Economic group official says his personal finance issues give him rare insight into his job

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
— Fred Burkhardt’s admits his personal finances aren’t in the best shape.

But the executive vice president of the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance said experiencing a business failure and personal financial struggles helps him connect with businesses at a level that few economic leaders can match.

“What I’m experiencing personally is unfortunate, but it’s not a unique situation to me, nor it’s a unique situation in the rest of the world,” he said.

The Walworth County Economic Development Alliance is a partnership between businesses and county government intended to attract and support local business owners.

Some have questioned how Burkhardt can be relied on to support businesses if his personal finances are a mess.

Walworth County Board Supervisor Dan Kilkenny raised concerns over Burkhardt’s personal finances and how it could affect his ability to run the economic development alliance.

Burkhardt said the $480,000 judgment against him stems from closing his Delavan restaurant, the Heritage House. He said extenuating family circumstances contributed to his inability to keep the business running.

“There were a number of family issues that played into this that neither my wife nor I had any control over,” he said. “This whole process cost us the business and this half a million dollar lawsuit.”

In these tough economic times, Burkhardt said, that’s something that could happen to any business owner.

In a letter to the county board, Kilkenny wrote that he wanted to seek an audit or financial review of the economic development alliance, partly due to Burkhardt’s “serious financial problems.”

“I am not suggesting that something is necessarily amiss with WCEDA’s finances because of the executive vice president’s personal financial problems, nor am I making any accusations,” the supervisor wrote.

“But I think that if you asked a professional auditor, they would advise that an audit would probably be in order under the circumstances.”

Kilkenny wrote that the county board’s lack of oversight and its unwillingness to judge the economic development alliance and its officials objectively would cause embarrassment to the county board.

“Also, given Mr. Burkhardt’s position and his public representations as an expert adviser and as an instructor on financial business matters, these problems may call into question his ability to credibly be the public face and manager of the organization or promote its programs,” he wrote.

County board supervisors last month decided against considering the subject.

Burkhardt said his job performance is unaffected by his financial struggles. During the time he lost his business and accrued $480,000 in debt, he brought in about $5.7 million worth of grants to county businesses, he said.

And Burkhardt is not hiding anything.

“It somewhat amazes me that the county board would think about looking at this now, when it’s been out in public for a while,” he said. “I’ve never denied it. Anybody who knows me knew about it.”

Last updated: 12:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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