Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scott Walker Ruined My Christmas

For the one or two of you out there that aren't already aware of it, my name is Chris Liebenthal. I am a social worker for Milwaukee County, working with disabled adults. For the moment, anyway. And no, I am not eligible for the pension enhancers or life long health care benefits. Those were ended before I was hired by the County.

I have repeated argued against Scott Walker's policies and budget proposals, not because of my job, but because I have often thought they were short-sighted and felt that they would often end up in disastrous results. Unfortunately, I have always been proven correct.

One of the most recent subjects that I have been critical of was Walker's willful failure to fully staff the public assistance call center, like I did here, here and here. The call center had been fully funded to have a staffing of 25 workers, yet Walker has refused to fill those positions. In fact, they are usually running at about one quarter to one third of full capability.

Walker's argument was to save money by not paying those "expensive" workers. Yet, even though Walker has willfully failed to fill 717 positions countywide, he still had a deficit in the millions of dollars. He has yet to explain where all that money went.

Furthermore, there is now a federal lawsuit against the County for failure to provide necessary services to Milwaukee's most needy. On top of that, the State of Wisconsin has refused to give a multimillion dollar contract for job training programming to Milwaukee County due to its inability to handle the call center or the food share program.

Now, you can imagine my dismay on Christmas morning, as I anticipated family and friends coming over for a dinner that I was going to prepare, to bring in the morning paper and seeing, on the front page, an article reporting that the State is now considering taking away money that would directly affect my job:

Milwaukee County officials are pleading with the state not to trim major contracts for programs that help the poor, elderly and disabled.

State leaders say bungling by the county in running its public assistance call center and food share program put them on alert and led to a denial of a related $2.4 million job training grant. The state also is considering shifting at least part of the contract for operating an expanded Family Care program to a private vendor. The program provides community-based services to seniors and people with disabilities.

My heart just dropped. As I read, it got worse (emphasis mine):

The ongoing struggle by the county on how to improve service at the call center was a key area of concern, he said. Short staffing at the center for more than a year has led to thousands of unanswered calls from poor residents on applying for or renewing food and child care aid.

A federal lawsuit against the state and the county claims that deserving clients have been unfairly denied benefits, in part due to the call center problems. County Executive Scott Walker has pushed for outsourcing the operation as a way to hire more help, but the County Board has resisted that move.

"This is something we should be able to do and do well," Holloway said. He's concerned the state might take over the programs, the board chairman said.

The state's main goal has been to prod the county to run its food stamp and other aid programs better, said Seth Bofelli, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Services.

"Our top priority is to make sure the problems with the call center and high error rates (on food stamps) are addressed," Bofelli said. The state's denial of the training grant over those issues was "unprecedented," he said.

Walker's decision this month to add more county staff to the call center after his efforts to privatize the operation stalled was a positive step, but long overdue, Bofelli said. However, the county "just has not been able to show sustained improvement," he said.

In other words, I just found out, on Christmas morning, that my job was in jeopardy due to Walker's short-sightedness and incompetence. The unions warned him that he was making a mistake. The County Board warned him of this as well. But he dismissed both in his arrogance and his obsession with running for governor. All he could think of is what would make him look good to the voters in his perpetual run for governor.

Why is it only the County Board and the unions that are lobbying the state to leave this contract with the County. Where is Walker? Why isn't he, you know, actually showing some leadership by advocating once for his own County? Instead, we get talk about "his preference":

Unlike Walker's push for privatization in other areas, the county executive is adamant about his preference to run Family Care with county workers.

"We are very good at it," he said. "There really isn't any need" to bring in private firms to run the program, Walker said.

Yeah, well, there wasn't any need for the other jobs that he privatized either, but he did it anyway. Now, the County is risking losing hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue due to his foolishness.

I have to agree with Board Chairman Lee Holloway on this:

Holloway also said he's concerned that Walker's political ambitions could harm the county's ability to get or keep state contracts. Walker ran as a Republican for governor in 2005 but dropped out. He's widely expected to make another run for the job Democrat Doyle has held since 2003.

Walker said he doubted that would be a problem. He said the bigger concern will be how the county fares in the upcoming state budget. A projected $5.4 billion deficit could lead to painful cuts passed along to counties, Walker said.

If Walker is worried about possible cuts in funding, why is he always giving them all the excuses they could possibly need to cut funding?

If Walker worked in the private sector, he would have been shown the door a long time ago. He has continuously cut services and the quality of services that remain, to the point of costing more in lawsuits and penalties than he saved in the first place. He continually shows the people that pays his company that they can't trust him with his responsibilities. Yet he does this time after time after time, expecting different results. Isn't that the definition of insanity?

I know that Walker hasn't held a real job in his life, so he might not be aware of the importance of a resume. Things like finishing school, even if you had your butt handed to you in a school election, by a write-in candidate nonetheless, is a sign of character. Dropping out isn't. Doing well in your previous jobs is also very important.

Perhaps someone should advise Walker about that. Maybe, instead of worrying about running for higher office, he should worry about doing the job he has now. That would be a pleasant change fo pace from him and a good way to start the New Year. And if he cannot handle the job, which is becoming painfully apparent to be the case, then it is time we show him the door, while we still have a County to salvage.


  1. Hmmmm.

    If Joe X were to become a County worker in your department tomorrow, would he have to belong to a union?

    That's curiosity, not contention, Chris...

  2. Any employee has the option of not joining the union. But then, they lose all priveleges related to it. There have been one or two that have done so, but even the most anti-union people (yes, we have several) don't want to give up those rights.

