation of an order that has been invalid since May 13.
“Importantly, the private complaint predates the decision of this state’s highest court, which authoritatively ruled that the Order mentioned in the private complaint is an unlawful order,” Joe Voiland, the hair salon’s attorney, wrote last week to DSPS agent Armstrong in an email obtained by Empower Wisconsin.
In the same email, the attorney noted that Armstrong had indicated that he was unable to identify any statute, rule or other provision that allows DSPS to conduct such an investigation. Voiland told Empower Wisconsin that when he asked the agent directly about his authority, Armstrong said, “I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.”
“While DSPS received a private complaint, we still have not seen that entire complaint, and you were unable to identify anything that DSPS alleges that Ms. Netzel or Kingdom Kuts did wrong,” Voiland wrote.
In the heavily redacted police complaint, Captain Todd notes that the salon owner, “wanted to argue about the constitutionality of the order, which is not for local law enforcement to do.”
“She was told future violations would result in a referral to the district attorney for a criminal charge each day she is open and practicing salon services in violation of the order,” the captain wrote.
Salons and barber shops, among many businesses shut down by Evers’ original statewide lockdown issued during the first wave of the pandemic, were under no such obligation to follow an extended order that the Supreme Court ruled invalid (and, really, unconstitutional) in May.
That same month, Kingdom Kutz filed a lawsuit against Evers’ order on constitutional grounds.
Also troubling is the fact that neither Voiland or his client could reach the government investigator by phone. Armstrong noted that he has been mostly working from home over the past several months and has had a hard time accessing his office phone messages.
On Friday, DSPS continued to note on its webpage that it is “experiencing problems” with its phone lines. “Callers may experience difficulty connecting or their calls may be dropped,” the webpage warns. The agency encourages customers to contact its bureaucrats vial email.
Voiland asked for either an in-person meeting or a video conference to discuss the matter. Armstrong said he might be able to make it on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“If you call again on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30 am and 4 pm, I most likely will answer. I will not be able to access any calls made to me on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays,” Armstrong told Voiland in an email earlier this month.
The Evers government at work.