Friday, September 20, 2013

Courthouse (Not So) Proud

While he was Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker was notorious for his willful neglect of county
property and had racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and repairs.  His successor and protege, Chris Abele is keeping the tradition of letting things go to rot while he lounged at his favorite coffee shop and/or exclusive club.

The most recent reported result of this unhealthy adoration of austerity occurred on July 6, 2013, when the Milwaukee County Courthouse caught on fire.  It was quickly apparent to everyone but Abele's most ardent apologists that Abele was busy plotting with his fellow plutocrats at Greater Milwaukee Committee on how to usurp control of the county, which caused him to first delay getting an inspection done of all county buildings and then willfully failing to act on the recommendations from the inspection.

Initial reports claimed that the damage was only half a million dollars. That number quickly grew to $2 million and the majority of the courthouse had to be closed for two weeks.  Even as Abele started to reopen the courthouse, it was pretty obvious that it was not ready as that the power was insufficient to keep the building cooled off during a severe hot spell, causing workers and visitors to become ill.

It is being reported now that the damage from the fire has climbed to $6 million and that it's sill climbing. Don Tyler, Abele's Director of Administrative Services has finally admitted that the insurance might not cover the full cost of the repairs and clean up, but sandwiched that admission between a couple of lies (emphasis mine):
He said he could not estimate how high the eventual damage amount will be.

Tyler also said he had no information on the cause of the fire. That's under investigation by a firm hired by the state insurance fund, he said.

County auditors also are conducting a review of the cause and costs of the fire.

Under questioning by supervisors, Tyler said it was possible some costs of the fire may not be covered by insurance if it's shown that the courthouse electrical equipment wasn't properly maintained.

Supervisor Gerry Broderick suggested that deferred maintenance "and not replacing malfunctioning parts" played a role in the fire.

Tyler called that "pure conjecture." He said nothing had been turned up yet on the cause.
Tyler was either lying when he said that Broderick's statement was pure conjecture or he was calling his boss a liar, since it was just days after the fire broke out that Abele admitted that it was the faulty equipment (again, emphasis mine):
The fire began at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in a large basement utility room with numerous electrical systems inside. Fire officials estimated the cost of the damage to the building at $368,000, and the property damage inside was estimated at $150,000.

"Some equipment is older than it probably should be," Abele said of the utility room's contents.
It should be noted that Michael Horne, reporting for Urban Milwaukee, points out that there had been previous concerns about the archaic electrical system in the courthouse:
The Milwaukee County Courthouse was closed for two days after an electrical fire on July 6th. But signs of hazardous conditions in the downtown complex should have been evident as early as June 21st.

On that day, Court Commissioner Barry Slagle, who was presiding at his desk in the criminal intake court in the criminal justice facility, received a tremendous electrical shock when he reached forward to adjust his microphone.

Underscoring the seriousness of the situation, Slagle has not returned to work, nearly three months after the accident. Circuit Court Administrator Bruce Harvey confirmed the accident, as did other court officials, including a judge. Asked if Slagle is OK, Harvey said, “I will not comment on the medical condition of court officials,” but confirmed that Slagle has not been back to the courthouse since the accident.
On a final note, I would point out that when Abele finally did open the courthouse, even though it was obviously not done being cleaned and repaired, Abele tried to distract the public from remembering his role in the fire by having a pep rally-like event, having banners and t-shirts with the words "Courthouse Proud" and a mock up of the Blue Fist which became popular during the Act 10 protests. At the time of Abele's self-serving and tainted fanfare, Dave Eisner, contract administrator for AFSCME District Council 48, made it clear that this was not a smart move by Abele:
The "Courthouse Proud" logo features four blue upraised fists and forearms as pillars on the courthouse against a red background.

The much publicized and widely reprinted blue fist on "Stand with Wisconsin" posters during the 2011 battle over collective bargaining at the Capitol has just one clenched fist, blue against a red background.

David Eisner, contract administrator for District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the banner and shirts won't sit well with many employees.

Abele is "trying to distract or distort the real issue and make it into kind of a pep rally thing," Eisner said. The courthouse's aging electrical infrastructure should have been maintained better so the fire didn't happen, he said.

"It's a buncha crap, that's what I say," said Eisner.
I had a chance to speak with Eisner on Thursday evening. I asked his opinion of the latest round of news regarding the courthouse ongoing state of repair. Eisner said, and I quote:
I say it's still a a buncha crap.

My suggestion for Abele would be to redo the logo from fists to a row of hands doing a facepalm. Not only would it be appropriate for his bungled leadership leading up to and after the fire, but it would also serve as an appropriate backdrop for when he delivers his proposed budget next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment