What Size Milwaukee County Government?

There is a whole new round of “let’s shrink the county board” going on again.

Earlier it was from the conservatives as part of their mantra of smaller government. And certainly the main reason is their desire to reduce the role of the City of Milwaukee and minorities in county governance.

And then we had the progressive revolt that resulted in one less Supervisory District and effectively gerrymandered former Supervisor Joseph Rice out of his position. But why in heavens name we didn’t redistrict former County Board Chairman Holloway’s seat off the map too is beyond me. An even number of seats in a legislative body isn’t good politics in my opinion.

And now more recent posts around the blogosphere, including our own Zach Wisniewski and a piece over at Urban Milwaukee by Bruce Murphy tout similar ideas. Almost former County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo, not satisfied with obstructing progress while on the board, announced he will attempt to downsize the board from Madison. And of course our wayward County Executive Chris Abele would like to see a few more of his opponents on the board forcibly retired by shrinking their jobs.

Well the talk often seems to revolve around saving money by reducing the number of supervisors. Granted, fewer supervisors on the payroll will produce some savings. But that shouldn’t be the be all and end all reason to reduce the board.

Many of those proposing downsizing seem motivated by a dissatisfaction with the actions of the board. Worse yet, some seem to be motivated by distaste for a particular supervisor or group of supervisors. Not really the best rationale for restructuring county government either.

Another movement would reduce the board to a part time status. Again a money saving effort but again I am not sure this makes sense without some investigation into the whys and wherefores of county government. Will constituents understand when they contact the county that their supervisor or their administrator isn’t available 40 business hours a week?

And often we see apples to oranges comparisons about Milwaukee County government vs. Dane County or Los Angeles County or the rural counties around our wonderful State of Wisconsin. Certainly there are similarities and as many differences. But raw comparisons aren’t fair to Milwaukee County.

And in the past year a majority of the suburbs have held advisory referendums that supported reducing the size of the county government. Accusations flew saying the board has continually ignored the results or that the referendums were written in such a way as to insure they would support a smaller board.

But no one ever asks the right questions. Here are a few as I see them: What services does our county currently provide its citizens? What services do we expect from county government? What do we see as the future role of the county? Will we ever be able to spin off county parks or county transit as regional self governing agencies? And then, how much county government does it take to run it?

I am going to reach out to some of you who are involved in county government or who have commented on county government here and elsewhere. And I’d like to follow up on those conversations with blogs here on Blogging Blue. And if you’d like to be involved in the conversation you can contact me at: eghii@yahoo.com and as always comment here!

2 comments to What Size Milwaukee County Government?

  • Ed, thanks for posting this.

    While you and I may disagree on whether the board should be further downsized (and by how much), kept as-is, or perhaps made larger, you do raise some valid points.

    Ultimately, my desire for a smaller board is based on my perception that the current board is simply too bloated (its yearly costs bear that out) and the fact that I simply don’t see why downsizing by 1 or 3 positions would have a tremendously deleterious impact on the representation Milwaukee County’s citizens receive.

    The most recent downsizing of the County Board was an absolute farce, from Marina Dimitrijevic’s public admission that Joe Rice’s seat was eliminated to remove a conservative opponent of hers from the Board to the fact that the board reduced the number of seats to an even number, which as you noted makes absolutely no sense for a deliberative body that casts votes to do.

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    • Ed Heinzelman

      “…my desire for a smaller board is based on my perception that the current board is simply too bloated (its yearly costs bear that out)”

      Compared to what??? Really? If the issue is it costs too much, one county supervisor is best, right? And why that issue with just county government? City of Milwaukee govt is far more costly at the aldermanic level. They represent fewer people and have much bigger salaries than county supervisors. So why does every one have a bug up their posterior over county government?

      The real question is still, what do we want county government to do and how many people do we need to do it and we need to pay what ever that costs to effectively do it.

      I will talk to as many people as I can round up and those who have contacted me already. And it will take more than a few blogs over a period of time to cover all of the issues.

      And Zach, how can you be sure we disagree because I haven’t stated my position on this. I have only called out those who are calling for a board reduction without real facts to support the position.

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