One Quick Question about Innovation Park and the Eschweiler Buildings?

I am an architecture nut and love the work of Alexander Eschweiler. And it’s a sin that the county allowed the buildings on the county grounds to deteriorate to the point that it is economically unfeasible to restore them to contemporary use.

But that’s not where I am going with this. If Innovation Park is supposedly UWM’s premier research and engineering center why the flock is Mandel trying to build housing there?

Whither MKE Cnty: There Ain’t No Checks and Balances in County Government?

There have been a number of blog posts and comments over the past month about ‘checks and balances’ in county government over the past month. In the column denying such considerations is a very elegant blog from our friend Dan Cody. But just because county government lacks the formal constructs of government branches devised to keep the others in check, doesn’t mean the mechanism is missing from the dynamics at our county courthouse.

For once you set up an elected executive who develops a budget, provide an elected board that can adjust and modify that budget, the executive who can veto all or parts of that budget, and a board that can override any and all vetoes…you have set up a checks and balances situation. I don’t care that it is lacking a judiciary…the game is afoot just the same.

And the fight over the form our future county government will take comes down to power…of the executive branch over the rule making (legislative) board. And what would be the purpose of all that on the part of County Executive Abele and his cohort if the board wasn’t ‘checking’ their own personal agendas?

Whither MKE Cnty: County government reform is Sheldon Lubar’s passion?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently ran a piece titled, ‘County government reform is Sheldon Lubar’s passion‘. Now the odd thing was the discussion about Mr. Lubar’s interest in reforming county government occurs pretty much in just 25% of the article…the remaining 75% apparently was needed to extol his bona fides as a village elder. Most all of us know who Mr. Lubar is and appreciate his contributions to the Milwaukee area.

But the big questions still are…what did the county do or not do that sticks in his craw? He rants about how much it costs but $6 million out of a $1 billion budget? Even in his world, $6 million isn’t that big a project. That’s it? NO, wait, the board is sand in the transmission…a very visceral comment but hardly telling on what he thinks the problem is in his mind. But here is his take on county government, for whatever it is:

…if you really want to get him worked up, talk about Milwaukee County government. Not the inside-baseball of who’s up and who’s down, but the guts of the thing. What it does. How much it costs. And how many people should actually be sitting on the Milwaukee County Board.

In a perfect world, Lubar says the board, now composed of 18 supervisors, would be sliced by two-thirds and the body would no longer act like “sand in the gearbox.”

“I know the bill for the whole bunch of them is over $6 million and all they do is impede so we can’t go forward,” says Lubar, a driving force behind efforts to reform the board.

But something is afoot…and maybe it’s telling that he has often worked with current County Executive Chris Abele, who claims his attacks on the county board aren’t personal…despite never quite articulating what it is really all about:

Lubar and Abele co-chaired the 2006 Greater Milwaukee Committee report on Reforming Milwaukee County. The committee was formed as a Quality of Life Taskforce that was focused on preserving the county’s cultural assets.

“The task force realized that trying simply to save these assets alone in the face of the fiscal crises became the proverbial finger in the dike,” the report said.

Abele says it was never anyone’s goal “to blow up the county.”

“I’m not for it and neither is Shel, destruction for its own sake,” Abele says. “We believe that government that does work can be effective. We all know the status quo isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

Lubar has been pushing the current effort to cut the power of the County Board. His preferred method was to cut the size of the board. Others, though, sought to cut the board by slashing the pay of the supervisors.

So it really is an effort to cut the power of the Milwaukee County Board…but I am not wholly sure how cutting the number of supervisors would accomplish that. Or how reducing their pay would either. Both of those moves would probably change who is able to run for county board but it doesn’t mean that they would have any less authority or power. That would take a fundamental change in the structure of county government.

And finally:

For his part, Lubar remains focused on reform of county government.

“There is going to be a bill that will go through that will pretty much get this thing accomplished,” Lubar says. “However, the referendum will be postponed a year. But this legislation will pass and the County Board is going to have an opportunity to restructure itself.”

Bought and paid for? That’ll be cash on the barrel-head son!

Whither MKE Cnty: Sups. Taylor and Borkowski Make Their Move

Posted today on the Bay View Compass:

An Open Letter to the Residents of Milwaukee County:

Dear Friends:

There are some people who call politics a sport or even a game, and, just like in football, there are many Monday morning quarterbacks. These armchair quarterbacks pontificate as to what should have been done or said as well as exactly when it should have happened.

How Milwaukee County should be reformed is no different, and there is no absolute right or wrong way of reforming it. Yet, there are many critics who feel there is only one way to do so.

Reforming the County Board is necessary but the discussion should not end there, after only addressing .5 percent of the entire County budget. For example, the County Executive’s budget is the highest in the State, and he requested a nearly 25 percent increase this year, which was rejected by the Board. We need to look at all departments and services we provide, as well as find ways to truly collaborate with our local municipalities by combining services.

However, we know that the County Board is the hot topic, and we are prepared to address it as follows:

We will be asking the State Legislature to give us the tools to downsize, which would go into effect for the 2016 elections. Without this authority, we are not able to take this first step in reforming ourselves. Currently, there are 18 members, each representing approximately 53,000 residents. We would like to see that number reduced to 13, which would raise the total number of residents a Supervisor represents to about 73,000. In 2000, there were 25 Supervisors and, if allowed to downsize to 13 members, the cut would represent a nearly 50 percent reduction by 2016.

The size of our staff is unwarranted, and we are prepared to offer substantial cuts that could reduce the Board’s personnel budget by around 40 percent, starting in 2014. These cuts could further extend to approximately 50 percent after the 2016 elections, if the downsizing we are requesting is approved.

We are aware that there may be alternatives proposed by other Supervisors, and we welcome having a spirited debate. We also want to commend our former colleague Representative Joe Sanfelippo, for allowing us to have a seat at the table during this very important discussion, and we look forward to his input.