Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Milwaukee Must Vote Yes To Restore Democracy And Accountability

Milwaukee County voters will see four local referendum questions on the ballot in November.

Three of them are fairly self-explanatory and no brainers.

One is the Move to Amend question, which is whether the US government should take money out of politics.  It's not failed anywhere it's been held and I don't expect that Milwaukee County will be an exception.

The second one is whether the state should accept federal funding to expand BadgerCare.  Considering that Walker's decision not to do so has cost the state tens of millions of dollars and put tens of thousands of people out in the cold without any affordable health care coverage, a yes vote is all but mandated.

The third question is whether the state should raise the minimum wage should be raised to $10.10 per hour. Again, Walker's refusal to do so is dragging the state's economy down and putting people in real danger.  There is no reasonable defense for voting no on this common sense question.

The fourth question is whether state statutes should be amended so that Milwaukee County could switch to a county administrator instead of a county executive form of governance.  After speaking about it twice, I have found that many people don't understand what the question is nor do they know the history behind it.

The local paper has purposely avoided to provide any information on the question except for a small editorial blurb claiming that it is "payback" of some sort.  The only other time I've heard of democracy being a payback is when the colonists told King George to shove it and declared independence.

Here's some factual background to help the gentle reader make an informed decision.

Before 1960, there was no such thing as a county executive in Wisconsin.  The county boards performed both the legislative and executive functions of county government.

In 1960, the state legislature decided that they would create the position of county executive, but it only applied to counties with a population of 500,000 or more.  At that time, as it is now, the only county that met that parameter was Milwaukee County.

In 1969, the state legislature passed the law that other counties could have a county executive, if they so desired.  However, Milwaukee County was still mandated to have one, whether we wanted it or not.

In the 1985-87 budget, the state wrote in the position of county administrator.  Again, this was up to the county's choosing, except for Milwaukee, which was still stuck with a county executive.

Then in 2013, the state legislature passed legislation at the request of their paying customer, Chris Abele, to redefine the position of county executive. Despite the assertions by Abele and his apologists that this was to "restore" the definition of county executive, it concentrated power in Abele's hands in an unprecedented way.  

Abele and his apologists also tried to claim that this was to make Milwaukee like any other county in the state, which again was a flat out lie.  The changes that Abele bought only applied to counties with a population of 750,000 or more.  The only county meeting that parameter is Milwaukee County.

In short, Milwaukee County went from no county executive to a mandated county executive to a tyrannical plutocracy in just 50 years.

As the following chart shows, there are few distinctions between a county executive and a county administrator:

click on image to embiggen
The biggest differences include:

  • The county executive is elected and the county administrator is appointed by the county board.
  • The county executive only has to be 18 years old, a county resident and US citizen.  The county administrator has to be qualified through training, education and experience.
  • The county executive has veto powers, the administrator does not.
  • The county executive can only be removed by recall or by the governor.  The county administrator can be removed by the board.
Outside of these four differences, the positions are almost identical.  

It is important to remember - and this cannot be emphasized enough - the referendum does not ask that Milwaukee County switch from a county executive to a county administrator.  Rather, it asks that Milwaukee County be allowed the same option that each and every of the other 71 one counties have, which is to self-determine what type of county government we would have.

So, if the county executive and county administrator are so close, why even consider switching?

That can be explained in three words: Democracy, Accountability, Efficiency.

As I have explained before, the last three county executives have been real pips. We have had Tom Ament and his pension scandal.  We have had Scott Walker who used the executive's office as his campaign headquarters for his run for governor.  We currently have Chris Abele who is using the office to further enrich himself and his plutocratic pals at the taxpayer expense.

Not one of these three were representing the people of Milwaukee County.  They were only in it for their own personal gain.  With a county administrator, we would be able to restore a representative form of government, with county supervisors who would represent the people of their districts and keep each other in check.  

Furthermore, with a county administrator, there would be accountability.  If Ament, Walker or Abele had been county administrators and did what they had done as county executives, the board could have acted swiftly to remove them and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

With Walker, and even more so with Abele, there has been a lot of contention between the county executive's office - while they were advancing their own self-serving agendas - and the county board, who were there to do the county's business.  A lot of time and a lot of money has been wasted with this fighting when both could have been spent taking care of the county's business.

The experiment of a county executive has been given more than enough time to show that it isn't the best form of government we could have.  We deserve and need a better way - a way that will restore democracy and accountability and integrity to our government.

Maybe then, the people's work will finally get done.

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