Whither Milwaukee County: The Never-ending Saga of the Pension Scandal: Time to Clean House

It’s been 15 or so years since the original Milwaukee County pensions scandal drove County Executive Tom Ament from office and introduced the ambitious Scott Walker as his replacement…the man who was going to clean it all up. Well Mr. Walker has gone on to polluting bigger ponds and Milwaukee County is still suffering with pension issues.

I am not going to go into the whole story but have placed a number of links below from JSOnline that will fill in the gaps and some of the more recent egregious screw ups. And then there is this article from Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee: Who’s To Blame for Pension Mess?

Some of the salient points from Mr. Murphy:

A recent report found that hundreds of county retirees have been getting paid the wrong amount, either an underpayment or overpayment. The report came just a few months after the county discovered it had underpaid nearly 1,300 county retirees, and would have to pay out $11 million to make up for the underpayments — in addition to $6 million more that hadn’t been budgeted to fully cover those retirees over their projected life expectancy. And all this comes on top of another error that blew up in 2014 but had actually been discovered in 2007 and never solved: overpayments to retirees in the neighborhood of $26 million.

“Every single dollar of the wheel tax (recently passed to generate more tax revenue) is being spent on problems with the pension,” Wasserman laments.

At one memorable county board meeting, pension office director Marian Ninneman promised there would be no more errors and boasted she had in place a “fail-safe system.”

County Board chairman Theo Lipscomb blames all the problems on Abele and none on the board. “I’m not blaming Abele for the mistakes that predate his first election, but he’s been county executive for nearly six years. As the most powerful County Executive in Wisconsin, Abele should take responsibility for the growing list of pension errors.”

In fact, the $11 million in underpayments went back as long as 15 years ago when Tom Ament was county exec, and were itemized in a report released in 2007, when Scott Walker was the executive, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. But they’ve never been fixed.

As for the $26 million in overpayments, board members passed a unanimous resolution in 2007 to stop the overpayments and then never checked (nor did the Walker administration) to make sure this actually happened. Then after Abele discovered the problem in 2014 and tried to stop all future overpayments, Lipscomb and the board adamantly refused to allow this, with then-board chair Marina Dimitrijevic calling Abele’s action “immoral.”

Abele blames the recurring problems on complexity. “It’s a really, really complicated system.”

Well this whole thing cost Marian Ninneman here job this past month. But I think it’s time that we cleaned house at the County Courthouse! Abele? gone! Dimitrijevic? gone! Lipscomb? gone! Any and every county supervisor? gone!

The entire pension board? gone!

Walker? He’s out of reach of county voters…but is he out of reach of the law? Is there some way to reach him for this mess?

15 years of negligence…15 years of wasting county resources…15 years of county employees not knowing which way their pensions go…or when…or why.

15 years wasting my tax dollars.

Clean house!

Latest Milwaukee County pension errors to cost $2 million to correct

Hidden report shows hundreds of Milwaukee County pension payment errors

Milwaukee County pension chief loses job after overpayment error

Milwaukee County demands pension repayments because of ‘buyback’ errors

Milwaukee County pension office reverses course 13 months later, denies man’s retirement

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.

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.”