Whither MKE County: Time For A Dedicated Park District

By now all of you have read at least one article about the perceived risk of having the county executive sell Milwaukee County park land without input from the county board or the general public. The recent changes in state law that allow the county executive to sell non-park land without notice and without competitive bids begs the question of what is and what is not park land. The current interpretation of the law leans toward: it ain’t park land if it’s not zoned park land by each and every municipality that hosts a county park(s).

But in cased you missed it here’s something from the Shepherd Express, UrbanMilwaukee, and the good old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And even more recently we have the closing of the Mitchell Park Domes for reasons of safety for both patrons and employees as the deferred maintenance from both the Scott Walker and Chris Abele administrations has come home to roost so to speak. The Domes have gone from a weekend of closure to an unknown length of time or maybe permanently depending on who is doing the talking…and repairs have been guesstimated at up to $75 million.

And if you haven’t heard about that try these: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or Senator Chris Larson.

So maybe it’s time to take the county park system out of the hands of Milwaukee County and create an independent park district with its own dedicated funding…basically with the half percent sales tax that Milwaukee County voters approved years ago…I don’t know exactly what form that would take but if they have tax levy authority it should include an elected board…not an appointed one.

The value of the park system as a whole can not be overstated. Beyond the pure beauty the green areas bring to the county…add the recreation value…the tourism value…the business/employee recruitment value…the environmental impact…etc etc…the park system is a resource that we can not afford to squander.

The Hypocrisy Of The County Board About O’Donnell Park

I maybe could have resurrected my Whither Milwaukee County for this…and it does have one future installment coming…but not yet:

It was announced in several venues today (including Facebook postings by County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic) that the Milwaukee Art Museum will make an offer to purchase O’Donnell Park from the county.

Just a few months ago the County Board rejected an offer (admittedly an under market offer to start with) from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance for O’Donnell primarily for the parking lot…parking they coveted for the employees of their new office tower. This would have been a great deal for NML but a poor one for the county on a number of levels.

But the board rejected the bid and rightly so…park land is park land and shouldn’t be sold to a private party…period.

Now the parking garage portion of the park needs some maintenance…any where from a couple of million to five million depending on the repairs being talked about. But since O’Donnell actually brings in revenue from parking and rent for the Coast Restaurant and Betty Brinn Museum…seeing the way to do the necessary repairs isn’t a financial burden for the county.

But low and behold the board offered O’Donnell to the Milwaukee Art Museum…and since they rely on the parking garage for a majority of their patrons…they would like to buy it. Of course now the board is excited to sell parkland to a private party…albeit a non profit…because it will insure public access for years to come!

The Milwaukee Art Museum will offer to buy O’Donnell Park and its multilevel parking garage from Milwaukee County, museum director Dan Keegan said Tuesday.

The museum wants to ensure long-term access to parking and the lakefront for its visitors and the public, Keegan told the County Board’s parks committee.

“Parking is critical to the art museum,” Keegan said.

Up to 60% of the museum’s visitors park in the O’Donnell garage. A lease could not provide the museum with guaranteed parking for the next several decades, should the county decide to sell the property to a private developer, he said.

No purchase price or other details were discussed Tuesday. Keegan said he expected a deal to be negotiated by September for the board’s approval.

The County Board in April gave the museum 90 days to study a possible lease or purchase of the park.

O’Donnell Park includes a plaza at the east end of Wisconsin Ave., between E. Michigan and E. Mason streets, that sits atop a multilevel parking structure west of N. Lincoln Memorial Drive. The three-story Miller Pavilion is on the southwest corner of the plaza and houses the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and the Coast restaurant.

County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said selling the park to the museum, rather than a private developer, would give the public access to the plaza for years to come.

A museum purchase would “preserve valuable open park space while proposing the kind of visual enhancements that only the Milwaukee Art Museum can offer,” Dimitrijevic said.

Look…either O’Donnell Park is a park and county treasure or it’s a real asset available to the highest bidder or ‘bff’ of the county board…if you know what I mean. When the original 90 day look see was proposed, I countered on social media on a county supervisors site that I thought it was hypocritical to not sell because it was a park last fall but readily sell now. But I got the proverbial earful because it’s still in the public arena and will be owned by a friendly non-profit. Bulloney is bulloney whether you slice it on the grain or on the bias.

Full Disclosure: I am a long term holder of NML life insurance and have investments with them…I love the Milwaukee Art Museum and have been a long time member and supporter. This isn’t about either institution…it’s about the hypocrisy in the County Courthouse.

