Sunday, October 26, 2014

Boss Abele's Mental Health Board Boondoggle

From the time he took office, Boss Abele had set his sights on closing the Milwaukee County mental health complex.  He did so not because he wanted to improve the system, but because he wants to sell the land it sits on to his plutocratic pals before its value skyrockets.  Abele has been bragging about already getting bids on the land.  As an added bonus, he could help other wealthy friends  profiteer off of these vulnerable citizens.

When that meddling Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors put brakes to his plans by demanding accountability and proper discharge planning, Abele did what he usually does when he doesn't get his way - he ran to his Teapublican friends in the state legislature and paid them to pass a law saying that the county board no longer has a say in how that money is spent.

When he got his way with the creation of his Mental Health Board, he then made sure they did his bidding by getting his political appointees on the board, including the disgraced Kimberly Walker, who was fired from her job as head of corporation counsel for incompetence and for trying to help Abele circumvent open records laws.

While the Board has been off to a bad start, with Scott Walker delaying rubber stamping Abele's political appointees and a number of unsuccessful discharges, things are only getting worse.

Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has finally, after slapping herself on the back for months for influencing people and helping create this disaster, gotten around to reporting that all might not be legal with the Mental Health Board.She finally gets to the part that this politically appointed board gets to decide how to spend $180 million without one word of public input:
The budget approved by the Mental Health Board was forwarded to Abele, who included it in his general budget, which is passed along to the County Board for approval. By law, the County Board cannot change the levy assigned to the Behavioral Health Division.

Romo West said she didn't understand why the Mental Health Board had to "rubber stamp" the department's budget in August when the county's budget is not voted on until November.

To vote to spend the money without getting public comment is "taxation without representation," Romo West said.

The Mental Health Board needs to establish a process that includes public comment, she said.

Supervisor Pat Jursik called the Mental Health Board's action a "constitutional violation of due process."

Mary Neubauer, a member of the new board who also serves as co-chair of the Milwaukee Mental Health Task Force, was one of two to vote "no" to the budget.

Neubauer said Wednesday that she voted that way because there was no public comment. The other no vote came from Brenda Wesley, director of education and outreach for the Milwaukee chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Neubauer is asking that the board allow public comment at its next meeting on Oct. 23.

"There hasn't been transparency in this process," Neubauer said.

Neubauer said public opinion is critical, especially with all the anxiety surrounding the downsizing of long-term units at the Mental Health Complex.
Of course, Kissinger's reporting is a little less than honest since this issue was brought up seven months ago by Supervisor Michael Mayo:
Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo, Sr., said today that a bill passed unanimously by the state Senate that would strip the Milwaukee County Board of its oversight of the County’s mental health system was an example of taxation without representation.

“This is an example of an outrageous overreach by the state Legislature,” said Mayo, a member of the Health and Human Needs Committee. “It seems the philosophy in Madison is to stick it to Milwaukee County. This bill strips an elected body – the County Board – of the oversight of one of the biggest budget items in the County and replaces it with an unelected board that can spend taxpayer money without any public representation.

“What you have with this bill is a power grab generated by sensational headlines in the media. Once this bill is signed by the Governor and becomes law, the public will have little input into the oversight of the mental health system. This will be taxation without representation.”

Under the bill, members of the new board will be submitted to Governor from a list submitted by the County Executive and the County Board.

“An unelected board will not necessarily represent the interests of taxpayers,” Mayo said. “Who will be accountable? Who will take the blame when this system fails? Who will my constituents call when they have a problem with the mental health system? What happened in Madison was wrong for Milwaukee County taxpayers.”
Oh, but that's not all. There's more. There's always more.

According to Paul Bargren, Boss Abele's new head of corp counsel, in a letter dated August 18, 2014, the Mental Health Board doesn't even have to show the Milwaukee County Board - or anyone else - a copy of their budget, unless they file an open records request.

Keep in mind that they are in control of $180 million dollars, more than one third of that comes directly from the tax levy. Yet no one except the Mental Health Board and Boss Abele have one say in how it is spent - especially not the taxpayers themselves.

The way Abele's law is written, the Milwaukee County Board has no option but to just rubber stamp that part of the county budget.  They cannot add to it, they cannot take away from it.  The county board asked for clarification from Bargren about this, and in a letter dated September 3, 2014, Bargren made it clear that the county board had no choice and that if they didn't rubber stamp the Mental Health Board's budget, they could be charged with Misconduct in Office.

There isn't much the County Board can do now to correct this violation of the Constitution, but they can definitely let people know the truth of the situation.  That is why the Finance and Personnel Committee passed a resolution on Friday that reads in part:
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors hereby opposes the concept that requires the BHD property tax levy to be incorporated into the adopted County budget, as opposed to a separate County-administered tax levy for BHD, and;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors shall incorporate the proposed 2015 BHD tax levy of $59,099,341 as contained in the County Executive's Recommended Budget (File No. 14-765) into the 2015 Adopted Budget as required by 2013 Wisconsin Act 203;  and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in light of the new legislation creating the Mental Health Board, Milwaukee County residents are hereby informed that the proposed 2015 BHD tax levy represents a County Executive recommended tax levy increase of approximately $1.62 million that must be incorporated into the 2015 Adopted Budget.
In other words, they are washing their hands of the mess and laying the onus of the higher tax levy where it belongs, at the feet of Boss Abele.

Now some people might be OK with the lack of representation, but I am not.  And I know of a lot of people who are also not OK with this.  Abele's new system is nothing more than abandoning the  county's responsibility to our most vulnerable citizens and a disservice to the taxpayers of Milwaukee County.

And if the funding for the system proves to be inadequate, which it probably will, then there will be even more serious problems as people go without the services they need to keep themselves and others safe.

As a note of interest, the Mental Health Board had a meeting last week.  Members of the MHB are apparently finally catching on that the pap that Boss Abele is spoon-feeding them through Kimberly Walker isn't accurate and are calling on the meetings to be open to public commentary so that they can learn the truth of how Milwaukee County is failing these vulnerable citizens.

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