Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Alternative Reporting" Offers Alternative To The Truth

As popular opinion keeps turning against the power grab being pulled off by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, his fellow plutocrats at the Greater Milwaukee Committee and State Representative Joe "Cab King" Sanfelippo, the supporters of this ill-advised and misbegotten stunt are getting more desperate in trying to defend it.

Sadly, I'm not referring to just the hired trolls either.

Bruce Murphy, who is now writing at the blog Urban Milwaukee, has been pushing credibility in an effort to persuade people to support this unsupportable move to usurp control of Milwaukee County and place in the hands of one man - Chris Abele.

Most recently, he has taken umbrage with an article written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Schultze, which takes a closer look at the power grab bill which was finally revealed by Sanfelippo after many false starts.

Murphy sniped that Schultze was misleading his readers by inaccurately reporting what is really in the bill, all but accusing Schultze of making it up out of whole cloth:
Schultze, for instance, claims the bill gives the executive “the authority to hire as many staff as he wishes for the county executive’s office.” Nonsense. The executive’s budget would have to be approved, as before, by the county board. “The most powerful control the board has is the power of the purse strings,” Sanfelippo notes. “What Schultze wrote is completely misleading.”

Schultze also wrote that the county exec “would gain power through authority for all contracts.” Also misleading. The exec can now approve any contract worth less than $50,000. The legislation would increase that to $100,000. For any contract worth $100,000 to $300,000, if just one board member objected, a full vote of the board would then be required to approve it. And for any contract of more than $300,000, board approval is automatically required.

Schultze writes that the board “also would lose its power to change terms of any proposed sale or lease of county property.” True, the board would not be able to renegotiate deals, but it would retain the power to set the parameters and policies for any sale or lease agreement, and the executive would have to follow those. Once a deal is negotiated within those parameters, the board would have the choice of approving the deal or not. “This forces the executive to work more closely with the board to make sure the deal gets approved,” Sanfelippo notes.
Dan Cody applauded Murphy's hit piece and offered a few kicks of his own:
For the record, I completely agree that the JS reporter in question suffers from the same problem most in his profession do: he can't burn his sources. It's true in sports reporting and political reporting and has been rearing it's head in local political reporting for years before this issue. That said, I find Steve to be a nice guy who works hard and have nothing against him.

What's become interesting to me about this whole issue is just how willing some third party groups are willing to make this their Waterloo.
The real problem here is that it is not Schultze who is doing the misleading. It is Murphy and Cody that are incorrect with their facts.

As I had pointed out in my coverage of the power grab bill, the bill was accompanied by a memorandum written by Anna Henning, a staff attorney with the Wisconsin Legislative Council. The lines that Murphy and Cody accuse Schultze of fabricating, or at least conflating, come directly from this memorandum.

To address the three issues that are in the above-cited section of Murphy's diatribe, let's look at the memo.

On the bottom of page 5 of the memo, Attorney Henning has this bullet point under "Additional Authorities of the Milwaukee County Executive":
Hire and supervise the number of employees that the County Executive reasonably believes are necessary to carry out the duties of the County Executive’s office.
So Schultze is right on the money with that one.

Right below this bullet point is footnote number 5 which reads:
The bill specifies that no contract with Milwaukee County is valid unless it is signed or countersigned by the Milwaukee County Executive.
Again, Schultze is true to the memo, Murphy's complaint is not.

As for the third issue that Murphy brings up, well, Abele is currently supposed to be following the policy set forth by the County Board, but just like his predecessor Scott Walker, Abele has simply refused to do so.

Abele refused to have his staff live in Milwaukee County, which is a requirement per county policy. Abele had proposed to give half a million taxpayer dollars away as bonuses, again in violation of county policy. Abele is trying to shut down the mental health complex on his own, which is against county policy.  The list could go on for a bit more too.

So while Murphy admits that Schultze is accurate on this account, he then makes a false statement himself regarding the county executive's need to "work with the board."

As the gentle reader can plainly see, Schultze is true to the memo, which was written by an independent lawyer, not a Teapublican politician with an ax to grind.

So, I guess, in a way, one could say that the pro-plutocratic power grab bloc is upset with Schultze's accuracy in his article.

But not because it is misleading.  Rather, they are upset because it accurately shows that this is nothing but an unjustified and unjustifiable power grab.


  1. Ummm I suggest you read the entire memo. There's a section on contracts titled "Process for Approval of Contracts." And in regards to the discussion of executive hiring, the point is the board still has to approve the budget.. hence "the power of the purse strings" quote.

    1. Dave, sorry about the stutter.

      Why pay Supervisors at all? As long as they still have, "the power of the purse?"

      When is Rep. Sanfelippo going to repay all the money he claims now that he didn't earn as a County Supervisor.

      Why isn't he starting this with the Wisconsin Assembly? Using your tortured logic, they provide a far greater level of duplication and expense than the County Board.

  2. I did. I also saw the bigger picture. The supervisors will become nothing than puppets for the county executive. Any illusion of the board "controlling the purse strings" is just that, illusion. Besides, as I wrote, if you had read the entire article, Abele is not exactly staying within his role now. Why should anyone believe this will change when he has full control?

  3. 1. The board will still vote on the budget.

    2. And the memo clearly lays out the contract approval process that Bruce's refers to.

    3. Full Control? It doesn't give him full control..

    1. 1. The Board won't know what they are voting on since there will be no analysts. The executive could sneak anything in there.

      2. See number one.

      3. A supervisor will not be allowed to do their job unless the Executive approves of the request to be allowed to. Yeah, full control.

    2. Dave, glad you lost the stutter.

      No one was talking about "reform," until the Board refused to waive Brian Taffora's residency requirement (January 2013).

      "Taffora and Abele reunited at CSA Commercial"

      Below is from CSA Commercial's website:

      "....Our success is contingent upon the success of our tenants and our investors. We offer operational efficiency for our tenants and superior returns for our investors. Our commitment of capital to every deal aligns our interests with those of our investor partners....."

      One possible interpretation, among many, is that Mr. Abele wanted to "socialize" Mr. Taffora's salary onto the taxpayers. When the Board wouldn't let him, Mr. Abele was forced to pay him out of his own pocket.

      In your opinion Dave, is that a fair reading of what happened. If not, please provide an alternative.

  4. Dave, what would Mr. Abele have gotten done, if the Supervisors had not opposed him?

  5. Dave,

    We so often hear on the news that, "the private sector does it better/more efficiently than government."

    What percentage is Supervisor pay and support of the total County budget?

    How does it compare with private sector operations with a similar budget?

  6. If it hadn't been for a County Supervisor, Karl Strelnick, M.D. would still be billing Medicaid to sexually assault his female patients.

    "Strelnick quit before Milwaukee County could hold disciplinary hearing"

    If it had not been for a County Supervisor, John Chianelli would still be a "Department" head at Milwaukee County and female patients would be getting pregnant from sexual assaults.

    "Out of chaos, a baby is born"

    Please name that Supervisor and explain why no one on Scott Walker's staff halted those felonies?

    Please explain why you think local government needs less robust oversight.

  7. John Casper is amazing. Where is your blog, Mr. Casper?

  8. Danimal, thanks, I don't have my own blog.

    Just trying to share experience accumulated over many years.