Where Are Barrett and Abele on the UWM Budget Cuts?

If you are reading this blog I highly doubt that you are unfamiliar with Governor Walker’s intention to cut state support to the University of Wisconsin System by $300 million over the next biennial budget.

Most of the articles talking about the ‘trickle down’ to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee expect the local university to lose $20 million per year in state support.

So my question is: where are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele on the subject? Or any of our other local elected officials? The state budget is about to take $20 million out of the local economy each year and there has been pretty much utter and absolute silence?

If I was a local businessman whose business put $20 million into the local economy and I announced that I was thinking about moving my business to Racine or Ozaukee county or something…I imagine local elected officials would be tripping over each other to dissuade me of the move attempt. Why nothing on the UWM cuts? Does anyone actually think that the academics are going to prevail in getting this reversed? Really?

Whither MKE County: Pat Jursik Calls Out The Suburbs on Housing Discrimination

This is a surprisingly harsh assessment of the suburbs blatant disregard for equal housing…on top of the fact that they oppose regional public transportation at every turn…but County Supervisor Pat Jursik simply lays it on the line:

Supervisor Patricia Jursik today issued the following statement regarding the SEWRPC Regional Housing Plan:

“Ferguson, MO is the blueprint for the next phase of civil rights struggle: The Integration of the Outer Suburbs. This year, Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC) created a Regional Housing Plan with recommendations for affordable, workforce housing and attention to patterns of housing discrimination. The Milwaukee County Board adopted this plan, which is supported by good fact-finding and fully noticed public hearings.

“The subtle signs of racism are already being planted here in Southeastern Wisconsin as displayed by the actions of the Ozaukee County Board and Waukesha County Board, with the Ozaukee County Board outright rejecting the Housing Plan and Waukesha amending the plan to point of gutting it.

“Will the State of Wisconsin be pro-active in encouraging affordable housing in the outer suburbs now they have chosen to run Milwaukee County? My guess is probably not, since it is the local Milwaukee County Board that had been proactive on affordable housing and workforce alternatives.

“The one sign of hope is the recent trend of both singles and recently retired people in moving to the metropolitan area where there is diversity, creative cultural offerings, open-mindedness and youthful vigor.

“Violence is never an alternative, but blandness is not a good choice either and that seems to come with this display of prejudice. It comes with discriminatory housing where the “haves” wall-off the very workers needed in their local community businesses while failing to provide the transportation needed to get around these “walls””.

Whither MKE County: Downsizing Physical Plant!

County Supervisor Pat Jursik is preparing a resolution to reduce the number of buildings that Milwaukee County holds at their City Campus facility and start the move to dispose of other underutilized properties in the coming years. She would like plans set into to motion as part of the 2015 County Budget:

Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik said today that she has proposed a resolution to reduce the number of properties held by the County, including the City Campus facility.

Almost five years ago the Milwaukee County Board engaged in Strategic Planning, which resulted in several initiatives: Foremost among them was the decision to move forward with downsizing the number County holdings with regard to facilities. Jursik said that at the turn of the 21st century, the County’s workforce was more than 7,500 employees, but it has been since been reduced below 5,000 employees. Yet the County occupies the same space as it did in the last century. The Courthouse fire last summer again reminded the administration of the folly in delaying maintenance and failure to downsize aging buildings.

“As the Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee and the author of the resolution to bring in CBRE to help the county obtain the information needed to make good decisions around downsizing our real estate holdings, I am pleased to also author the first formal resolution to initiate the scope and schedule of this work,” Jursik said.

Jursik said that as the County plans for the budget for 2015, the resolution will set the policy for closing City Campus and requires the second phase of decision be given a time line. This next phase will require policy makers to strategically examine the utilization of the Marcia Coggs Center by year’s end. Next, she said, we must address planning for the Behavioral Health Complex and the Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center. The Courthouse Complex strategies must be determined by next year regarding the utilization or vacation of the Safety Building, the Medical Examiner’s Space and the Community Correction Center.

“After the fire, all of us learned that the Courthouse is the heart of all the satellite spaces owned by the County,” Jursik said. “It is imperative that we address which of the complex buildings we will keep and which will be deemed outdated and vacated.

“Realization of this initiative will take decades to carry out, but the failure of policy makers to adopt these time frames would mean many more years of deferred maintenance, high utility bills, and poor space planning. It is imperative that we set these plans in motion now so that doing nothing becomes untenable.”

