Prehn corresponded with Republican leadership about decision not to step down from Natural Resources Board, emails show

Laura Schulte
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON - The embattled chairman of the Natural Resources Board sought and received counsel from aides to Republican state Senate leadership on his decision to not vacate his seat at the end of his six-year term in May, emails show — contrary to claims he hadn't.

Frederick Prehn solicited advice from and shared information with several people since May, according to documents obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including Madison lobbyist Scott Meyer, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, and former University of Wisconsin Regent Gerald Whitburn. 

Prehn has repeatedly refused to step down from his position on the board after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced a new appointee — Sandra Dee Naas — at the end of April. He has continued to chair board meetings and participate in votes since May, as Naas has watched from the public seating area.

MORE:Calls have come for Frederick Prehn to vacate his Natural Resources Board seat. Here's why he says he isn't going anywhere

On May 25, nearly a month after his term expired, Prehn called the office of Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, to inquire about his ability to remain in his seat. 

Though details of that phone call are not available, a follow-up email was sent to the chairman by an aide to LeMahieu, including an attached memo from the Legislative Reference Bureau explaining the state statute allowing him to retain his seat until his successor is confirmed by the Senate. 

In June, Prehn told a reporter he hadn't heard anything from senators about retaining his seat.

'I am certain you know state law'

Prehn also corresponded with lobbyists. 

In an April 26 email, Prehn corresponded with Scott Meyer, a representative of the lobbying group Wisconsin Capitol Solutions, including an email on April 26. 

"I am thinking if I want to stay on Scott," he said. 

In the same email, which is titled "things to come," Prehn shared a now-dead link to an article written by associates of Madison law firm Michael Best & Freidrich LLC, about the proposed CLEAR Act, which lays out several actions to address "forever chemicals" across the state. 

"This is serious however, slim chance of passing but here is his game," Prehn said.

Prehn routinely shared emails sent from reporters with Meyer, as well as Scott Manley, the executive vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. He also shared the links to the resulting news articles with the lobbyists, as well as U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany. 

"It's only going to get worse," he said in the message to Tiffany and Meyer. "Unbelievable." 

Former UW Regent Gerald Whitburn also often corresponded with Prehn, sharing thoughts and advice with the board chairman as more articles were written about Prehn's refusal to step down. 

At one point, Whitburn urges Prehn to have someone write an op-ed to explain why the "Evers DNR agenda is not in the state's best interests."

Prehn then forwarded the advice to Meyer. 

Prehn, a Wausau dentist and cranberry farmer, has said his decision to not step down isn't based on Naas not being qualified, but because he wants to stick around for certain votes, as evidenced in several of his emails in April and May of this year.

MORE: 'Wisconsin deserves better': Advocates, public decry Prehn's refusal to leave Natural Resources Board after term expired

In past interviews, he's stated that important upcoming topics have largely fueled his desire to remain on the board, including the August vote on the fall wolf hunt quota and other votes on water quality issues. He's cited a 1964 state Supreme Court decision, which allows for a board member to remain on the board after their term expires, until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate. 

So far, leaders of the Republican-led Senate have given no indication that they plan to schedule hearings for any of Evers' appointees, including Naas. 

In one June 22 email written to Fred Clark — executive director of Wisconsin's Green Fire, a nonpartisan environmental advocacy group — Prehn repeatedly points to the Wisconsin statutes and says he has no responsibility to step down if the Legislature doesn't like Evers' appointments. 

"Maybe this isn't about politics Fred. Maybe it's about my belief in some of the major topics that face Wisconsin I will want to deal with. Maybe I have other reasons," he said. "Perhaps both the governor should put forth somebody they know the Senate will confirm and the Senators should hold a hearing. I can't control that." 

Emails also showed Prehn expected to be reappointed to the board because of the work he accomplished and his track record of three terms as board chair. 

"I feel I have done a good job as chair," he said in an April 15 email to Journal Sentinel outdoors editor Paul Smith. 

But, Prehn suggested he already had planned to remain on the board, despite previous interviews in which he insisted the decision didn't come until after criticism

"If I am not appointed, I am certain you know state law," Prehn wrote in the April 15 email, weeks before his term expired or the new appointees were announced. 

MORE: Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul files a lawsuit to remove DNR board chairman who refuses to leave his post

Prehn's refusal to step down from the board resulted this month in a lawsuit against him, filed by Attorney General Josh Kaul in Dane County Circuit Court. 

So far, the Wisconsin Legislature has filed to intervene in the case, as well as the Kansas-based hunting group Hunter Nation. No hearings have yet been set. 

Prehn did not respond to a request for an interview for this story. 

Laura Schulte can be reached at and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura