Chris Abele: It’s Time To Start Acting Like A Leader

Yesterday The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s JSOnline website published two more articles that outline the dysfunction that continues to plague Milwaukee County government. Now I am not holding the county board blameless in this, but post Act 14, the county executive has consolidated powers…something he fully supported to the detriment of county residents…yet he continues to pout inside the courthouse instead of reaching out to the board. It would be truly beneficial if he would finally act like the county leader he seems to want to be.

First article talked about the long drawn out attempt to come to a working agreement between the tenants at the lakefront War Memorial building. After the two parties couldn’t work out their differences, County Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic got involved and asked former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske to mediate a settlement. The resulting settlement has the approval of the veterans groups at the War Memorial, the approval of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the unanimous support of the Milwaukee County Board. Why he is unable to get behind the agreement is totally inexplicable to nearly everyone except County Exec Abele:

County Executive Chris Abele said Wednesday he wants to reach a compromise to avoid vetoing a deal he says is too costly on upgrading the War Memorial Center.

Abele had insisted on freezing county support at no more than $1.3 million a year, some $300,000 less than a wide-ranging deal approved last month by the County Board on funding and management of the center. The center is owned by the county and its space is shared by veterans groups and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The board unanimously approved a deal that calls for a guaranteed $1.6 million in annual support from the county for a decade.

In the face of an almost-certain veto override, Abele suggested in an email to County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic Friday that she work with him on a compromise figure and a shorter guaranteed funding period.

“If we could do this, perhaps we could even find money to spend on actual services for veterans,” Abele wrote.

Dimitrijevic has not responded to the offer, but instead sought publicity for her call for Abele to back down and sign the measure approved by the board July 25, Abele said.

“She can talk all she wants on harmony,” Abele said, reacting to Dimitrijevic’s urging Abele to agree with the board’s stance. “I sent her an email and asked about compromise on this and haven’t heard back from her.”

Dimitrijevic, in an emailed response, said the board-approved version already was a compromise between the War Memorial and the art museum. She didn’t directly respond to Abele’s request for further changes to the deal.

Abele has called the $1.6 million county aid figure “a freaking insult to veterans and frankly to taxpayers.”

Now keep in mind that the county owns the facility…and would ultimately be responsible for its maintenance if this agreement is nullified. So the board is certainly eager to find a resolution.

But it’s fine and dandy for Exec Abele to call out Chairwoman Dimitrijevic for being uncooperative…but it looks like he is the one who doesn’t get communication here. He sent her an email? They work in the same building…he can’t call her…I bet he has her phone numbers…he can’t walk down the hall and talk to her? Has he reached out to any of the board. A leader doesn’t send an email out and sit back and await a response…that’s a manager and a poor one at that. Exec Abele, you won the Act 14 war, you lost this battle…go down the hall or get on the phone…talk it out and stop procrastinating until the last minute to sign the agreement.

Oh, and the crack about an insult to the veterans…dissing an agreement they negotiated and reducing the amount of county support they requested isn’t a freaking insult to veterans involved? Keep a civil tongue sir!

The second article talks about Exec Abele’s being fearful about seeking confirmation for his new County Parks Director John Dargle. Mr. Dargle has been on the job since May of this year and is technically the acting parks director until the board confirms his appointment. Now technically the board is on hiatus until September but there were plenty of opportunities before the summer break to submit a request for confirmation.

County Executive Chris Abele has held off seeking County Board confirmation for his choice for parks director out of fear John Dargle could become another victim of board backlash over Abele’s support for a new state law cutting the board’s power and budget.

“Before asking supervisors to confirm (Dargle), we wanted to make sure they are familiar with him and his vision,” Brendan Conway, Abele’s spokesman, said Wednesday. “We also want to make sure John was not caught up in some of the other actions the board took against other appointees this summer.”

The board ousted two Abele appointees in July. Corporation Counsel Kimberly Walker was fired by the board, an action upheld in an override of a veto by Abele. The board also voted not to confirm Kathleen Eilers, Abele’s choice to head the county’s Behavioral Health Division.

Abele has attributed those moves to a backlash over his advocacy of Act 14, the state law reining in the board’s reach. Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has denied those ousters were payback.

