As I’ve been catching up on what’s been making news politically, I had an opportunity to read a transcript of testimony given by Tia Torhorst on the issue of whether to downsize the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Torhorst, a Democrat who once worked as County Executive Chris Abele’s Director of Legislative Affairs, is firmly supportive of downsizing. Here’s her testimony.
My name is Tia Torhorst. I am here today for several different reasons.
As a Democrat and a citizen of Milwaukee County I am very supportive of this Bill. I have served on the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Board of Directors, I was secretary and treasurer of an organization called Womens Choice, which worked to elect pro-choice women to public office, and I have volunteered on and ran many Democratic campaigns. My husband was the Democratic party’s coordinated campaign director for the 2010 cycle, has run numerous state-wide Democratic campaigns and worked for Senator Kohl.
I applaud Senator Taylor for co-sponsoring it. I wish she had more of her Democratic colleagues with her. This is NOT a conservative or liberal issue or us versus them. This is a good government issue.
Government service, whether as an employee or an elected official is a civic duty. Good people will step up to the plate and serve their community if the salary is reduced. In my opinion, citizen legislators are valuable to the process. Having a career or job outside of their elected position will provide important perspective for Supervisors when setting policy and budget priorities.
The second reason I am testifying today is for 2 years I was County Executive Chris Abele’s Director of Legislative Affairs. This position afforded me a front row seat to both the legislative and executive branches. I sat in every committee and board meeting for 2 years. I attempted to engage the Supervisors on executive and administrative issues. I helped craft two of the executive budgets. I saw times that the system worked and times it failed miserably.
During those 2 years I saw Supervisors blatantly disregard Department heads and staff’s expert analysis and overturn their decisions on a whim. I saw Supervisors ignore important fiscal information from the budget staff and I saw Supervisors disregard legal advice of outside attorneys and Corporation Counsel. These choices were often made not because of inaccurate information but for personal or political reasons. The items were generally not large policy issues, they were administrative and executive level functions that in most Counties, wouldn’t be discussed at the County Board level, let alone voted upon.
I also saw incredible inefficiencies. I would sit in a County Board committee meeting with 4 or 5 department heads, their fiscal staff, the division head overseeing the project on the agenda and several other staff associated with the issue. These meetings would often take 5 or more hours. 25 staff people sitting in a room for 5 hours for a brief appearance on an entirely administrative item. Add in the time it takes to write and review the written reports and you can understand the frustration of employees who just want to do what they thought they were hired to do versus become the literal bureaucratic paper pusher.
In my two years with Milwaukee County, the Board changed their ranks, five new Supervisors came on board and they changed their leadership but the same problems persisted. That is why I think this legislation is so vitally important. It’s not about individual people, but a system that is broken and needs to be fixed.
County government was formed as the local administrative arm of State government. The issues in this Bill are ones in which the Legislature has absolute authority. The inclusion of a binding referendum is good policy. I live in Shorewood where I voted on the non-binding referendum to part-time the board. It overwhelmingly passed with 73% of the vote. Shorewood is NOT a conservative community. If representative government was working correctly I should see my Representative as a sponsor of this Bill with Representative Sanfelippo.
In addition to the origin of County government, the State will send approximately $260 million, excluding property tax pass through to Milwaukee County in 2013. You should demand the most efficient and effective use of that money whether that is in the form of administration or services.
I strongly encourage you to support this Bill. If you aren’t a sponsor, please consider joining your colleagues who are.