Friday, March 7, 2014

Courthouse Proud! Feel The Burn!

Last July, due to Chris Abele's agenda of austerity, some ancient electrical equipment at the Milwaukee County Courthouse got too hot and caught on fire.  Eight months later and they are still not done recovering from the fire.  And as the elapsed amount of time piles up, so does the cost of the clean up and repairs.

Sadly, as I have been reporting all along, Milwaukee County taxpayers are going to have to pick up at least some of the bill.  So far, the taxpayers' share is in the neighborhood of $2 million, but that seems like that is a hopeful estimate:
The disclosure of the need for additional repairs that will fall on taxpayers drew criticism from supervisors at a meeting of the County Board's judiciary committee.

"We have been told time after time after time that insurance would cover everything," Supervisor Mark Borkowski said. He said he would base any future votes on paying for fire costs on those assurances.

County Executive Chris Abele said "every dime" of fire costs would be covered by insurance, during a Feb. 14 press briefing in a courthouse basement room where massive new electrical components had been installed.

Courthouse repair costs through March are now estimated at $17.5 million, all expected to be covered by insurance, said Don Tyler, the county's administrative services director. Tyler said he couldn't rule out additional costs beyond that figure.
Abele's people are quick to point out that the $2 million hit to the taxpayers isn't directly related to the fire. The cost is due to other areas of deferred maintenance and neglected repairs that came to the surface because of the fire. This isn't surprising considering that the fire was caused by deferred maintenance and neglected repairs.

During this fire and its aftermath, Abele has shown himself to be more and more like his predecessor and mentor, Scott Walker.  With Abele, as it is with Walker, there's more.  There's always more.

This time, the more is having incompetent and/or corrupt staff ripping off the taxpayers.

Problems started immediately when Abele's head of risk management, Cindy van Pelt, felt that her two week vacation was more important than handling this emergency.

Van Pelt's replacement and safety director, Dennis Dietscher, was arrested for suspicion of funneling county money to his personal roofing business.  Since his arrest last month, Dietscher has been on paid leave from his more than $75,000 job. (It does make me curious why Dietscher is allowed to have a paid suspension when one knows damn well that Abele would not afford such a consideration to a rank and file worker.)

Along with Dietscher, a salesman for Universal Restoration was arrested.  The significance of this is that the salesman used to work for Dietscher's side business.  On top of that, Universal Restoration was given a no bid contract for the clean up of the courthouse.

It's starting to look like they were cleaning up more than just the courthouse.

Another burning question - excuse the pun - is whether Dietscher and his buddy got a couple of those fancy "Courthouse Proud" t-shirts.  After all, per Abele's spokesperson, Brenda Conway, one had to "earn" those shirts.

Maybe Abele should see if his connections could donate some more of those shirts to him.  He could then sit outside the courthouse trying to sell them to help pay for the costs of his fire.

He could even call it a fire sale.

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