Dissimulation on County Board Referendum Right Down To The Wire

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is taking the lies and obfuscations about the Act 14 required referendum on Milwaukee County Board pay and benefits right down to the wire. In a front page article in their March 31, 2014 print edition, they continue the nonsense about cutting supervisor’s pay by half will result in a part time board. If Act 14 wanted a part time board it should have defined and required a part time board…but that probably isn’t practically feasible.

But once again they trotted out the $24,051 annual salary as part time money when it’s actually $11.56 per hour for a 40 hour week. I would think I’d win my bet easily if I wagered that it would be hard to find thousands of hard working county residents who are working full time for a lot less that $11.56.

And they repeated Rep Joe Sanfelippo’s canard that, well, there just isn’t that much to do in the courthouse to fill an 8 hour day…I can’t help it if Rep Sanfelippo couldn’t fill his day when he was county supervisor…and no maybe there isn’t 8 hours to do in the courthouse…but if he wasn’t working 40+ hours a week in the courthouse, civic events, town halls, or with neighborhood groups…he owes his former constituents some ‘splainin’

And of course the bill is also said to prevent supervisors from meddling in day to day county operations. I suggest that if it starts to attract retired individuals or wealthy individuals who look at it as an ego boost…it might in fact get much worse.

Yes, I have written about all of this before…several times in fact…and I am not saying that there isn’t support for looking at the board and all of county government and consider some make overs. BUT, this bill and resulting referendum is exactly the ‘formally crafted punishment’ that it’s author and supporters deny.

VOTE NO ON APRIL 1ST!

Whither MKE County: The April Fool’s Referendum

It’s amazing that the last nail in the coffin of the Milwaukee County Board as we know it is a bogus referendum that is just a week away. Except for two very minor articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this referendum has gone pretty much unnoticed. The left and the supporters of the board realize that 90% of the damage was all ready inflicted by Act 14 so this is just the epilog. County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic hit it right on the head when she declared the referendum a sham:

County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has called the referendum a sham because last year’s law on the board already eliminated supervisors’ benefits, starting after the 2016 supervisors’ elections. The same law also will reduce the board’s budget so greatly that it would force a major salary cut, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Dimitrijevic has said.

What is truly amazing is no one has started any kind of campaign to solicit a no vote on the referendum…it has been a forgone conclusion that it will pass.

But I was totally dumbfounded to read that Sheldon Lubar is supporting an eleventh hour effort to convince people to vote yes. He waited until two weeks before the election to start to campaign? And he needs other people’s money? WTF? Lubar can set up a $100,000 fund from his pocket change.

Well anyway, it will be interesting how many votes yea or nay this thing will pull in. After all there is nothing on most of the ballots in Milwaukee County…the only other county wide election is for MILWAUKEE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE, BRANCH 32 – contested by LAURA GRAMLING PEREZ and CEDRIC CORNWALL.

But I’ll urge everyone of you who votes on April 1st to vote NO on the referendum initiative. Here is the referendum for your consideration:

County Supervisor’s Pay – 2013 Wisconsin Act 14: “Shall that portion of 2013 Wisconsin Act 14 which limits the compensation of members of the board of supervisors of Milwaukee County other than the chairperson of the board and chairperson of the finance committee to receipt of an annual salary of not more than the annual per capita income of this county, which in 2012 was $24,051, and which limits the compensation of the chairperson of the board to not more than 150 percent of that amount and the chairperson of the finance committee to not more than 125 percent of that amount, subject to limitations and adjustments specified by law; and which prohibits supervisors from receiving any compensation or benefits not specifically authorized or required by law become effective in this county on April 18, 2016?” YES NO

By the way, this comes out to $11.53 per hour for a forty hour week…and the Republican’s claim this is part time money…yet they resist raising the actual minimum wage (and those making between minimum and proposals for a higher minimum) for people who work full time at the minimum. They are so totally full of it!

Hey, I Think We Found Another Miscalculation In The County Budget!

In an article posted to JSOnline this evening, writer Steve Schultze of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outlines the staff cuts and budget cuts for the County Board that County Executive Chris Abele has proposed in his County Budget. Of course the majority of these cuts are required under the law passed by the Republicans earlier this year with the full support and consent of the county exec (Act 14). From JSOnline:

The Milwaukee County Board will lose three-fourths of its staff and almost 40% of its budget next year, when cuts to the board’s resources ordered under a new state law kick in.

