Some thoughts on the War Memorial/Milwaukee Art Museum deal

First, here’s the thoughts of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Editorial Board on the recent statements by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele that he’d veto a deal reached by the County Board with representatives from the Milwaukee Art Museum and the War Memorial.

The deal does create a better balanced and more efficient governance structure between the two bodies, as well as several other entities that were under the War Memorial umbrella, such as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. It also provides a set funding level of taxpayer support for the two entities at $1,586,000 for 10 years — about $1.1 million for the Art Museum and the rest for the War Memorial.

Much of that money will be used to help pay for utility costs and routine maintenance at the War Memorial, which has been deteriorating. Coupled with $10 million pledged by the county for major maintenance issues and the $15 million the Art Museum plans to spend on a major renovation, the funding will help restore the War Memorial to a building in which all county residents can take pride.

The guaranteed 10-year support and partnership with the county may also help reassure donors that their money will be well-spent, as Dimitrijevic has argued.

Furthermore, the nearly $1.6 million is not out of line with the average $1.5 million in annual support the county provided from 1999 to this year.

So the deal makes sense on several levels, and prolonging a hopeless political fight over the issue appears fruitless.

That said, Abele is making a sound fiscal argument and a principled stand. He is willing to support the institutions to a tune of $1.3 million, roughly what it was in 2012. And a 2011 audit of the War Memorial helped make a strong case for weaning the institutions off public dollars. Promising the institutions nearly $1.6 million a year for 10 years may not be the best way to do that.

Yes, the community owes veterans a great deal, and the county owns the War Memorial building and has an obligation to maintain it. But at what level of taxpayer support? Community support doesn’t necessarily mean government support, especially when county government faces a host of serious financial issues, from mental health care to transit to parks to maintenance at other buildings.

I absolutely support the Milwaukee Art Museum and there’s no denying the War Memorial is an iconic structure – and both are very deserving of funding – but I would rather have seen the extra $300,000 per year that Marina Dimitrijevic and the Board of Supervisors want to spend on the Milwaukee Art Museum and the War Memorial get spent on actual services for Milwaukee County veterans, and I know at least one Milwaukee County veteran who agrees with me.

After all, a $300,000 increase in funding for the County Veteran’s Service Office would represent a 100% increase in that office’s funding, and I’m betting that office could do a heck of a lot of actual good for Milwaukee County’s veterans with an extra $300,000 in funding.

But here’s an idea: if Marina Dimitrijevic and her allies on the County Board really want to honor and support Milwaukee County’s veterans, perhaps Marina & company would be willing to give up $300,000 from the County Board’s annual budget in order to demonstrate their support for Milwaukee County’s veterans. Then again, the County Board would actually have to submit a budget request for themselves, which I understand they haven’t done.

That being said, I do actually agree with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board that Chris Abele shouldn’t veto the agreement reached. While I appreciate his desire to stand on his principles, it’s clear his veto will be an exercise in futility. I’d rather see County Executive Abele spend his time trying to find a way to increase funding for actual veterans’ services, because I know there are a lot of veterans in Milwaukee County who could use additional help.

12 comments to Some thoughts on the War Memorial/Milwaukee Art Museum deal

  • Ed Heinzelman

    Under Act 14, I am not sure there is $300,000 in the board budget to give to anything.

       2 likes

  • Mikey

    How about an increase in taxes on the parasitic elite? You propose another deduction in taxes to the suffering people of the city of Milwaukee?

       1 likes

  • Stan

    This is not Dimitrijevic’s nor the County Board’s plan. This is the agreement worked out in mediation between the Veterans and the Art Museum. It was run by former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske and the board was not involved. The only person who is against this compromise is Abele. Why are you doing his dirty work?

       4 likes

  • Ben

    Here’s a surplus article from April, Ed.
    http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/county-has-25-million-surplus-from-last-year-as-finances-brighten-overall-ma9k43e-203662341.html
    Further, a friend and I sat down with Lipscomb less than two months ago and he acknowledged a surplus.

    And Stan is plain wrong. Marina’s own colleagues have pointed out her 11th hour involvement.
    It’s true that the AM/WM were negotiating a long term fix for themselves. But Marina then advised them to up their asking price. (Which they did).
    What did she get in return? Vocal, short-lived support from a handful of administrators. And the satisfaction of having thwarted the original intent. That being, temporary support for the two entities while they move toward financial independence.

    Steve might be right? Maybe adopting this flawed agreement is the path of least resistance for the CE? But the underlying problem of Supervisor meddling (to the detriment of county residents) only underlines the need for Act14.

    Whether you find yourself supporting the CE or the Chairwoman’s position in this case- I believe we can all agree that the two offices working against one another is robbing programs we care about of efficiency and money.
    Too many chiefs. Not enough Indians.

    Lastly, Mikey refers to the “parasitic elite”. If that’s not “black kettle syndrome” I don’t know what is?

    Ciao

       1 likes

    • Stan

      This is absolutely not true. The only place where that has been said is from Abele. Do you even understand how a mediation works and what role Geske played?

         1 likes

      • Ben

        I AM familiar with mediations, yes. And no, Abele is not the only source pointing out Marina’s “intervention”. Other Sup’s have written about it on social media.

