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!

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

  1. John Casper says:

    Thanks Ed.

    One of my concerns is that Mr. Abele and Mr. Lubar want to profit from becoming “Hedge-fund slum lords.”

    Mr. Abele has an interest in CSA Commercial.

    From yesterday: “CSA Commercial hires Taffora: ‘CSA Commercial, a commercial real estate brokerage, investment, and development firm with offices in Milwaukee and Sheboygan, announced today it has named Brian Taffora, former director of economic development of Milwaukee County, as vice president……'”

    Mr. Lubar’s Wall Street experience is more extensive.

    “… At 83, Lubar still puts in a full workweek. He remains chairman of Lubar & Co., a private investment firm he founded more than a half century ago. His son, David, is the president and chief executive officer.
    “I don’t think he’ll ever really retire,” his son says.

    Per David Dayen’s excellent link below, Wall Street is seeking foreclosed homes, so they can securitize the rental payments.

    “Securitization Take II: Investment Firms Seek to Securitize Rental Payments”

    Abele/Lubar make big profits selling property to Wall Street. As CE Mr. Abele is uniquely positioned, in a whole lot of ways, to advantage properties in which his proxies have an interest.

    I’ve written these exact concerns to Mr. Abele and Mr. Lubar. I’m not sure this is what they’re doing and I surely hope I’m wrong. If I’m not wrong, they may see a vigilant County Board as a threat to their investments.

    Cities are the future. It’s where all the people live. Now more than ever, we need robust LOCAL government. IMHO, the argument is much stronger to continue with 18 Supervisors and double their pay. That delivers better quality representation.


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