At least, that’s what would happen under the budget proposed by County Executive Chris Abele, a prime backer of the law clamping limits on the board.

Supervisors said they may have some wiggle room to make some adjustments to what Abele suggested for the board’s budget.

And Abele’s budget could be targeted for cuts by the board, despite a provision in the new law its author said was aimed at preventing retaliatory action against Abele by the board at budget time.

Abele’s budget lops $2.5 million and 28 staff positions from the board for next year, leaving it $4.1 million and 11 staffers.

The reductions for the Milwaukee County Board are further moderated because nine staff jobs now under the board would shift to other departments — four research analysts, four committee clerks and a graphics designer.

Those staffers will still serve the board, though they’ll answer to other department heads.

Each of the 18 supervisors had authority to hire a legislative assistant this year, but several of those aides have left in the wake of Act 14. Abele’s budget calls for whittling the number of assistants to four, which would mean four or five supervisors would share one assistant.

The board will get a chance to rearrange the staffing suggested by Abele, said Supervisor Theo Lipscomb Sr.

Well, although that seems excessive it is within the confines of Act 14…but as Capper says…there is more…there always is more”

Abele cut the board’s budget by $45,000 below what the new state limit would have allowed. Lipscomb said that may be changed by the board.

“Yes, I think that was petty,” Lipscomb said.

Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said Abele’s extra $45,000 cut came as a surprise. She said it was never mentioned by Abele or other county staff.

“Didn’t he get everything he want with this Republican bill?” Dimitrijevic said, referring to Act 14.

Abele said he won’t veto the $45,000 if the board decides to add that.

$45,000? Really? “Yes, I think that is petty!

Miscalculations In County Budget Now Total $3 Million

So under legislation passed by his new cronies in Madison, County Executive Chris Abele got a hot shot County Controller who gets to check out the budget…and of course County Executive Abele has his own budget director whose total absolutely most important responsibility is to get the budget right…but instead we get a budget proposal from the County Executive’s office that is out of whack by $3 MILLION…so other than stabbing many of his original supporters in the back over his various anti-county stances…he can’t even do the job he was elected to do!

Here’s the original article from JSOnline that I stole the headline from!

Highlights here:

Errors of about $2.1 million were acknowledged by Abele’s budget staff Tuesday, while County Comptroller Scott Manske said he was to blame for another mistake of nearly $1 million.

The $2.1 million in errors were due to miscalculations, including understating the cost of Abele’s proposal to cut paratransit fares for frail elderly and disabled riders by $1, to $3 a ride; and low-balling the cost of salaries of deputies who work as bailiffs.

(County Controller) Manske apologized for overstating a fund transfer expected from airport revenue by $920,000, a figure relied on by Abele’s staff in crafting his 2014 budget.

Chris Abele: It’s Time To Start Acting Like A Leader

Yesterday The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s JSOnline website published two more articles that outline the dysfunction that continues to plague Milwaukee County government. Now I am not holding the county board blameless in this, but post Act 14, the county executive has consolidated powers…something he fully supported to the detriment of county residents…yet he continues to pout inside the courthouse instead of reaching out to the board. It would be truly beneficial if he would finally act like the county leader he seems to want to be.

First article talked about the long drawn out attempt to come to a working agreement between the tenants at the lakefront War Memorial building. After the two parties couldn’t work out their differences, County Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic got involved and asked former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske to mediate a settlement. The resulting settlement has the approval of the veterans groups at the War Memorial, the approval of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the unanimous support of the Milwaukee County Board. Why he is unable to get behind the agreement is totally inexplicable to nearly everyone except County Exec Abele:

County Executive Chris Abele said Wednesday he wants to reach a compromise to avoid vetoing a deal he says is too costly on upgrading the War Memorial Center.

Abele had insisted on freezing county support at no more than $1.3 million a year, some $300,000 less than a wide-ranging deal approved last month by the County Board on funding and management of the center. The center is owned by the county and its space is shared by veterans groups and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The board unanimously approved a deal that calls for a guaranteed $1.6 million in annual support from the county for a decade.

In the face of an almost-certain veto override, Abele suggested in an email to County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic Friday that she work with him on a compromise figure and a shorter guaranteed funding period.

“If we could do this, perhaps we could even find money to spend on actual services for veterans,” Abele wrote.

