Health Secretary Smith departs with budget unresolved - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Health Secretary Smith departs with budget, court case unresolved

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Courtesy: AP Courtesy: AP
MADISON (WKOW) -- With battles over the budget for pivotal health programs looming, state health services secretary Dennis Smith left his key position Friday.
 
A spokesperson for Governor Walker said Smith's resignation was unrelated to an ongoing, domestic violence case involving Smith's former chief legal counsel.
 
"No (connection)," said Governor's spokesperson Cullen Werwie.
 
Court records involving Smith were sealed Thursday afternoon by a Dane County judge, hours after 27 News reviewed the records, and reported they described emails between Smith and former chief legal counsel Mary Spear as "sensitive."
 
Governor Walker announced Smith's resignation Friday morning, naming deputy secretary Kitty Rhoades as department secretary. Medicaid and other health programs are housed within the department, and the department is the beneficiary of the largest amount of money budgeted to any department, in Walker's spending plan unveiled Tuesday.

Smith's resignation letter thanks Walker for "...stabilizing the Medicaid program," and states Smith has accepted an unspecified position in the private sector. A news release from Washington, D.C, law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP announced Smith is joining the firm as a managing director of the firm's health policy practice.

The court records are part of an attempted homicide case against Andrew Spear, who is accused of setting his wife on fire. Mary Spear was also DHS chief legal counsel, and Andrew Spear has maintained trouble between the couple was sparked by an affair between his wife and Smith. Last August, Smith issued a statement denying any affair.
 
In an affidavit submitted by Spear to the court, Spear said he saw an email in which his wife expressed love for Smith, with Smith responding, "My dearest, I did not know that you had called. I am sorry you think I left you. Stupidity left my blackberry at the office."
 
Smith's former attorney, Robert Jambois, told 27 News Spear's perception of an affair was consistent with "...the (abuser) pathology of domestic violence."

The records reviewed by 27 News also included statements by Smith to Madison police investigators. The documents state Smith described some of the emails between himself and Mary Spear as "sensitive." The records are part of court motions filed by Andrew Spear's attorney in an attempt by Spear to view his wife's computer, cell phone, and medical records. Spear has denied attempting to kill his wife.
 
Judge William Hanrahan sealed court records in response to a motion from Mary Spear's attorney, who argued Spear's medical information should not be in the public domain.

A DHS spokesperson says Spear resigned as legal counsel Sept. 7.
 
Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families praised Smith's tenure. The council advocates for the broadest possible health coverage for low-income people. Peacock told 27 News council representatives have "tangled" with Smith and Walker administration officials over the state's decision to reject federal money to expand Medicaid, and instead shift previous recipients to coming, federal health insurance exchanges, but said Smith's extensive expertise in health care management will be missed.
 
DHS spokesperson Claire Smith said Dennis Smith's resignation is effective Feb. 28.
 
Smith returned no phone calls to 27 News.
 
Andrew Spear's next scheduled court appearance is Mar. 13.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith has resigned.
 
Governor Scott Walker announced Friday morning that he will appoint Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades in his place. The department is in charge of overseeing the state's Medicaid programs.
 
Smith had been at the forefront of Walker's opposition to the federal health care law and testified before Congress about it.
 
27 News' Tony Galli reported Thursday an attorney's court filing this week challenged Smith's claims that he maintained only a platonic relationship with his chief legal counsel. You can read about the story here.
 
Smith says in his resignation letter he's accepting a job in the private sector that starts March 1. He did not say where the job was.
  
"I would like to thank Dennis for his service to the State of Wisconsin—because of his efforts Medicaid is now on a sustainable path," said Governor Walker.  "Kitty has the qualities necessary to lead the Department of Health Services and I am confident her long history of active involvement in health care issues will serve Wisconsin very well."
 
Prior to being appointed to her current position in January 2011, Rhoades served in the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1999 until her retirement in 2010.  During her legislative service, Deputy Secretary Rhoades served as the co-chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Finance and served on the Health and the Aging and Long-Term Care standing committees.
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