Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Abele vs. The County Board: Openness and Transparency

As Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele continues with his quest to usurp all the power in Milwaukee County, the main argument has been whether Milwaukee County citizens would be able to maintain a representative government.

In other words, would taking away the balance between the county executive's office and the county board leave people with more or less say in what happens in the county government.

To better assess this, let's look at a few facts.

The County Board, through the leadership of Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, established Legistar, an online service that made county government much more transparent.  With a few clicks of the mouse, one is able to see what the committees or the Board as a whole will be voting on and when they are voting on it.

In respect to the call for reform of the county government, the supervisors have set up at least four hearing sessions already with more to come.  Likewise, they've also called for a state audit of the entire county to see where the most efficient and inefficient areas lie so that any decisions on where to cut will be informed and intelligent.

Furthermore, the supervisors have been active in their communities and readily accessible to their constituents.  For example, Supervisor Jason Haas has been very active setting up Friends of the Parks groups for the parks in his district.  Supervisor Peggy Romo West has likewise been very involved with Kosciusko Park and Community Center, as well as activities all about the county.  Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic made it one of her first priorities to have a listening session in each of the districts to hear the constituents' concerns.

If one looks at Chris Abele, you get the exact opposite.

Abele's administration has been just as opaque as Scott Walker's was before him, maybe even more so.

Abele has left a lot of things unexplained, such as why he fired the very popular parks director, Sue Black.  Or why he fired his public works director, Frank Busalacchi.  Or why he shifted his director of administration, Patrick Farley, to his private charity group, after working so hard to coerce the County Board in approving of his reinstatement to that position.

Heck, he doesn't even send out press releases.  The last press release he issued using the official system was six months ago.

And now it is being reported that Abele has made two very telling vetoes.

One veto is for the above-mentioned resolution for an audit of the entire county.  What is he trying to hide?  Is it that he's given such extravagant raises to his staff that he's made Walker's cronyism look like chump change?  Is it that his departments are all top heavy, including those with made up positions?  Is it that they are wasting money on silly little trinkets instead of services?

The other veto Abele issues was for a resolution requiring a plan for changes in the mental health system and a summit between state and county leaders on the way mental health is provided.  Abele called this resolution "a distraction."

What he is doing is avoiding having it revealed what a colossal failure this is.  In the past nine months that they've been working on moving all the patients in the two long term care centers at the mental health complex, they've successfully moved exactly one person out.  The fact is that there is not sufficient resources to keep some of these patients safe in the community.

His choices are either:

  • To leave the patients in the mental health complex where they will receive the care and the security they need (if he would properly staff it, that is), or 
  • Have the patients moved to the state centers (which they've been trying to close for decades) and pay more than twice the cost to keep them at the complex, or
  • Put them in the community without the proper levels of care and security.
The third option presents many perils.  One is that we will soon see the same type of stories we saw seven years ago, with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series of stories they called "Abandoning Our Mentally Ill."  

Another possibility is that we'll soon hear of stories like this one out of Florida late last year:
An inexperienced health care caseworker who visited a client at his home knew there was something that made her "very uncomfortable" about the 53-year-old man, even writing in his file that two people should visit him in the future. 
Yet 25-year-old Stephanie Ross went alone to Lucious Smith's apartment Monday morning, and police said the ex-con with a history of violence inexplicably chased her down the street, stabbing her to death with a butcher knife. 
Ross' death underscored the dangers of in-home visits by social workers and health care professionals. Some states have added safeguards to prevent attacks, such as pairing them up with another worker for home visits or assigning a police escort, but the additional measures are sometimes too costly for states and private companies. 
"It may be if the risk is too high you don't send two people out, you ask the client to come in or meet in a different place or postpone the visit," said Tracy Whitaker, of the National Association of Social Workers. "Unfortunately, the money gets found after there's a tragedy."
And later in the same article:
In 2004, Teri Zenner was fatally attacked with a knife and chain saw while visiting a client in Overland Park, Kan., to make sure he was taking his medication. The attacker was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In 2010, the state's governor signed a law requiring social workers to take six hours of safety awareness the first time they apply to have their license renewed.
But what is the life of social worker here or there if he can pretend to save  taxpayers a whole buck two eighty?!

It would seem that Abele wants to do away with the county board because they present the risk of too many eyes that could see the corruption happening and might raise the red flag on his self-serving plans.

The fact is that while the supervisors are open, transparent and interactive with their constituents, Abele apparently feels the people don't need to know what's going on and that if he wants their opinion, he'll give it to them.  

No comments:

Post a Comment