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.

Quick Take On Opens Record Issue

Since the Independence Day holiday there have been dozens of articles throughout the state about the jaundiced attempt b the GOP to negate Wisconsin’s Open Records laws. If you need a quick and effective overview, try this one from George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But one thing that is missing from this entire discussion: I own those documents, communications and memos. As do you and every citizen of the State of Wisconsin. They are not the property of elected officials nor government employees to withhold,

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?

Bar owned by Peggy Romo West closed due to delinquent taxes

A south side tavern owned by Milwaukee County supervisor Peggy Romo-West has been closed since Nov. 26, the result of a state action over unpaid taxes.
A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue confirmed late Tuesday that Romo’s Silver City Sports Bar had its permit to do business revoked.

“Romo Enterprises LLC does not have an active sellers permit at this time,” a department spokesperson said in an email.

While the spokesperson would not comment on specifics of the case, it referred a reporter to a state website that lists delinquent taxpayers. That website showed Romo-West’s business more than $30,000 in arrears on sales and expo tax payments.

You may remember this isn’t the first time Peggy Romo West has had serious financial difficulties.

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!

Why’s Peggy Romo West taking thousands of dollars from Republican donors?

I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss Gary and Sally Sprenger and Peggy Romo West.

No doubt if you live in Milwaukee County and pay attention to politics, you’ve heard of County Supervisor Peggy Romo West, but you’re probably wondering, “Well yeah, but who the heck are Gary and Sally Sprenger?” That’s an excellent question, and I’ve got a very surprising answer.

You see, Gary and Sally Sprenger, who are both residents of Mequon, are big donors to a variety of Republicans in Wisconsin. Gary Sprenger has contributed over $14,000 to various Republicans, while Sally has donated over $33,000 to an assortment of Republicans in Wisconsin. Together, the Sprengers have donated over $21,000 to Gov. Scott Walker over the past few years.

So what do Gary and Sally Sprenger have to do with County Sup. Peggy Romo West? Well, according to campaign finance documents, Gary and Sally Sprenger have contributed over $2,000 to Sup. Romo West’s campaign since 2011, a figure that represents approximately 20% of all contributions (approximately $9,500) received by Romo West dating back to the beginning of 2011. That makes Gary and Sally Sprenger the biggest contributors to Sup. Romo West’s campaign over the past two years.

Gary and Sally Sprenger also happen to be the owners of ANEW Home Health Care Services, a company that according to information posted on the intertubes contracts to provide community-based long-term care management for participants in Milwaukee County’s Family Care program.

ANEW CMU Est. 1/1999 ANEW Care Management Unit (CMU) provides community based long-term care management for members in the Family Care program. Family Care is a Medicaid waiver program, funded through federal and state tax dollars. In Milwaukee County, the Family Care program is administered through the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, serving eligible residents, age 60 and over. ANEW’s CMU will be expanding to provide CMU services to “All Adults” in Milwaukee County. It is a unique waiver program, in that it follows a managed care philosophy with a member centered and outcome based focus. ANEW CMU is one of the largest CMUs in Milwaukee County and serves over 600 members on a monthly basis.

Coincidentally (or not coincidentally, depending on your perspective), Sup. Romo West just so happens to be chairwoman of the County Board’s Health and Human Needs Committee, the very committee that has direct oversight of Milwaukee County’s Family Care program. What’s more, ANEW provides the kind of community-based services that Sup. Romo West has recently been pushing/promoting in public forums.

What’s really notable about the thousands of dollars Gary and Sally Sprenger have contributed to Peggy Romo West’s campaign is that she appears to be the only Democrat and the only County Supervisor (in a county they don’t live in, mind you) that the Sprengers have contributed to. I don’t know about you, but that certainly seems curious.