Monday, March 24, 2014

Chris Abele: Adding Crimes To Ethics Violations

It is pretty commonly known that Chris Abele, the Mitt Romney of Milwaukee County, thinks and acts that he is the boy king turned emperor, and that the law is only meant for the commoners.  Whether it's driving drunk, ignoring hundreds of parking tickets or throwing firecrackers at his neighbors, Abele's behavior could easily be described as boorish and shows how entitled he feels.

Unfortunately, this feeling of entitlement and privilege has spilled over into the way he administers his duties as county emperor executive.

One of the most glaring examples is the way he tried to rig the bidding for the contract for the county's transit system.  One could tell that the system was crooked just by the way Abele fought to keep things secret, including fighting the release of the papers involved with the rating of the bids.

When the documents were released, it showed a system in which Abele had stacked the deck so much in favor of MV Transportation that the bidding process was unenforceable.  It was learned that Abele allowed the company to lowball their cost (and then ask for the numbers to be renegotiated), the scoring was unbelievably lopsided to favor the company, and they were allowed to clarify their bids where the other companies weren't.

Not only was the bidding process corrupt, it turned out that there was a reason the company scored the lowest on the four out of five parts that dealt with service.  Furthermore, it turns out that the company is up for sale and we could have really been stuck in a jam.

Fortunately, the County's Administrative Determination Review Panel saw through the corruption, called it for what it was and nixed the deal.

As expected, Abele had a temper tantrum about it and falsely claimed that the panel acted illegally by striking down the illegally rigged bidding process and said that they were acting politically.

Abele followed this stunt up by sending a letter to the county board, claiming that the review process was faulty because it wasn't the same process used in Fairfax County, Virginia and Gwinnett County, Georgia.  He also cited Waukesha County because they are such an upright government that have such upstanding people like Kathy Nickolaus.

Abele thought it would be a better system if one of his hand-picked people reviewed his bidding process. Yeah, like that would instill confidence into the system.

But Abele really crossed the line with this:
Given this context, I am proposing that we reach a solution that would allow us to move forward with a new RFP and avoid a potential costly court action. I will commit that neither the DOT or I will take this issue to court if a majority of the Board makes a commitment to work with me and the Comptroller’s Office to change the Chapter 110 process to follow best practices, including specifically to remove politicians from the appeals process. If at least ten Supervisors will commit by March 19, 2014 to changing this process as set forth above, we will not move forward with legal action. This compromise will allow the DOT to move forward with reissuing the RFP for transit with an improved and clear appeals process. My hope is that by working together, we can together improve transit service for our community.
In other words, Abele said that if ten supervisors are willing to violate open meeting laws and illegally commit their vote beforehand, he won't file a frivolous lawsuit against them. To make it even worse, he put this into writing on the letterhead of his office.

To recap, not only did Abele try to illegally rig the bidding on the transit contract, when he didn't get his way, he did the following:
  • Solicited the Board to violate open meeting laws;
  • Solicited the Board to pledge their vote for a political favor;
  • Tried to extort their vote through the threat of a frivolous lawsuit;
  • Abused the power of his office by making said threat an official document.
And to think that Abele is the guy that claims to be all about transparency, efficiency and accountability.

As for Abele's original claim that the panel's actions were illegal and political nature, as well as his demands, Supervisor Dave Cullen said it best in his response to Abele's threats (via Lisa Kaiser's blog).
Dear County Executive Abele:

I am responding to your email dated March 10, 2014, relative to the recently completed Administrative Determination Review Committee decision of Milwaukee County's transit contract. I am deeply disappointed by the tone set by your email and the accusations and threats set forth in your email.

Specifically, your email states that you "believe the committee action was illegal and political in nature". Isn't it possible for someone to disagree with you without their disagreement being either political or illegal. In my ten months on the Milwaukee County Board, my perception is that just about every time that the Milwaukee County Board disagreed with one of your positions, the Board's conduct was either "illegal", "political", or evidence of the "dysfunctional" County Board. In my 25 years of public service I have learned that it is possible for reasonable people to have differences of opinion on public policy without one side or the other acting in an illegal, political, or dysfunctional way, while continued use of such inflammatory language only exacerbates the already poor relations between the executive branch and legislative branch. The reality is that you are also a politician and that your actions are no more or no less political than those of County Board members

The Administrative Determination Review Committee took its role very seriously. We were advised every step of the way by County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren. We issued detailed and specific findings and conclusions. The Committee set forth a simple road map for the Department of Transportation to make changes and corrections to the RFP and to the RFP process. I firmly believe that if those changes are made to the RFP and RFP process that the Department of Transportation should be in a position to issue a new RFP for the transit contract very quickly. Since the decision was issued on February 20, 2014, I have been open and willing to meet with both you and the Department of Transportation to give you additional guidance as to how I believe the RFP and RFP process can be corrected so that we can move forward and identify the most cost effective method to provide good transit service to the residents of Milwaukee County. Your threats of a lawsuit do not help this process, but only hinder the process. Threats of litigation do not constitute "compromise" but serve instead only to throw gas on the fire of an already difficult situation.

You point out in your email that the administrative appeal process set forth in Milwaukee County Ordinance Chapter 110 is flawed. Nevertheless, it is the current law. It is the law that was very strictly followed by the Administrative Determination Review Committee. I don't know why this process was instituted in 1997, but perhaps it was for a good reason unknown to both you and myself. You imply that by not following Chapter 68 that the County and County Board violated the statute when you know, or should know, that Section 68.16, Stats., specifically allows a governing body to opt out and enact its own ordinance. Instead, you are asking the County Board, in advance, with no study or public input, to commit to a process using unknown and unelected bureaucrats to make decisions rather than the officials elected by the people to make these decisions.

You have requested that board members "commit" to certain ultimatums or you will commence a lawsuit. I can't prevent you from commencing this lawsuit, however mistaken I believe the lawsuit to be, but I will commit to working with you and your office relative to a review of the County's administrative appeal process. If the administrative appeal process can be handled in a better, more efficient way, I will certainly be open to changes to that process. However, I cannot commit in advance to a specific outcome, and I'm not sure how any supervisor could commit to a specific outcome since we haven't yet studied and discussed any of the necessary information to make an informed decision.

County Executive Abele, as we move forward on the transit contract and other issues, I to respectfully ask that you please tone down your inflammatory and personal rhetoric. People of good will can, and often do, disagree. There is always a natural tension between the executive branch and legislative branch of government. Personalizing our disagreements doesn't make the situation any better and doesn't serve the residents of Milwaukee County.​
Due to his anti-Board, anti-union and pro-austerity stances, Abele is commonly referred to in the Courthouse as Little Walker or Walker Lite.

Now we can add corruption and illegal behaviors to the comparison. In fact, one of the two biggest differences between Abele and Walker is that Abele was born with the silver spoon in his mouth where Walker stole his. The other is that Walker is more of a polished politician and spins his corruption and incompetence whereas Abele just flaunts his.

These incidents of misconduct need to be referred to the Ethics Board, if not directly to the District Attorney's office, before we have another Walker-level scandal on our hands.  Furthermore, not to call Abele out on these behaviors will only serve to encourage more of this childish bullying from him.

Milwaukee County can't afford either of these things.

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