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.

Whither MKE County: Marina Dimitrijevic part 2

In case you missed the news today, as rumored previously, County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic has accepted the position of state director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party. The new party is affiliated with national Working Families Party and will support progressive candidates in non-partisan elections as well as progressive Democratic candidates.

In an interview with the Journal Sentinel, Dimitrijevic was enthusiastic about prospects for the organization, which is associated with the national Working Families Party that is now active in seven states and Washington, D.C. The party’s biggest success nationally was the role it played in the 2013 election of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We’re basically trying to take our state back, starting at the local level,” Dimitrijevic said. “We’re going to begin recruiting, training and running candidates who are champions of working people in the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.”

Eventually, the party plans to expand across the state, Dimitrijevic said.

The party won’t initially seek ballot status in Wisconsin. It aims to back slates of candidates in nonpartisan races as well as Democratic Party primaries. Nationally, the organization has backed causes such as increasing the minimum wage, boosting public services and providing more affordable housing.

In the spring election, the Working Families Party will recruit and train candidates in races for the Milwaukee County Board and Milwaukee Common Council. The group plans to participate in legislative primaries next August.

Supervisor Dimitrijevic has not decided on whether she will run for re-election to the county board in 2016.

Whither MKE County: Dimitrijevic Gone?

JSOnline says that County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic is stepping down from the board chair effective Thursday July 30th:

Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is stepping down from the post she has held since April 2012.

On Friday, Dimitrijevic notified supervisors of a scheduled July 30 election for a new board chair to complete her current term that ends in 2016. The election for chair will be held during the regularly scheduled board meeting that day.

Dimitrijevic will continue to serve as chair until Thursday’s election, she says in correspondence to supervisors.

Though she did not give a reason for her decision, Dimitrijevic reminded supervisors that when Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 14 into law two years ago — cutting the power, resources and pay of the County Board — it “was the worst of times.”

Supervisor terms will change from four years to two with the April 2016 elections, under terms of the law. At that time, supervisors’ pay will drop by 50% to about $24,000 a year. Current chair pay of $71,412 will be cut in half.

“We cannot let this divisive law define us, or its supporters truly will have won,” Dimitrijevic says in the letter to supervisors.

Supervisors Willie Johnson Jr. and Theodore Lipscomb Sr. said Friday that they will compete for the chair position. Deadline for submitting a statement of candidacy is 4:45 p.m. Tuesday.

I am not comfortable that Sups. Johnson or Lipscomb have what it takes to stand up to County Executive Abele…Sup. John Weishan might be a better choice.

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?

Bruce Murphy: Will County Pass Another Pension Giveaway?

I’m going to post this without comment for you all to read, digest, and discuss, because it seems like something worth discussing.

Few county officials were more adroit at milking the taxpayers than Tom Zablocki. Zablocki served as county clerk for 20 years, from 1968 to 1988. During his last term, two investigations by the old Milwaukee Journal, in 1986 and 1988, found he worked between 4 and 5 hours a day. Much of his time was spent working on his stamp-collecting hobby. He was also accused of spending time on the job conducting private real estate and legal business.

The voters, not surprisingly, didn’t look kindly on this and he lost his bid for reelection. But the wily Zablocki, who still had friends in the courthouse, later found another way to milk the taxpayers.

In the early 1990s, Milwaukee County officials approved a “buy-back” plan that allowed workers to go back in time and pay for pension contributions they hadn’t made in order to beef up their pensions. Many employees converted seasonal or part-time county stints in college and even high school into additional pension credits by paying pension contributions they had declined to make as young workers.

Zablocki apparently hadn’t made contributions to his pension. But in 2000, he managed to get hired to work for the county as a “program coordinator.” At the time the late F. Thomas Ament was County Executive and the courthouse was rife with cronyism: giving Zablocki another chance meant he could build a much better pension. (Zablocki and Ament both started in county government the same year and served together for 20 years.)

