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.

Doesn’t Sanfelippo Understand How Democracy Works?

State Representative Joe Sanfelippo recently had an op-ed piece published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explaining his authoring of a bill to limit the issuance of township and county IDs. There are probably a lot of things to talk about related to the purported issuance of such IDs but I am not going to go into that point with this post.

But what I am going to pull out of the context of the piece, is a bit of dullardry on the part of Rep. Sanfelippo. There has been a ton of interference in local government by the state legislature since the initial election of Governor Scott Walker and particularly since the Republicans solidified their control over both houses in the state legislature. So they are getting a little bit sensitive when the opposing Democrats or local government elected officials or local school boards or local school districts or agencies complain about interference in local affairs from Madison. But here is what the good representative wrote:

Since we began circulating the legislation in December, opponents and various media outlets have falsely labeled our proposal as an “attack on local control” (Journal Sentinel editorial, Jan. 1). But the bill only prohibits the issuance of municipal IDs by counties and towns, which are extensions of state government. So local control does not apply there. Since cities and villages are allowed to issue IDs under the bill, there is no issue there, either.

His bill will only interfere with the local officials elected to run counties and towns because they are extensions of state government. Rep. Sanfelippo is legally and (state) constitutionally correct. But that probably isn’t how his constituents actually see it or understand it. They actually expect their locally elected officials to act in the best interests of their local towns and counties. They don’t expect them to be plenipotentates of the powers that be in Madison.

So I suggest despite the legal niceties, we all still see these little interventions as attacks on local control. And I would think it would be a solid bet that if his predecessor had introduced any number of these bills, that former Milwaukee County Supervisor Sanfelippo would be hot under the collar at the interference in local governance…

Part Time County Job Available: Supervisor Jursik To Retire

County Supervisor Pat Jursik has announced that she will not run for re-election in 2016. Here’s the whole story from JSOnline:

Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik will not seek re-election in April to a third full term on the County Board.

Jursik has represented the 8th District communities of St. Francis, Cudahy and South Milwaukee since she was elected in a special election in August 2007. She was re-elected in April 2008 and 2012.

Jursik announced her retirement in a newsletter distributed this week to constituents.

A district resident interested in running for the 8th District seat in the April 5 spring election can file a campaign registration statement and begin circulating nomination papers on Dec. 1.

Jursik is a former chair of the County Board’s economic and community development committee. She currently serves as vice chair of the judiciary committee and is a member of the finance committee.

Those of you in her district have a chance to be involved in county politics…unfortunately she isn’t giving anyone much time to put together a campaign before the period for circulating nomination papers begins. And that’s a shame. Because I am sure there are some interested parties who wouldn’t run against the incumbent but would love to run for the open seat.

So about that dam vote…

Over at The Political Environment, James Rowen has a great piece noting the County Board’s decision to spend even more taxpayer money on the Estabrook Park dam, which many residents believe should be torn down.

That sound of water running surrounding the Milwaukee County Board’s decision preserving the broken obstruction known as the Estabrook Dam and deciding against letting the Milwaukee River flow naturally to Lake Michigan is more taxpayer money being flushed down the drain.

As the link Rowen provided notes, the board’s most recent decision will push the full cost of renovating the Estabrook Park dam to nearly $3.4 million, a figure that’s nearly double the cost of demolishing it.

The board’s Nov. 9 approval of the fish passage amendment pushed the full cost of renovating the 1930s-era dam to nearly $3.4 million, or double the expense of demolishing it. Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb Sr., a longtime advocate of dam repair, sponsored the amendment.

In his veto message, Abele asked the board to sustain his veto so that he could prepare a financing plan for dam demolition early next year.

Abele called demolition fiscally responsible since it is estimated to cost $1.7 million.

“Removal of the dam is the best and most effective fish passage,” Abele said. He reminded supervisors that removal was supported by the Milwaukee Common Council, Shorewood Village Board and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

It’s also notable that the board’s action to combine veto overrides of additional funding to repair the Estabrook Park dam and cuts to the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department met with disapproval from a number of supervisors who felt the measures were best left voted on separately.

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.

Republicans in Legislature give Chris Abele almost complete control of Milwaukee County

While many have rightfully been talking about the awful provision in the state budget that would essentially do away with Wisconsin’s open records laws, there’s another provision within the budget that should be very disturbing for anyone who lives in Milwaukee County and values checks and balances in government.

As Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express reports:

It’s official: Chris Abele is a more radical county executive than Scott Walker. 

Abele is succeeding where Walker failed. Abele has conspired with GOP legislators to strip the Milwaukee County board of pretty much every power they have.

Last night, on pages 23 and 24 of a 24-page catchall budget amendment, the Milwaukee County board was reduced to rubble. The county executive would be able to take over all authority over land sales and transfers. The board wouldn’t be able to approve contracts or have input on requests for proposals. The board would be prohibited from adopting a policy that conflicts with the county executive’s authority.

Wow.

This is way worse than what’s been rumored. Yes, I know this needs to be passed by both houses of the Legislature and be signed into law by Walker. It’ll happen. It shouldn’t, but it will.

County Ethics panel finds Sup. John Weishan may have violated ethics rules

Well this is something…

The Milwaukee County Ethics Board has found probable cause that Supervisor John Weishan violated the county ethics code by using tax dollars to send a mailing to voters in a state Assembly district where he later ran unsuccessfully for office.

A closed-door hearing on the matter had been scheduled for this week, but Weishan’s attorney had the meeting moved to June 30.

A confidential memo shows the board believes Weishan may have violated up to four ethics provisions against using a county office for personal benefit and to aid a political campaign. The board could fine Weishan up to $1,000 per violation and order that he make restitution for part of the $4,700 mailing.

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?