Dimitrijevic has not responded to the offer, but instead sought publicity for her call for Abele to back down and sign the measure approved by the board July 25, Abele said.

“She can talk all she wants on harmony,” Abele said, reacting to Dimitrijevic’s urging Abele to agree with the board’s stance. “I sent her an email and asked about compromise on this and haven’t heard back from her.”

Dimitrijevic, in an emailed response, said the board-approved version already was a compromise between the War Memorial and the art museum. She didn’t directly respond to Abele’s request for further changes to the deal.

Abele has called the $1.6 million county aid figure “a freaking insult to veterans and frankly to taxpayers.”

Now keep in mind that the county owns the facility…and would ultimately be responsible for its maintenance if this agreement is nullified. So the board is certainly eager to find a resolution.

But it’s fine and dandy for Exec Abele to call out Chairwoman Dimitrijevic for being uncooperative…but it looks like he is the one who doesn’t get communication here. He sent her an email? They work in the same building…he can’t call her…I bet he has her phone numbers…he can’t walk down the hall and talk to her? Has he reached out to any of the board. A leader doesn’t send an email out and sit back and await a response…that’s a manager and a poor one at that. Exec Abele, you won the Act 14 war, you lost this battle…go down the hall or get on the phone…talk it out and stop procrastinating until the last minute to sign the agreement.

Oh, and the crack about an insult to the veterans…dissing an agreement they negotiated and reducing the amount of county support they requested isn’t a freaking insult to veterans involved? Keep a civil tongue sir!

The second article talks about Exec Abele’s being fearful about seeking confirmation for his new County Parks Director John Dargle. Mr. Dargle has been on the job since May of this year and is technically the acting parks director until the board confirms his appointment. Now technically the board is on hiatus until September but there were plenty of opportunities before the summer break to submit a request for confirmation.

County Executive Chris Abele has held off seeking County Board confirmation for his choice for parks director out of fear John Dargle could become another victim of board backlash over Abele’s support for a new state law cutting the board’s power and budget.

“Before asking supervisors to confirm (Dargle), we wanted to make sure they are familiar with him and his vision,” Brendan Conway, Abele’s spokesman, said Wednesday. “We also want to make sure John was not caught up in some of the other actions the board took against other appointees this summer.”

The board ousted two Abele appointees in July. Corporation Counsel Kimberly Walker was fired by the board, an action upheld in an override of a veto by Abele. The board also voted not to confirm Kathleen Eilers, Abele’s choice to head the county’s Behavioral Health Division.

Abele has attributed those moves to a backlash over his advocacy of Act 14, the state law reining in the board’s reach. Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has denied those ousters were payback.

The explanation for the delay by Abele in seeking a board confirmation vote on Dargle came in response to a letter from Supervisor Gerry Broderick Wednesday saying it was high time that Abele referred the Dargle nomination for a confirmation vote by the board.

Broderick, chairman of the board’s parks committee, noted that Abele hired John Dargle Jr. in May as parks director, but had not asked the board yet to confirm him. That means Dargle is technically serving as acting parks director.

“With the end of summer now approaching, it seems appropriate that we see his nomination before the committee by Sept. 17” so the full County Board can act on it Sept. 26, Broderick wrote.

Now, all I have available is what I read in the paper, but if Supervisor Broderick has to seek out Exec Abele requesting that he submit Mr. Dargle for confirmation, the county executive isn’t doing his job. Apparently he has not made his intentions known to Supervisor Broderick and by inference I would guess he hasn’t contacted anyone else on the board or the parks committee. He didn’t even email anyone this time? Has he introduced Mr. Dargle to the board members? A meet and greet with coffee and donuts some morning?

Yes I understand that the County Exec is reticent to submit a new hire for confirmation if he isn’t sure of the result…or as sure as one can be in any confirmation process…but has he been lobbying the board on Mr. Dargle’s behalf? It sounds like he’s done nothing so far. That isn’t leadership either. If Mr. Dargle is the right candidate, get out there in the courthouse and persuade the board member.s

It’s become clear that County Executive Abele would rather be an administrator or manager than a leader…but now that Act 14 has given the exec’s office more authority than is wise…it’s time he acted like a leader!! And leaders get out and confront the issues…negotiate with their opponents…and proactively do what is right for the residents of Milwaukee County!

Now here’s an old Lyndon Johnson type of idea…how about CALLING County Board Chairwoman Dimitrijevic and offer to sign the War Memorial agreement in exchange for confirmation of your new parks director! Just might work!!