        Is it your contention that Marina had NOTHING to do with the current deal? Reason I ask is, I sat 4 feet away from her while she “gushed” over how proud she was to be a part of it to a WM administrator who had pulled out a vid camera for an impromptu interview in the courthouse. (following a hearing on the deal)

        Woops.

           0 likes

        • John Casper

          Ben: “I AM familiar with mediations, yes.”

          How many have you worked on? Please, name them.

          Ben: “And no, Abele is not the only source pointing out Marina’s “intervention”. Other Sup’s have written about it on social media.”

          Would love to see them. Paste in those Tweets.

          Ben: “Is it your contention that Marina had NOTHING to do with the current deal?”

          Everyone gives the County Chair credit for persuading Justice Geske to get involved.

          Ben: “Reason I ask is,

          Oh, so the “reason,” was because you wanted an “opening” to provide “calumny” against the County Chair?

          Ben: “I sat 4 feet away from her,”

          Sounds a little creepy.

          Ben: “while she “gushed”

          Was it “icky?”

          Ben: “over how proud she was to be a part of it”

          The War Memorial’s the single most important piece of property in Milwaukee County. It’s dedicated to the memory of boys/men who died fighting for our country. It didn’t get such prestigious real estate by accident. The AM is damned lucky to have such proximity.

          Ben: “to a WM administrator who had pulled out a vid camera for an impromptu interview in the courthouse. (following a hearing on the deal)”

          Can you name the WM administrator?

             0 likes

        • Ed Heinzelman

          An opposing question is why didn’t our esteemed county executive get involved when it was obvious that the negotiations were going nowhere???

             0 likes

    • John Casper

      Ben,

      Who is Steve? I can’t find a “Steve” anywhere in this thread?

      What’s “black kettle syndrome.”

      W/R/T a “surplus,” the Courthouse electrical system just blew up, because of deferred maintenance.

      Ben: “And Stan is plain wrong.”

      That’s your opinion stated to sound like a fact.

      Ben: “Marina’s own colleagues have pointed out her 11th hour involvement.”

      Then name them. Does “colleagues” mean other Supervisors?

      Ben: “It’s true that the AM/WM were negotiating a long term fix for themselves.”

      Thank you Captain Obvious. Who has disputed JS reporting on this over the last year?

      Ben: “But Marina then advised them to up their asking price. (Which they did).”

      And you know this how?

      Ben: “What did she get in return? Vocal, short-lived support from a handful of administrators.

      Why isn’t Justice Geske screaming? Why has the JS not published your version?

      Ben: “And the satisfaction of having thwarted the original intent.”

      From where did you get your degree in mind-reading? Can you read everyone’s mind or just the County Chair’s?

      Ben: “That being, temporary support for the two entities while they move toward financial independence.”

      Please, while remaining public, tell us how either of those entities can move towards “financial independence.”

      Per your response to Mikey, if the “elites” aren’t parasitic, how come the U.S. middle class is ranked 27th?

      http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-23/how-does-america%E2%80%99s-middle-class-rank-globally-27

      I’m unclear why you ended your comment with “Ciao.” Care to explain?

         0 likes

    • Ed Heinzelman

      Ben…I understand that their was a budget surplus…but I believe Zach was suggesting that the board take the money from their own budget.

         0 likes

      • John Casper

        Here’s some background. Although the planning probably started much earlier, in 2011, Mike Grebe and the Bradley Foundation got MAM to host a Chinese exhibit about the Emperor’s furniture. It was a ham-fisted PR move designed to help the image of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist party. Since at time China was “detaining” one of the greatest artists, Ai Weiwei, MAM received broadsides from everyone in the Art community, even the Wall Street Journal.

        “Wall Street Journal critiques China policy at Milwaukee Art Museum”

        http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/122718544.html

        Might be the only time the WSJ ever said anything bad about a Mike Grebe project.

        So, to salve those PR wounds, some genius got some Milwaukee money to plunk down around $3.5 million for an authentic “American” painter, John Singleton Copley. The point and timing of the purchase appears to have been to wash off the stink of the “Commie show from China.”

        You can’t make this stuff up. John Singleton Copley left America after the Boston Tea Party (1773). He had married the daughter of the guy who ran the British East India Company in the U.S. They owned the tea that patriots dumped into Boston harbor. He liked the monarchy and spent the rest of his life in England.

        The fact that they appeared to have overpaid only emphasizes that these folks aren’t too bright.

        “Cost of Copley questioned by Milwaukee Magazine”
        http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/136961128.html

        That $3.5 million could have been donated to fix up the War Memorial, so the art stored there wouldn’t be in such danger. Except the movers and shakers didn’t think that the “meat and potatoes” of maintenance generated the publicity and the sizzle of buying art. So the taxpayers now have to pick up the tab for long-deferred maintenance.

        The people who actually bought the art may have had little idea about the issues at the War Memorial. IMHO it would have been up to civic leaders like Scott Walker, Julie Taylor (GMC), Mike Grebe (Bradley FDN)… to tell them.

           0 likes

  • Cat Kin

    Really sad. Some of the 250,000 jobs Walker promised would certainly help Milwaukee’s Iron Belt woes. Ain’t gonna happen. But you guys down there in the corner let him get going and you’re going to have to devise a way to stop him and put some pride back in one of Democracy’s vaunted legend cities.

       1 likes

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