Chris Abele proposes wheel tax for Milwaukee County

This is sure to be popular.

A $60 vehicle registration fee, or wheel tax, is needed beginning in 2017 to help pay for Milwaukee County’s bus transit system and costs of repairing county highways and parkways, County Executive Chris Abele said Thursday.

The new fee would be a dedicated source of funding for transportation and generate around $27.1 million a year, Abele told reporters at the courthouse.

The county fee would be paid on top of the state’s $75 registration fee for vehicle owners, for a total of $135. City of Milwaukee vehicle owners already pay a separate wheel tax of $20 so the total for city owners would become $155.

As County Executive Abele eyes a run for governor in 2018, his proposal to levy a $60 wheel tax on Milwaukee County’s vehicle owners seems like an attack ad that writes itself.

Sheriff Clarke Runs Amok, County Exec Abele Talks Sense, and a Judge Starts the Healing

Following the Sherman Park riots on August 13th and 14th, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke decided to close Milwaukee County park, Sherman Park, at 6 PM each day. The normal time for county parks to close is 10 PM. In the short term this made some sense but in the passing days and then weeks, the residents requested that the park be returned to normal. Obviously the neighborhood wanted to heal. And there were several weekly events held in the park that were being interrupted that were designed to help area youth and others.

Well Sheriff Clarke ignored the requests of neighborhood residents and kept the 6 PM curfew in place. That was common knowledge but nearly everyone in the city other than the sheriff were wondering why. What I didn’t know was the park was also enclosed in orange plastic snow fencing…an intimidating and extremely ugly presence in the park.

But then this Sunday it got more interesting!

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced Sunday that Sherman Park…would resume its normal operating hours, setting up a showdown with Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., who had imposed shortened hours in the wake of the unrest.

…he (Abele) reinstated the county park’s normal operating hours and had the fencing removed — only to have Clarke reinstall the barrier and threaten to arrest anyone, including Abele, who refused to leave the park after 6 p.m.

Acting on a legal opinion by the county’s top attorney, Abele on Sunday reinstated the park’s 10 p.m. closing time and ordered the removal of the fencing, calling it “a literal and figurative barrier standing in the way of healing in the Sherman Park neighborhood.”

Within hours Sunday, Clarke ordered his deputies to replace the fence, and said in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the park would remain closed from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as a matter of public safety until he decides otherwise.

Well, not to let this rest, County Exec Abele then sought and gained a court injunction against the sheriff closing down the park again:

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher on Sunday issued a temporary restraining order barring Clarke from closing the park early, and he ordered the removal of bright orange snow fencing that has lined the park for all but a few hours since rioting broke out in the surrounding neighborhood over a two-day period last month.

Hansher ordered sheriff’s deputies not to impede public access to the park “in the absence of any genuine, bona fide reason related to maintaining law and order and preserving the peace.”

He also chastised Clarke for failing to appear in court and not sending an attorney, calling it “contemptuous of the civil proceeding and the public’s right to have a hearing.”

“The sheriff is not above the law,” Hansher said.

A follow up hearing is set for Wednesday…and someone from the Sheriff’s Department had better show up this time…although it’s even money the sheriff himself won’t show up.

Hansher scheduled a hearing on a permanent restraining order for 2 p.m. Wednesday. He said if Clarke attempted to unnecessarily impede access to the park, he would find the sheriff in contempt of court.

All of this is typical of the ongoing feud between the sheriff and the county exec.

But the really telling statement on this whole thing is the very last paragraph of the article:

“I feel like instead of acting like a bully, Clarke should come down and talk with us,” Major (Dee Major – an area resident) said. “There is nothing wrong here.”

So besides not evening listening to the requests of the neighborhood, the sheriff hasn’t even visited the area?

Sheriff Clarke is up for re-election in 2018…plenty of time to find a qualified candidate to run against him!

Chris Abele endorses his favorite kind of Democrat

In a move that should surprise absolutely no one, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has endorsed State Senator Lena Taylor for reelection.

“I’m proud to endorse Senator Lena Taylor’s reelection on August 9. Lena has the track record of getting things done that we need in the State Capitol. Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in the majority, Lena has always been able to work with anyone to get bills passed.”

Notably, Lena Taylor has worked with Wisconsin’s Republicans to pass Castle Doctrine laws that provide legal protections to people who shoot home intruders and to make concealed carry of firearms legal, and she also supported Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to increase the per-pupil aid to voucher and charter schools.

Remember That Time Abele Said He Wasn’t Going To Take Over MPS Schools?

Many of our local readers are probably aware of the history behind the state-mandated Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program – or OSPP. Essentially the state has required the county executive to take over 3 underperforming Milwaukee Public Schools per year and hand them over to private operators. The county executive also needs to provide a commissioner and board to oversee these schools and select the operators. And of course the state has provided no funding for these schools nor for the commissioner position. The money is to come from the normal state support for charter and voucher schools.

