Whither MKE Cnty: Who Is The Defensive Captain At The County Board?

One of the things that has surprised me about Representative Sanfelippo’s and County Executive Abele’s attack on the status of the Milwaukee County Board, has been the almost total blackout on comments from current board members. Other than a few comments or memos from County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic, it’s been very quiet at the county courthouse.

But after reading today’s profile in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee business icon, Sheldon Lubar, it became apparent to me what is going on (I may have more to say about Mr. Lubar later).

So let’s follow the breadcrumbs:

Chair Dimitrijevic at one point states that the board has never been more unified.

When freshman County Supervisor Deanna Alexander wanted to hold a town hall meeting to discuss reforms for Milwaukee County government, she met with County Supervisor John Weishan and felt bullied in his efforts to dissuade her from holding the meeting. She did in fact hold it as scheduled.

And then in today’s Lubar article, Sup. Weishan is quoted

County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. says Lubar and other critics of the board “formulate their opinions in a vacuum and deal more with mythology and anecdotal evidence rather than reality and facts.

So has Supervisor Weishan become the go to guy in defense of the county board against the outside threats to blow up Milwaukee County government?

Whither MKE Cnty: Do We Need An Elected County Executive?

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has been a very vocal critic of the current Milwaukee County Board. And if he’s not one of the major instigators of the movement to declaw the board he is certainly an ardent supporter. One of his recurring themes has been the fact that for most of Milwaukee County’s history, the board consisted of part time supervisors. And since the 1970s, the number of county employees has gone from 11,000 to the current head count of 4,400 while a number of county functions have reverted to state control. So he certainly thinks it makes sense that the county board revert to part time status. Executive Abele is correct on the shrinking role of county government and the local franchise of PolitiFact supports his head count.

But Executive Abele’s contention is a two edged sword. We have only had an elected county executive in Milwaukee County since 1960…and as Mr. Abele has said, we’ve seen a continued decline in the size of county government since that time. So is an elected county executive still necessary?

Well guess what, the bogey man often brought up in support of a downsized structure in county government is California’s Los Angeles County…a much larger county with far more municipalities that Milwaukee County and unincorporated areas (which we don’t have in MC) only has five full time county board members…BUT absolutely no elected county executive…instead they have a chief executive officer who is hired by and reports to the Los Angeles County Board. See my little discussion on Los Angeles County govt here!

So, since a major component of our current county government dysfunction is the inability of the executive office to work with the board…do we still need an elected county executive?

Whither MKE Cnty: Los Angeles County

Every time anyone from Wisconsin, whether from the left or right, wants to throw an orange to upset the apple cart that is Milwaukee County, they mention that Los Angeles County has only five county supervisors…but that’s as far as it goes. So, let’s see how Los Angeles County governance compares to our Milwaukee County.

Yes, Los Angeles County has only five county supervisors..it has had five county supervisors since day one when it was chartered by the California State Legislature in 1852. The five county supervisors are full time and earn almost $179,000 per year plus benefits and are term limited at three consecutive terms of four years each. Each board member is elected from a defined supervisory district, just like in Milwaukee. But unlike our Milwaukee County Board, the board of Los Angeles county holds all of the executive and legislative roles in the county plus some quasi-judicial powers as well.

Here is a brief synopsis of their authority taken from the Los Angeles County website:

The Board of Supervisors fulfills three major powers in County government: executive, legislative and quasijudicial.

In an executive capacity, the responsibilities of a county supervisor to constituents who reside in unincorporated areas are similar to those of a mayor of an incorporated city. The supervisor is required to administer all local governmental services.

In its legislative role, the Board may adopt ordinances and rules, both to control the administration of County government and to regulate public conduct within the unincorporated areas of the County.

Acting in a quasijudicial capacity, the Board acts as an appeals board on zone exception cases of the Regional Planning Commission. It sits for hearings on county improvement districts and on appeals in licensing matters

Los Angeles County has 88 municipalities plus the unincorporated areas mentioned in the quote. The county also contracts a number of civil services to many of it’s member municipalities, a chief one being a county Fire Department.

Interestingly enough, they manage to accomplish this and more WITHOUT an elected county executive…opting instead for an administrator hired by the board who reports to the board and titled Chief Executive Officer. From the same link as above:

The Board supervises the activities of the chief administrative officer and all County departments, determines County and special district policies and sets salaries of County personnel.

Each supervisor has the responsibility of selecting citizens to serve on the various County commissions and committees.

In addition to the duties specifically assigned to the Board of Supervisors by law, each Board office acts as a liaison between the public and the many branches of government.

One of the most interesting statements, to me at least, is the declaration that the county supervisor acts as a liaison between the public and the many branches of government. What? And they get to do all of this and don’t get accused of micromanaging?

There are three other elective county offices in Los Angeles, the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and the County Assessor. If you’d like to see the full Los Angeles County Org Chart, click here!

And yes, Los Angeles County is considerably more populous and larger geographically than Milwaukee County.

So, a larger county has a much smaller county board, but it is full time and is paid far more than our local supervisors. But they also have a lot more power and authority than our local board. So, if Milwaukee County went to 5 board members, would the powers that be who are out to bust our boards current authority allow them to assume roles similar to LAC as well?

