Whither MKE Cnty: Who Would Run For A Part Time Board?

Oddly enough the proposal first put forth by State Representative Joe Sanfelippo and wholeheartedly supported by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, the editorial board of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the tories of the Greater Milwaukee Committee that would reduce County Board Supervisor salaries and deny them benefits is touted as creating a part time board. Why do they make that assumption? Just because you pay someone a part time salary doesn’t mean you will get a part timer…particularly not in this case!

From today’s MJS editorial supporting a part time board:

Paying them on a part-time basis – as is the case in every other county in Wisconsin – is the way to go. They still can exercise the appropriate check on the administration.

But why do they want a part time board instead of maybe a smaller but equally inexpensive board? Try this on for size:

The reality is that downsizing the board without reducing pay leaves supervisors with plenty of time to micromanage county operations as they do currently.

On the other hand, in news article about reducing the boards salaries and budget, County Board Chairwoman Dimitrijevic took a different tack:

Only those financially well-off would be able to afford running for the County Board if the proposed legislation is adopted, Dimitrijevic said. The concerns of racial minorities, the poor and others would likely not be represented if the board pay and budget get chopped, she said.

And of course one of those who is in fact financially well-off, County Executive Chris Abele disagrees:

Abele dismissed the idea that only well-to-do candidates would run for the board if it became part time.

“Are you telling me all 71 (other) county boards are filled with rich people?” he said. “They don’t seem to be having trouble finding people to run, and people aren’t having trouble getting their voices heard.”

Let’s think about all of this for a few minutes…I don’t think any of these stances is wholly correct but they all have a bit to truth in them.

Would a part time board prevent the board from micromanaging (I think they mean interfering with the landed gentry and the county executive…but I am probably just extrapolating here)…but that would all depend on who is elected to a ‘part time’ board. So let’s say one of those well-offs who really likes the sound of County Supervisor in front of her name is elected and decides to spend her days at the courthouse? What’s to stop her from micromanaging? What if in three years I decide to retire and decide I want to take my political involvement to the next level and get elected to the board…$15,000 is fun money…and hanging out at the courthouse micromanaging county government sounds like a cool way to keep busy!

Yes, if you attract a small business man or local corporate executive or someone with a flexible work schedule who doesn’t ‘need’ the $15,000 to make ends meet, they probably wouldn’t have enough time to do more than attend board and committee meetings.

Now, as I’ve just alluded to would all potential board members be well off as Board Chair Dimitrijevic said? No, she’s wrong on that…but she is correct that the makeup of the board, the range of potential candidates would certainly change under the circumstances. Yes there would some well-off individuals, yes there might be some retired people, entrepreneurs or business executives with flexible schedules, or other civic minded individuals who don’t need a full time salary for whatever reason. You know, cab company owners or the like.

This type of change may rule out many of the current county supervisors who rely on their board salaries for support…and many of their predecessors…and the voters need to decide if that is good or bad.

But there is also the issue of diversity on the board and minority representation. Milwaukee County is the most diverse county in the state and also one of the most segregated. It also has one of the largest populations of poor and near poor. And a part time board would probably disenfranchise many of them. Would a part time salary without benefits allow enough minority representation on the board?

Which brings us to County Exec Abele’s contention that other boards don’t have a problem finding representatives…and he is probably right…but it may make sense to see who they are and what they are compared to the make up of the Milwaukee county board. And he says people don’t have a problem having their voices heard in those situations…something else that hasn’t actually been proven…but the other 51 counties tend to be far more homogeneous than Milwaukee county as well.

One thing I also didn’t mention about a ‘part time’ board. Who can serve might also be restricted by when the board and its various committees met. If it continued to meet during the business day, there would be far fewer potential candidates compared to say meeting in the evenings as the Milwaukee Public Schools board of directors (by the way they way they get paid $18,000 with benefits).

Whither MKE Cnty: Letting the Voters Decide Is A Good Idea Until It’s A Bad Idea!

The lead editorial bit of today’s Milwaukee Journal continues their support for a part time board for Milwaukee County. And they continue to support State Representative Joe Sanfelippo’s binding referendum despite the fact it only offers the choice between just two extremes on the spectrum: the status quo and a $15,000 per year no benefits position (which they are assuming as a part time board…but that’s another topic). And why do they like that (emphasis mine)?

We’re sticking with Sanfelippo – as long as he leaves the basic decisions in the hands of voters.

And then a few paragraph’s later they belittle the OUR Milwaukee initiative that was announced by County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and eight other county supervisors:

And as for Dimitrijevic’s proposal, well, that sounds like a good way to talk a good idea to death.

A proposal that wants to bring a public discussion about county government reform directly to the voters in a town hall meeting within every supervisory district.

So a take it or leave it extreme is the best solution? Or a frank conversation with constituents? I am hoping to attend as many of the town halls as I can. Here’s a chance at participatory democracy.

Whither MKE Cnty and OUR Milwaukee: Watch This Space!

I intend to continue the Whither MKE Cnty (Milwaukee County) series as I talk about things in general related to the reform Milwaukee County Government movement. But there will also be a new series titles OUR MKE (Milwaukee) to cover things specific to the OUR Milwaukee initiative unveiled last week by County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and eight other county supervisors!