Zablocki used the buyback program to pay for pension contributions during his 20 years as county clerk, and worked as the program coordinator until June 2004 and then retired a wealthy man at age 64. He had only worked 24 years for the county, and hadn’t worked very hard, but was awarded a lump-sum “backdrop” payment of $375,322 in addition to an annual pension payment of $29,309. By now he’s collected at least $640,000 from the taxpayers.

But as it turned out, Zablocki, the consummate courthouse insider, made a mistake. County pension officials determined in 2007 that Zablocki’s buyback of his years as an elected official missed a deadline set in a county ordinance, and his payment was therefore too large under IRS rules. This was one of the revelations that came out in a mini-pension scandal unearthed by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter David Umhoefer, who revealed the existence of the buy-back program.

Some 200 or so buybacks were found to be in violation because employees wrongly bought back pension time using money transferred from their deferred compensation savings account; because the buyback payment exceeded 25 percent of the employee’s annual salary; or because the buyback was made too late.

In reaction, county board members quickly took action. They passed a unanimous resolution in 2007 “encouraging the Milwaukee County Pension Board “to cease any prospective payment of a pension benefit related to a buy in or buy back that has been determined to be in violation of Milwaukee County Ordinance or Federal law and… vigorously pursue recovery of any payments made” to these employees.

Nine of those county supervisors are still serving: Mark Borkowski, Gerry Broderick, Marina Dimitrijevic, Willie Johnson, Jr., Patricia Jursik, Michael Mayo, James (Luigi) Schmitt, John Weishan and Peggy Romo West.

But none of them, apparently ever did anything to assure that the resolution was enforced. “I know I didn’t,” supervisor Borkowski admitted to me last April. “I don’t believe any of my colleagues did.” Nor did the administration of then-County Executive Scott Walker do anything about the problem.

Umhoefer’s story won a Pulitzer Prize. Yet the Journal Sentinel never followed up on the story to make sure the illegal buybacks ended. This is the paper that was asleep when the massive pension scam of 2000-2001 was passed (and reported by yours truly), and now the paper had fallen asleep on its own prize-winning story.

So things stood until last year when the administration of County Executive Chris Abele discovered the situation and was immediately alarmed. Abele’s staff sent letters to some 200 county retirees warning that their monthly pension payments will be reviewed and could be lowered. Abele initially wanted to go after the retirees to collect some $26 million in overpayments and interest that these people illegally collected. But he has since offered a compromise, suggesting the county forego collecting the past overpayment and only take action to see that future overpayments — with an estimated value of $10 million — are not paid.

But board members are outraged that he would dare suggest this. Board chair Dimitrijevic told the Journal Sentinel that Abele’s plan, even with its alterations, is “immoral” She went on to say, “It seems unfair that an employer who made mistakes, now comes back and harms the security of older adults who served the public.”

Needless to say, that’s a direct contradiction to the resolution Dimitrijevic supported in 2007. As for the morality here, what about all the county employees who couldn’t benefit from this legally questionable buy-back option — the height of county cronyism — and therefore have lower pension payments? Is this fair to them?

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””.

Thank You From Marina Dimitrijevic:

Dear Friends,

Thank you.

Last year, I decided to run for the State Assembly because like you, I believe our state is heading in the wrong direction and everyone in Wisconsin deserves a fair shot to succeed.

While we fell short last week, I am so proud of the positive campaign we ran focused on my proven record of results. Thank you to my family, especially my husband Eduardo for your endless support. I truly appreciate the amazing amount of support we received from voters, elected officials, and the working families of organized labor.

Milwaukee needs a strong voice in Madison and I congratulate Jonathan Brostoff on his victory in this primary election.

After speaking with thousands of residents in Milwaukee, I am more energized than ever to continue our progressive victories in Milwaukee County and to take back our state!

With gratitude,

Marina

The odd mailer sent out on behalf of Marina Dimitrijevic (UPDATED)

UPDATE: This post has been updated to include information Peter Rickman from We Are Milwaukee addressing the points raised in the original blog entry.

