Some testimony from a Democrat who supports downsizing the County Board

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.

Good afternoon.

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.

Thank you.


Related Articles

15 thoughts on “Some testimony from a Democrat who supports downsizing the County Board

  1. I want to thank Tia for the “supposition and slander.” Why the lack of detail? “You should demand the most efficient and effective use of that money whether that is in the form of administration or services.” Please Tia, where are the inefficiencies?

    If “good people” are not “stepping up ” at $50,000, why will suddenly they “step up” at $24,000?

    Who are these Supervisors, “who blatantly disregard Department heads and staff’s expert analysis and overturn their decisions on a whim.” Please Tia, explain the “personal and political” issues and more importantly the CE’s silence when these events took place. Why isn’t he taking the details to Steve Schultze and other local reporters?

    Tia wants everyone to know she’s a pro-choice Dem. Why didn’t she mention collective bargaining?

    Do we have “bad Supervisors?” Sure. “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.”

    A better answer to that problem is to double their salaries. That will attract better qualified candidates. If Tia really worked on budgets, she should understand how insignificant the Supervisor’s salaries are to a billion-dollar budget.

  2. Curious non-sequitur reasoning. Conclusion: “It’s not about individual people, but a system that’s broken.” Okay. Premise? Looked to me like a premise chock full of individual behaviors. I’m not saying yea or nay on the bill, just saying this testimony isn’t logically valid.

    That thing there about reducing county government to a local administrative arm of state government? This is a Democrat? Chiding the idea of “career politicians” and “bureaucrats” – This is a Democrat? That’s good to know. I do want career politicians and bureaucrats in government. I don’t amateurs and toadys, and I don’t want skin and bone Lean Six Sigma government either. What about the good old principle of “working with what you have?” Oh right, that rhetoric comes after evisceration.


  3. I agree with Ms. Torhorst and believe if put to a vote of county residents, the overwhelming majority would agree too. Moreover, I strong believe if the issue were put on the ballot in a November presidential year election it would be strongly supported by the majority of Milwaukee County residents.

    This bill is not about the suburbs versus the city, it is not about democrats versus republicans it is about a dysfunctional government body that needs rightsizing and a new perspective.

    Let the sniping from the county board apologists begin.

    1. Joel,

      I don’t see the correlation between a structural adjustment (downsizing) to effect a behavioral adjustment (antics of individual board members). I don’t see a cogent analysis of how the system is supposed to work, why it isn’t working, and why downsizing would make it work better.

      I’m all for positive and proactive change. Even for making huge, really big changes to government structure. I don’t see positive or proactive in this scenario. I agree with Jeff. I see undemocratic. Less representation. Antithetical to good government.

  4. In reality, what kind of democrat advocates making government less democratic? How is making government less representative calling for good government?

    However this is my absolute favorite line:

    “During those 2 years I saw Supervisors blatantly disregard Department heads and staff’s expert analysis and overturn their decisions on a whim”

    has she not seen the republican legislature in Wisconsin during the last two years? I sat through a debate where don pridemore after being read absolute facts on education argued the exact opposite point knowing he had NOTHING to back them up. Now you want someone like don pridemore to vote to cut the milwaukee county board as inefficient? seriously?

    the saying “with friends like that who needs enemies” comes to mind when i see democrats supporting this ridiculous bill.

  5. Personally I stopped buying the “I’m a Democrat” story once she said she worked for Abele. As for “good governance” how is it good governance to limit my ability to call my county supervisor and get them to work on my problem directly?

  6. What about 25 people in a room for five hours on a.administrative issues that tells you somebody needs a real job.
    What happend to accountability and time study’s to look at where any form of inefficiencies need to be addressed ,especially with all our hard earned taxes are concerned.
    We need more people like Tia Torhorst and Joe Sanfelippo to stand up and pursue these changes without being afraid of ridicule. On behalf of a one taxpayer that has had enough of those people that don’t give a dam, I applaude you two. We need more like you.