  3. On further review, it also depends on what position. Obviously, management are not represented positions. Nor are anything with Human Resources.

    The people that MJS has been reporting on with the big pensions lately are all non-represented positions.

  4. They have a choice to join the union. Hmmm. I have been employed several places. The companies with unions, you become a union member. The companies without said unions, tada - no union.

    It was just understood that you belong to the union, if a union was present.


    Everything is so about choices!

  5. Hey WW,

    Welcome. If I knew you were coming, I would have tidied up the place. :)

    When new employees go through orientation, they are given forms to fill out to join the union. They can refuse to sign it then, or they can rescind their membership later.

    The issue is more of the conservatives trying to prevent unions from forming. They try to bully people from starting an union. That is why they fear the Employee Free Choice Act so much.

    But yes indeed, choice is important.

  6. OK--it's an open shop.

    What are the privileges of union membership you mentioned?

  7. Looks like in the process of Scott Walker trying to get a job he will never get -- governor of the State of Wisconsin -- he may be making it possible for you to lose yours.

    What a soul-less hack.

  8. Dad-

    I presume you mean in specific and not the general benefits from unions - like 40 hour work weeks, paid holidays, child labor laws, etc.

    Specifically, it prevents at will firings or favoritism in promotions. Do you think I would be able to blog, even on my own time, without that protection? Note, it will not protect against illegal or non-contractual issues. I've seen the union refuse to defend the person who destroyed legal documents to cover his a$$. I've seen the union refuse to defend the worker that didn't come to work for a number of days, without approval or a doctor's excuse.

    It also prevents the County from bargaining in bad faith, preserves our rights as workers (which is why I wished my wife worked in an union shop - but that is not for public discourse), etc.

    The benefits that the non-rep people enjoy are based on the union contracts.

    I've never had to ask the union to defend me, fortunately. But I did file a joint grievance while in child welfare when case loads became unreasonably high (I had 106 kids on my load at one time).
    I also benefited by getting a chance to come back to social services before hiring went to the general public.

    There are two-edged swords as well, like seniority issues are sometimes frustrating, but no system is perfect.

    The union also allows for lobbying, like we are exercising now, to convince the state to give the contract to the County, despite Walker's failures. I would not be able to do my job and do the lobbying to fight for my job. IOW, it allows for me to focus on my job.

  9. OK. That's what I needed to know.

    By the way, I understand the history of the union movement and acknowledge that it was a good thing.

    Now, of course, the readings are mixed. Some unions are fine; others are .....ah.....ossified and barnacles (at best.)

  10. I concur with you observation. There are things about my union that I would rather do without, but overall, after working in the same field with and without the benefit of an union, I prefer being a member.

    Especially in circumstances such as I wrote of in the post.

  11. Excuse me. Make that your observation.

  12. I did a paper about unions waaaay back, I recal but one single portion of a line...

    "The prostitution of this government ..."

    It was a catchy line ;-)

    PS. Capper, no worries, you should see my place; this is spic n span!
    And thank you for the welcome :)

  13. Chris, thanks for shedding some light on what Scott Walker's done to certain parts of Milwaukee County government just so he can say he cut the size of the government. While I think any reasonable person (even us liberals) would agree that government is best when it's efficient and not bloated, sometimes cutting just for the sake of cutting isn't a wise idea.

    This is a perfect example of that.

  14. Could it possibly be that the Doyle ran DHFS is singling out a Walker-ran Milwaukee County?

    I mean, you quote Seth Bofelli of all people; he's not exactly a pillar of nonpartisanship and has a long, distinguished career as a campaign operator.

    What is the track record of other counties with these matters? Are they facing the prospect of monies being witheld? Do we honestly believe that a Falk-ran Dane County under similar pressures and alleged mismangement would have the same heavy-handed punishment and public reprimand from Seth Bofelli?

  15. @Publius: Maybe there would be nothing to "single out" if Scott Walker would fill the positions. If I'm hearing you correctly, this is all Jim Doyle's fault, not that of CE Walker.

    Accountability and taking responsibility for your actions are totally the Republican way.

  16. Publius,

    There are some spots in the state where these contracts have gone to private entities as opposed to governmental bodies. Dane Co., the last I heard, was thinking of refusing the contract because the expense to the tax levy would be too high. Walker's people are planning on at least a $12M shortfall.

    But this type of malicious, intentional neglect is a pattern for Walker. He systematically tried to dismantle mental health until the MJS ran a yearlong series. He did the same to HOC until people started to die, and a federal report showed it to be in bad shape. The transit system will be destroyed in two years if someone doesn't figure away around Walker's blockades. The list goes on and on and on.

    You cannot expect me to believe that you would tolerate this from a Democrat. Why do you defend it now?

  17. I'm neither defending Walker on this nor am I blaming Doyle.

    However, I'm merely pointing out that there appears - on first review - to be a lot of politicking surrounding the situation. Both by Walker and Doyle.

    And maybe, just maybe, that isn't necessarily a bad thing; it brings to light the very legitimate question as to what the role/relationship the feds/state/counties should have, the type/necessity of services offered, and provided there is a consensus on the above, who can best manage it...

    And those are questions that should be debated in an election; not in advocacy pieces by the state's largest newspaper or even discussed by two-bit political operatives serving time in an administration until the DNC picks him up.

    The above would provide some substance to the election as opposed to calling candidates Caribou Barbie or Diamond Jim Doyle or any other cutsie names du jour bloggers pick out to deride candidates when they are short on policy critiques.