So last fall, County Executive Chris Abele enlisted Dr. Desmond Means as his commissioner. Dr. Means is currently the Superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, one of the highest performing school districts in the state.

At the time Dr Means and Exec. Abele proposed a high performance kindergarten program and providing additional support and advice for underperforming MPS schools. This was wrapped around a promise to not actually take control of any schools. Such a takeover is opposed by the MPS Board and the MTEA of course.

But State Senator Alberta Darling, one of the key authors of the bill authorizing the takeover, predicted that Exec. Abele’s view on taking over schools would change after he was re-elected county executive.

Guess what?

Editor’s Note: the official term for Dr. Means position in the state law is commissioner. So I changed my usage of superintendent to commissioner.

Pensions and More Pensions, Alderman Zielinski, and Milwaukee Works Inc.

Over the past ten days or so I received a number of unusual campaign style literature pieces. They prominently feature Milwaukee 14th District Alderman Tony Zielinski although they aren’t actually election related pieces. I live in the 14th so it makes sense that I received them. But they obviously were sent to discredit the alderman ahead of the local elections on April 5th. And they were paid for by Milwaukee Works, Inc. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Both pieces bring up Ald. Zielinski’s involvement with the Milwaukee County pension scandal during County Executive Ament’s administration. Ald. Zielinski was a county supervisor at the time and voted in favor of the pension changes. So far they are still in factual territory. Well sort of…they keep calling it the Milwaukee Pension Scandal despite this affected only Milwaukee County elected officials and employees. But they need to do that so they can make the leap across the chasm to demand the end to defined benefit pensions for City of Milwaukee Alderman. But in the lit they don’t call them defined benefit pensions…but fat tax-payer funded golden parachute pensions. Well here’s the lit…take a look…and then I will continue the discussion:

Last week:

This past week:

Both pieces have same address side:

Although this doesn’t oppose Ald. Zielinski in the election the timing just two weeks and one week prior to the election of course makes it suspect. And of course if you look at the addressee tag it is addressed to me “or resident voter”…so it is aimed at the election…if I were doing this as an ‘informational’ or a ‘policy’ piece I would have addressed it to “or current resident”. But that’s just me…shrug.

So these pieces piqued my curiosity. Who is Milwaukee Works, Inc and why do they hate pensions and why are they targeting Ald. Zielinski? Well I visited their website ( and I still don’t know. But first, lets see who they are. From their Who We Are page:

Milwaukee Works, Inc. is committed to educating citizens about the value of good government, risk-taking enterprise, and inclusive communities. These are values inherent to thriving metropolitan cities around the world.

Milwaukee’s commercial and cultural communities are vibrant – but are held back by political dysfunction that rewards cronyism, incumbency, and stakeholders in the status quo (the “political class”). This dysfunction does not value cooperation and accountability.
We’re fed up with politicians captured by special interests who sacrifice the common good to hold their positions of power. Unfortunately, the political class thrives on “asymmetric information,” insider knowledge that allows self-dealing at our expense.

A well-informed citizenry will force elected officials to do the right thing – not the politically convenient thing. Without well-informed constituents, too many elected officials will continue to default to benefiting their political class, not the common good.

Partisan labels aren’t interesting to us – we’re focused on educating on issues to improve Milwaukee as a place to live in real, not political, terms.

Milwaukee Works, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) non-profit, non-partisan issue advocacy organization. We are a completely volunteer organization with no paid staff. Directors are not compensated. We aim to use all raised funds for research and education.

Not quite what I was looking for. But now we know they are a non-profit with a volunteer staff…but no mention of where their funds come from (I know – I know – they don’t have to disclose that) nor a mention of the civic minded directors who are directing the place.

And so far they have weighed in on four local issues. Prior to the Milwaukee Pension Scandal…they are against Chris Larson’s campaign to unseat incumbent County Executive Chris Abele because it might reverse the county board reforms, the are aghast that the Estabrook Dam hasn’t been removed yet, and they don’t like County Board Chair Theo Lipscomb Jr. much. I am starting to sense a theme here. And it seems to lean against the county board past and present.

So I asked around to three local people who might be in the know on who is behind Milwaukee Works, Inc and the unanimous reply was: Dan Adams. Well in case you don’t recognize Dan Adams…and I’ll admit I only remembered him vaguely until I googled him…Dan Adams was backed by Exec. Abele in the 19th State Assembly district back in 2014. (A seat eventually won by Jonathan Brostoff who had worked in the office of Senator Chris Larson.) And he’s garnered quite an odd reputation in local politics since then. Our own editor Zach Wisniewski has posted quite a number of items in the past year or so. But now you can start to understand the positions being taken by Milwaukee Works, Inc…they are the same positions held by the county executive. I wonder how they overlooked the Domes Scandal?!? A faux Democrat, Mr. Adams has taken any number of right turns on his own as Zach’s blogs will attest.

