Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hop On? Hop Off!

County Executive Chris Abele wants you to help balance his budget! A lot of you probably received an e-mail announcing the ironically named “Engage Milwaukee” initiative.  This is from the office of the same guy who, even though county residents asked for it, wouldn’t put the vote to overturn Citizens United on the ballot. He vetoed this twice, citing cost ($25,000-$40,000, est.). His penny pinching was later shown to be a charade, when he gave raises adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to his office’s staffers. The two vetoes were an early sign of things to come. Abele’s raises for staff were so large that the County Board had to intervene and get the lawyers involved.  

Fast forward a bit and Abele began to pretend to care about the Mitchell Park Domes, so much so that he wouldn’t come to his own town halls on the subject. And yeah, the same guy who did an end run around the County Board to work with Republicans in Madison to cut board member salaries in half and diminish their power while he was at it. 

In 2017 Abele pushed for a referendum on an increased wheel tax, conducting no information campaign and thoroughly confusing voters who tried to decide what it even meant. His paid campaign consultants were deployed shortly before the election to try to tell folks how to vote, but so many of them have burned bridges with the progressive public that they were ignored at best and excoriated at worst. Abele continues to lack a basic understanding of how community work actually happens, and continues to hire people who lack these skills. But you are still "neighbors" to his office staff.  That leads us to this e-mail from June 14, 2017 from his office:

Dear neighbors,
Yesterday, County Executive Abele officially launched the Balancing Act initiative. The website is live and we’d love for you to hop on and try your hand at balancing the County’s budget.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.

Happy budgeting!

In case you were wondering, yes, you did purchase the software for this (Balancing Act software program), before you were also asked to balance the budget yourselves!  Your ability to balance the budget, you will find out quickly, will be pretty limited to exactly what his office has decided can be cut.

Another recent act of love for the people was to go full Trump and take out attack ads on the Chair of the Milwaukee County Board (Theodore Lipscomb). Prior to that, an organization with which he has been connected in the past also did a postcard hit ad on State Senator Chris Larson, who challenged Abele in the 2016 race for county executive. See if you can find the wiggle room in this statement:

Abele said last year he did donate to Milwaukee Works "a long time" ago but has had no involvement with Milwaukee Works recently. Suchorski repeated that assertion last week, saying Abele had no hand in the Larson mailer or any other recent ones. 
"We see the pieces when everyone sees them," Suchorski said. 
Milwaukee Works, headed by local attorney Dan Adams, does not have to disclose its sources of income. Adams has refused to volunteer that information. 
It’s obvious that Abele and his staff think Milwaukee County is too stupid to see how checks are getting circulated here.

Two bad turns deserve another, though.  From the same Journal-Sentinel article: One of Milwaukee Works' other fliers this year targeted Supervisor Sequanna Taylor for missing 11 of her first 15 County Board meetings this year. Adams declined to say how many of these his group mailed. "That's a secret," Adams said. 
Taylor, a parent engagement specialist with Milwaukee Public Schools, did not return calls but responded to the mailer with an epic Facebook post, which appears to have been taken down.
In the post, Taylor said she offered no apologies for doing her MPS job while also representing her district. 
With Abele’s compliance and complicity with Republicans, the County Board of Supervisors positions have become part-time. Abele’s minions then blamed Supervisor Sequanna Taylor for attending to her day job with MPS. If she missd work at MPS you can bet they’d attack her for that (see MPS Takeover Google hits if you want proof of Abele’s attempts to take over public schools).
See a pattern here? Anybody who dares challenge him—or for that matter who regularly defends public education and the real will of the people—can expect to be targeted by people who will do his bidding for a fee. 
Abele’s personal philanthropy via the Argosy Foundation is his best work. Why undo it with ad shenanigans, and personal petty vindiction? Does he really think people will cape for him because of the postcards? Are his advisors so completely unwilling to tell him what the public really thinks of him? Let me be the bearer of bad news: people really think you are bad at this job, and it’s because you are. If you were doing a good job, and were this unlikeable, people would overlook it. But you aren’t and they don’t.  And paying people to take out attack ads for you will never endear you to them no matter how much you pay someone to tell you that message. You can't write your checks out of the bad job you are doing, and you may buy silence, but you can't buy people actually thinking you're doing a good job. You can't buy most people, anyway.

Readers, I urge you to “hop on” and see what you can adjust in this budget. Spoiler alert: you can’t adjust the County Executive office’s budget. None of the items in the Legislative and Executive budget can be adjusted at all, including the fact that the CE’s office line items are $400,000 higher than the entire budget for the Milwaukee County Board.  When you go into the non-adjustable items, it’s easy to see that some offices are supporting statutory mandates, or are subject to state guidelines and requirements on budgeting.  The county executive’s budget is simply non-adjustable because of their own direction. They have left you unable to trim their budget, because of course they have.

Here’s a suggestion: instead of telling us to hop on and help you, hop off your high horse, and get to work with the people who pay you and the County Board of Supervisors. Everybody knows the county is in debt up to its eyeballs, but asking the public to solve problems you’ve contributed to through your own flagrant spending and stonewalling isn’t the way to get the job done.

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