Nuns Are In And Priests Are Out

Sister Simone getting uppity
Sister Simone getting uppity

The Catholic Church has taken a lot of abuse lately, and for good reason. On the first day of February it was announced that retired LA Cardinal Roger Mohony would be stripped of his duties. Under his watch, an unprecedented number of children were sexually abused by various priests. Instead of addressing the problem, he pushed the problem aside. He looked the other way and transferred the priests to other churches, resulting in even more children being abused.

The Los Angeles area is not alone in having their children suffer at the hands of molesting priests. It’s estimated that thousands of children were abused in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Most horrifying among those cases are hundreds of children from the St. John’s School for the Deaf. It is believed that at least 200 boys were molested over three decades by one priest at the school. The cover up of the problem not only span several decades, but the cover up goes all the way to the Vatican. The current pope, then Jacob Ratzinger, continually ignored pleas by Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland to convene a canonical trial to defrock the offending priest.

The cover up of the sex abuse over decades has resulted in the least, the fleeing of faithful from the religion, the bankruptcy caused by the payout for the lawsuits, and at the worst, the loss of innocence of thousands of children. This surely churns the stomach just thinking about it all. Despite all the tearing down by the priests, nuns have been quietly toiling away doing the churches real work.

Moses gets all the credit
Moses gets all the credit

Nuns have never been ones to push back the Red Sea, but instead they’re the ones who help to tend to those who were swept up in it all. Those unfamiliar with the work of nuns may think of Sally Field in the Flying Nun or of a stern looking teacher carrying a ruler who warns scared little children that they may burn in hell for passing a note to their friend. In reality, most nuns aren’t like that. They’ve been working with those who society often pushes aside.

They work with migrant workers to help them find suitable housing. Sister Cathy Buster, a Catholic nun in Florida, has worked tirelessly to fulfill her dream of helping immigrant farm workers to find safe housing. Yes, nuns do have dreams. She told a reporter for CNN

“I dream a lot, and people all think I’m nuts when I tell them what I intend to do to help.”

Not only is the housing safe and clean, it’s also green. She sees firsthand the challenges that immigrant farm workers face. More than any other group,  migrant workers are exposed to high risk or injury while working. Once they leave work, the dangers don’t cease. A quick scan of articles on this problem show the housing is often without adequate sanitation, riddled with insects, and just plain not fit for human habitation. While some of us complain about our house only having one bathroom, migrant workers often don’t have one that even works. We don’t see it. The nuns do.

Drug addicts and former felons are also ministered to by the quiet work of nuns. One such case was featured on CNN. The non profit organization, Hour Children, has helped over 9,000 mothers who are imprisoned. By getting past the judgement of what the women have done, the nuns help to restore dignity and self-esteem. Sister Teresa Fitzgerald describes the challenges that are faced.

“Everybody loves children, and they’re an easy sell. But the mothers, for many of them, their lives were so horrific growing up, and they didn’t have what children deserve. They ended up on the negative side of life. If you don’t get the support and tools, you can’t give it to your child. … It’s a dead end all around.”

The two examples above are just a small sampling of what Catholic nuns do every day. Some may see their work as hopeless because it seems they are fighting an endless battle. While others say that all that hard work is for naught because the safety net programs these nuns provide are being scrapped or effectively neutered due to changes at the national level.

Well, it seems that there is a crusader for the bigger picture. If there ever was a nun who was also a super hero, it would be Sister Simone Campbell. While charisma is rarely associated with nuns, Network lobby group has one in Sister Simone. She disarms with her warm smile and pleasant demeanor, and then strikes at the heart of issues with her breadth and depth of her knowledge on social justice issues. She and a small cadre of nuns drove to various cities throughout the United States this past summer on a tour called the Nuns on the Bus tour. She was greeted by small but enthusiastic crowds of people to spread the word of the devastation that this country faces. She breathed life into the statistics on child poverty, hunger and homelessness. She took special aim at one person who was going to make the situation worse – Senator Paul Ryan.

Preaching Paul Ryan
Preaching Paul Ryan

Sister Simone was featured on Bill Moyers, The Colbert Report and MSNBC. A video of her interview with Chris Matthews handily illustrates that she’s not just spewing rhetoric. She’s telling the story of her experience with those less fortunate, and how it impacts them. But she’s not afraid to tell it like it is. She’s not afraid to say that Senator Ryan is not correctly following the Catholic doctrine of serving those less fortunate.

All of this is great, but if there’s one thing that the Catholic church doesn’t like, it’s uppity nuns. In fact, Sister Simone’s activism even resulted in her being called out by higher ups. The interview with Stephen Colbert makes light of this, but Sister Simone and the majority of the nuns did receive a rebuke by the Vatican. It charged that the nuns were being too radical in their approach.

The problem is not with the nuns’ work with the poor and dispossessed, but instead specific subgroups they are serving. The nuns disagree on casting out those who struggle with issues of sexuality. They believe that the priesthood should not be reserved only for men. The rebuke even went so far as to call the sisters group, who represent over 80% of American Catholic nuns, radical feminists.

While the din has died down since then, it still demonstrates the divide in the Catholic church. It brings up several questions on the future of the Catholic church. Will the sex abuse scandal be the final straw to break the Catholic church, and never to be repaired? Despite their lack of power in the Church, is the work done by the nuns enough to breathe new life into the church? Will the activism by Sister Simone and those with Network give charge to changes in the church? While there will certainly be much opinion offered on those questions, the truth can only be seen with the passing of time.