But I still couldn’t actually link Mr. Adams to the site or the organization…after all they weren’t naming names. But something interesting turned up in my Google search. A job listing for Milwaukee Works, Inc: Investigative Reporter. And unlike the website that has a generic gmail account for contact information, the job listing suggests that you apply to So that case is solved and yes, Dan Adams apparently is behind MKEWorks!

So I get their stands on county issues if they are stand ins for Exec. Abele…but what’s with their animosity against Alderman Zielinski? That I haven’t figured out yet…if one of our dear readers knows…I’d appreciate the insight. Even on their site’s position against pensions for Milwaukee alderman, Ald. Zielinski is the only one called out. The only reasons I can surmise on that is they are lazy and UrbanMilwaukee had already done the groundwork. Shrug…

Now to be fair I emailed them this afternoon about the lit pieces and did they only mail to the 14th District…and yes that really isn’t fair because it’s Sunday and yes I should have done it earlier. When they respond I will update this piece accordingly.

Off track a bit but some additional commentary on their attack on pensions. They correctly say that defined pensions fell out of favor because of their cost. That’s correct but that doesn’t mean they should have gone away.

A defined benefit pension plan is one that promises a specific monthly payment to a former employee based on their past earnings, length of employment, and age. The financial health of the employer has no bearing on the its obligation to pay. These plans were in vogue during the middle of the 20th Century, but due to their cost, fell heavily out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s

Pensions have fallen out of favor almost everywhere, except with local governments, including the City of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin.

But this position is just another lean to the right and into the pockets of big business in opposition to labor. And it’s a typical ploy…let’s take it away from someone who has it instead of making it standard for all!

We can take all of the guessing out of it…courtesy of the internet (I received this two hours after the rest of the post was written – just leaving the rest as is):
dan adams

P.S. I tried to Join them…but the boxes to enter email and name are white on white when you click on them to do the entry. So be a good typist if you try!

UPDATE APRIL 4th: From a comment on my Facebook posting of this article: Jan Pierce works with this group…which makes it clear why this lit piece attacks Ald. Zielinski. Mr. Pierce lost to Ald. Zielinski in 2012.

Chris Abele Is Getting Ripped Off

This will probably only interest the subset of readers who have run for office or got deep into running campaigns…but way at the bottom it does actually bring up an issue we should consider when voting on April 5th for County Executive. But on with the story:

Obviously as a political activist, former candidate for office, and habitual voter my house gets all of the local campaign literature that it’s entitled to in the mail. Makes for some interesting reading some days.

Now campaigns usually have consultants who create and order the literature for the campaign based on a database…pulling a list of addressees depending on the demographics that the candidate wants to reach. And generally the candidate pays per piece of literature.

Now an ethical contractor…or an efficient contractor…will consolidate the mailing list if more than one individual lives in a single household. Just today for instance, I received a mailed lit piece from each of the candidates for alderperson from my district. One piece from each candidate…and it was addressed to my wife and myself…that is what I would expect. The same thing happens when Chris Larson’s campaign for county executive sends lit to my home.

But not when his opponent, incumbent Chris Abele mails things. As many Milwaukee county residents know, County Exec Abele’s campaign has been overwhelming our mail boxes with literature throughout the campaign season. But instead of getting one piece in each mailing, both my wife and I get one. So I am suggesting that someone contracting with the campaign isn’t protecting their client by merging the mailing list or worse are padding their fees by just mailing to everyone individually. Or the campaign staff isn’t supervising the counts against the population and making sure they make sense. One less piece mailed to my house is one more outreach to another potential voter.

So, why should most of us care? Obviously County Executive Abele can afford to run the campaign that he his running and either doesn’t care about the cost or doesn’t care to oversee his campaign sufficiently to efficiently control costs. Does that attitude carry over to his style of governing Milwaukee County?

Millionaire Chris Abele on a $7.25 Minimum Wage: “That’s Great!”

Watch as Milwaukee’s millionaire County Executive Chris Abele explains how great a $7.25 per hour minimum wage is.

Now I can’t say for certain, but I’m guessing that as the son of a billionaire Chris Abele has probably never had to work any job for a wage even remotely close to the minimum wage, so it’s not one bit surprising that he doesn’t seem to understand that a $7.25 minimum wage isn’t “great;” it’s appalling.

Another day, another attack on Chris Larson by Chris Abele

In yet another example of how completely negative Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s reelection campaign has gotten, I received yet another literature piece from Abele’s campaign attacking challenger Chris Larson. For those of you following along at home, this latest lit piece comes on the heels of two previous lit pieces from Abele attacking Chris Larson.

Abele attack lit piece - side 1

Abele attack lit piece - side 2

As I’ve written before, the fact that Chris Abele’s campaign has gone completely negative against Chris Larson seems like proof that Abele’s campaign knows they’re in real trouble come election day. After all, campaigns who believe they’re winning don’t resort to negative attacks. What’s more, Abele’s strategy of tearing down Chris Larson through negative attacks is both unsurprising yet disappointing, because an incumbent should be able to articulate why voters should vote for him, instead of simply trying to convince voters to vote against the other guy.