    1. Tony,

      Application of corporate-industrial efficiency modeling is the wrong approach to governance. It’s not merely wrong; it’s perfidious and toxic to a functional democracy. Unless, of course, you’re Mussolini. Then it’s ideal.

      Torhorst’s example of “25 people in a room” holds no credibility because she doesn’t elucidate or elaborate on the situation. Her scenario tells us less than zero about goal, purpose, or responsibility. It is an empty critique which says nothing at all about the situation she claims to clarify. Nor does it tell you that “somebody needs a real job” because nothing about anybody’s job is made clear in Torhorst’s example. It says more about Tia Torhorst than it does about the governmental system she served. Perhaps she just isn’t cut out for public service. Or perhaps her BS in Medical Microbiology and Immunology would be better utilized elsewhere in public service.

      The bottom line is democracy isn’t wholly efficient and bureaucracy isn’t antithetical to a republican form of government. It is, in fact, an inherent component to republican architecture. When it functions properly bureaucracy is the structural element that lends efficiency to republican government and it is a necessity. Is it possible for bureaucracy to go awry? Sure is.

      Moreover, “efficiency” doesn’t, and isn’t, supposed to function the same way in a vertically structured hierarchy (like a corporation) and a horizontally graded system (like a democracy). Nor does “efficiency” for a profit-driven enterprise (like a corporation) operate in the same way as it does in a liberty, rights, and protection enhancing enterprise (like a democracy).

      Ideally, the state should have input on municipal governance. I would never suggest otherwise. But we don’t have a functional state government; we have a corrupted state government. Ideally it should be a force for empowering local republicanism to defend itself against corruptive intrusion. Instead the state does the opposite. It facilitates corruption by empowering narrow and frankly tyrannically elite interests to subsume the public will.

      Diminishing the board’s authority over commercial interests in the county is nothing more than a perversion of republicanism. Insisting that governing Milwaukee County is a part-time affair is a perversion of republicanism. Shifting authority for overseeing levied taxes is a dishonest shell game, and it is a perversion of republicanism.

      Smart Government is not Smart Government Inc. A healthy public sector is not Koch Companies Public Sector LLC and ALEC’s budget toolkit doesn’t square with republican governance or relative local autonomy. Torhorst’s “testimony” not only deflects from the issues of proper authority, it shamefully distorts. We definitely don’t need more corporatist control at any level of government. In no way do we need more “good government” rhetoric that relies on misapplied principles of “efficiency” and “waste.”

  7. I am glad to see Lena Taylor and Ms Torhorst stepping up to the plate and calling for returning the Milw County Board to a reasonable size, structure and cost of operation. EVERY single other County in the state is part time. Even when the MCB was responsible for a County Govt 3 times larger than it currently is; it was part time. It’s time to fit the board to the needs of the taxpayers and the services. While your at it close the Fish hatchery once and for all! Why in the H*ll is that a County responsibility??

    @ Jeff Simpson , why are you not asking how your county can do just fine with a part time board? and yet Milw must be full time.

    1. Considering how small Milwaukee County government has supposedly gotten that we don’t need as many supervisors (the bill doesn’t change the headcount) or full time supervisors…may I suggest we no longer need a county executive anymore…that would be some serious overhead saved as well. And I’d have to check but I don’t think many of those part time boards have as few as 18 members…but if you have the facts on that I’d appreciate the education…save me some time on Google!

      BTW: can somebody point me to the paragraph or clause in either AB 85 or SB 95 that contains the words PART TIME?

      1. Fond du Lac County had pared their board down. But they found they could not keep up with the minimum requirements with so few and increased their number again. And they don’t have nearly as many issues to attend to as Milwaukee does.

      1. I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for. If you want county supervisors who have full time jobs and families, and who put running the government second to that, then we will get a board whose first priority isn’t running the government. The result: a more inefficient, worse-run county. This doesn’t mean that I am in-step with everything the board does, this is just the reality. If you want people who care more about everything else in their life than running Milwaukee County making decisions for Milwaukee County, then please vote to make the board part time.

Comments are closed.