Take a good long look at this mailer sent out on behalf of Democratic Assembly candidate Marina Dimitrijevic, one of four Democrats running to replace Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District.

Marina Mailer

While the mailer itself seems like pretty standard fare, what caught my eye is the group that sent out the mailer on behalf of Marina Dimitrijevic. That group is We Are Milwaukee, which according to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) is listed as being delinquent since January 2014, meaning it is not currently in good standing with the Wisconsin DFI.

Interestingly, the expenditure on behalf of Marina Dimitrijevic by We Are Milwaukee is not listed on the July 2014 Continuing Report for the We Are Milwaukee Political Action Committee, and We Are Milwaukee Inc. has not yet filed its July 2014 Continuing Report, despite the deadline for filing that report having come and gone.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with We Are Milwaukee, but the fact that the group is sending out mailers/making expenditures while delinquent with the state Department of Financial Institutions and without having filed the required campaign finance reports certainly seems more than a little unusual.

In an update to the original blog post, Peter Rickman of We Are Milwaukee addressed each of the points raised.

We are more than happy to address each point raised here, and will do so below.

However, when you say that you’re “not entirely sure what’s going on with We Are Milwaukee,” it’s hard to accept the statement at face value. You never reached out, using the contact information found on the Government Accountability Board website or anywhere else with a pretty simple Google search, to get a comment or elucidation from We Are Milwaukee. The post here looks more like a passive hit-piece to do some sort of “guilt by association” thing on Marina Dimitrijevic than even simply sloppy blogger-journalism.

Department of Financial Institutions: A previous attorney did not file a document confirming that no changes to the incorporation had been made, and did not alert the principals of We Are Milwaukee. When alerted to this last week by a supporter, we immediately filed the document — which quite literally is just a statement of officers and directors. Pending attention by DFI staff on Monday morning, we expect that the delinquent status will be removed.

Government Accountability Board: Most people with a passing knowledge of campaigns and elections in Wisconsin know that recent rulings in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals have thrown the GAB registration & reporting system for independent disbursement committees (which We Are Milwaukee is) into chaos. On advice of GAB staff, We Are Milwaukee did not file a July continuing report because it is no longer a requirement of independent disbursement committees to do so. The GAB is awaiting orders from the 7th Circuit before refashioning its reporting requirements for independent disbursement committees; until then, We Are Milwaukee continues to hold all records to be ready to report on day of the new system. In fact, We Are Milwaukee always has over-reported, including in its filings to the GAB those expenditures not conducted for a political purpose.

Again, both points raised really look like political maneuvers here, as opposed to hitting the basics of (even blogger) journalism. One call to We Are Milwaukee would have cleared this up. One call to DFI could have cleared it up. One call to the GAB could have cleared it up.

I would hope that an immediate correction gets made to this post — because these factual errors of omission pretty seriously cut into the fundamental point attempted to be made.

Obama Boehner Walker Dimitrijevic

For the past six years the various left and progressive groups have been screaming about the obstructionists in the House of Representatives aided and abetted by Speaker John Boehner. Accused of hewing the company line, being co-opted by the tea party jihad, or out and out racism, the right has done everything in its power to obstruct the agenda of President Barack Obama. And the left wing pundits and bloggers and activists (myself included) have complained ad infinitum. Where’s the co-operation, the bipartisan bills, the working across the aisle we wail? nada, zilch, nothing except more votes to overturn Obamacare or get to the bottom of Benghazi.

Now in one little interview County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic says that she as able to work with then County Executive Scott Walker…and the sound of bodices ripping and buttons flying from the shirts of lefties county wide are deafening…the veins bulging from their foreheads or pulsing at their collars brings an unaccustomed red hue to their faces and are visible on Google earth.

One of their supposed one collaborated with the enemy!

So…working with the opposition is good? or it’s bad? Make up your minds!

If this is the point of political discourse nowadays, lets get to some real heavy lifting: what do you think of Marvel’s decision to make THOR a female?