Sunday, June 8, 2014

It's Time To Really Reform Milwaukee County Government

For decades, Milwaukee County government has been in disarray.

The mess started over 50 years ago when the state introduced the idea of elected county executives.  When the first Milwaukee County Executive was first sworn in 1960, it's been downhill since then, due to a series of mismanagement blunders, unethical actions and scandals, and an ongoing power struggle between the county executive and county board.

In recent history, one of the most glaring examples was then county executive Tom Ament and his pension scandal, in which he and his cronies devised a scheme that would pad their pensions by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The people took the only recourse open to them and started a recall against Ament, which led to his resignation.

Unfortunately, Ament's scandal opened the door to Scott Walker becoming county executive.  This led to a whole slew of unimaginable horrors. Walker willfully failed to maintain county facilities, leading to the death of a teenage boy.  He neglected our most vulnerable citizens, allowing them to be physically beaten, raped and sometimes die from the poor care stemming from insufficient staffing levels.  There was also that thing called Walkergate, where Walker was using the Milwaukee County Courthouse as his campaign headquarters.

After Chris Abele was elected to be county executive, he decided to "fix" the Milwaukee County government.  And by fix, he meant that he was going to hamstring the county board and consolidate all of the usurped power into his hands.

But Abele has proven to be a failure as well.  Since becoming Emperor, he has completely abandoned the mentally ill, neglected maintenance and repairs to the point that there was a $17 million fire in the courthouse, used his staff as political hit men, attacked our representative government and has treated the unions so poorly that he makes Walker look like an unionista.

Abele's most recent stunt was to try to rob county retirees, taking back years of pension payments and cutting future ones.  Hey, grandma doesn't need her house anymore anyway, right?  (Look for more on this next Friday, when the retirees get to finally speak their piece at a meeting of a county board committee. Abele refused to meet with them and has gone out of his way to avoid them.)

As I have repeatedly pointed out, if we are serious about fixing - really fixing - Milwaukee County government, we need to eliminate the county executive's position.

The problem with that is that when the state introduced the county executive position fifty plus years ago, the powers that be at the time made it mandatory for Milwaukee County.  Only Milwaukee County has to have one. The other 71 counties can have a county executive, a  type of county administrator or just have a county board, depending on what the people of that county want.

In other words, it would require a change in state statutes for Milwaukee County to have the same self-determination of what their county government should look like.

Fortunately, there are many people who agree with me.

There is a resolution in the works that might be introduced as soon as this week, which will call for a referendum calling on the state to change the statutes so that Milwaukee County could have the same rights as the other counties and have real government reform as opposed to Abele's plutocratic power grab.  A draft of the  resolution reads:
"Should Wisconsin Statutes be amended to allow Milwaukee County to transition its management and administrative functions from an elected County Executive to a professional County Administrator?"
This is an idea long in coming and cannot get here soon enough.

There is a lot of positives if Milwaukee County were to move to a county administrator model of government.  It would eliminate so much time, energy and money being wasted on power struggles.  And if the administrator turns out to be as incompetent and/or corrupt as Walker and Abele, there can be immediate action taken, as was done a couple of years ago in Door County, when there was an ethics probe done on their county administrator.

Many of our neighboring counties use the county administrator position, including Dodge County and Washington County, who recently transitioned to this style of government.  If a county administrator style of government can work in those counties, it can work anywhere.

A couple of months ago, Milwaukee Magazine ran an article written by Larry Sandler, which gave a very good history of the struggles Milwaukee County has gone through since a county executive was forced upon us.  In Sandler's article, he touched on the subject of eliminating the county executive position:
Eliminating the executive: During his 2002 campaign, Walker won Assembly approval of a bill to let the county abolish the executive office, but it died in the Senate. When Lee Holloway, then the County Board chairman, brought up the idea again seven years later, Walker belittled it and the board shelved it.

However, Ozaukee County Administrator Tom Meaux says, “I question the need for a county executive in any county.” Meaux, a former Milwaukee County supervisor and treasurer, was appointed by the Ozaukee County Board, a structure used in most Wisconsin counties. Since most county duties are set by the state, Meaux says the legislative branch and the administration “need to be aligned,” and that’s often not possible if the chief executive is separately elected.
And in a recent panel hosted by Marquette University and moderated by Mike Gousha, even Abele said he would not stand in the way of this happening (although he did not sound all too sincere about it). (The comments about this come near the end of the discussion, at about the 4:30:00 mark.)

I would imagine that this idea would receive a lot of support from both sides of the political spectrum.  The right will like it because it will actually save money instead of the Walker/Abele pretending of being fiscally conservative.  The left will like it because it will minimize the problems that have been plaguing Milwaukee County for decades and allow services to actually be provided to those who need them.

Can you even imagine it?

Instead of the Walker/Abele type of reform - which ends up being nothing more than driving us more into a corporate run government - we could end up with real reform for a truly more efficient government that actually provides the services it is supposed to provide.

Now who could argue with that?


  1. Capper, thanks.

  2. Milwaukee County should be governed not by a County Executive, but by a band of flying monkeys who's role is to answer to, take direction from, and consult with the board when they allow.

    These monkeys should appoint their own flying monkey executive who's powers are to coordinate all monkey flying and who's authority extends only over the flying monkeys he/she oversees.

    If these changes were enacted, Milwaukee County would truly be a utopia banana land.

    1. Interesting reform -- better than what we got. I'd suggest using flying pigs instead of monkeys.

      Evidently, flying monkeys can be influenced by wicked witches to do evil.

      We already got a corrupt ament, a divide and conquer walker and now an very bad case of abele.

      It seems highly likely flying monkeys would also abuse their authority.

  3. Anon at 8:07, Joe Sanfelippo, is that you?