The explanation for the delay by Abele in seeking a board confirmation vote on Dargle came in response to a letter from Supervisor Gerry Broderick Wednesday saying it was high time that Abele referred the Dargle nomination for a confirmation vote by the board.

Broderick, chairman of the board’s parks committee, noted that Abele hired John Dargle Jr. in May as parks director, but had not asked the board yet to confirm him. That means Dargle is technically serving as acting parks director.

“With the end of summer now approaching, it seems appropriate that we see his nomination before the committee by Sept. 17” so the full County Board can act on it Sept. 26, Broderick wrote.

Now, all I have available is what I read in the paper, but if Supervisor Broderick has to seek out Exec Abele requesting that he submit Mr. Dargle for confirmation, the county executive isn’t doing his job. Apparently he has not made his intentions known to Supervisor Broderick and by inference I would guess he hasn’t contacted anyone else on the board or the parks committee. He didn’t even email anyone this time? Has he introduced Mr. Dargle to the board members? A meet and greet with coffee and donuts some morning?

Yes I understand that the County Exec is reticent to submit a new hire for confirmation if he isn’t sure of the result…or as sure as one can be in any confirmation process…but has he been lobbying the board on Mr. Dargle’s behalf? It sounds like he’s done nothing so far. That isn’t leadership either. If Mr. Dargle is the right candidate, get out there in the courthouse and persuade the board member.s

It’s become clear that County Executive Abele would rather be an administrator or manager than a leader…but now that Act 14 has given the exec’s office more authority than is wise…it’s time he acted like a leader!! And leaders get out and confront the issues…negotiate with their opponents…and proactively do what is right for the residents of Milwaukee County!

Now here’s an old Lyndon Johnson type of idea…how about CALLING County Board Chairwoman Dimitrijevic and offer to sign the War Memorial agreement in exchange for confirmation of your new parks director! Just might work!!


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19 thoughts on “Chris Abele: It’s Time To Start Acting Like A Leader

  1. There are so many things wrong with that blog, I’d need a Saturday and a pot of coffee.

    Rather, I’ll simply write: This is the most unhinged I’ve seen you. Usually your tone is one of elevated indifference. Seems you’ve caught the fever.

    1. Ben,

      1. Since you claim to have identified things that are “wrong,” with Ed’s post can you share how many? If you want to put a range around it, that works.

      1.1. Ed actually wrote two posts. The first was about the War Memorial/Art Museum. The second was about Dargle. Are the “many” things that are “wrong” equally split, or does one have more than the other?

      1.2 Will you commit to identifying everything that is “wrong” in both posts by Saturday at noon or can we get it sooner?

      2. I’m particularly interested in where you think Ed’s writing became “unhinged.” In the comments in one of Ed’s previous posts, you said to Jake, “Not sure why you’re getting emotional?”

      Is “getting emotional,” similar to “unhinged?”

      3. You claim to be something of an expert on the tone of Ed’s posts. You wrote, “Usually your tone is one of elevated indifference.”

      Below are four of Ed’s recent posts.

      Do they all have that “tone” of “elevated indifference?”

      Could you rank those four? Start with the one that has the most “elevated indifference.”

      Could you describe what you mean by “elevated indifference,” and how we can identify it in the “tone” of someone’s writing?


  2. I am just totally frustrated that county issues keep being discussed to reporters instead of to each other…nothing was learned this year at all.

  3. County Supervisor Bowen apparently doesn’t concur with you…he just shared it on FB with this comment: “Good Leadership is needed more than ever in this community!”

  4. I don’t think Ed is unhinged, but he is clearly upset about the mess that is Milwaukee County government. I am just as upset and agree with Ed 100%. I’ll stop well short of the exaggerated claim that Chris Abele is “just as bad as Walker,” but he is turning out to be a very poor county executive.

    1. Without exaggeration, your thoughts seem quite reasonable, though I don’t share your conclusion. Maybe it comes down to different expectations? Either way, I respect the opinion.

  5. Ed about Dargle: you’re right that all you have to go on is the paper. He has met with several Sups already, been at events with them, etc. some of those Sups have even posted pictures with him on their fB accounts. Several Sups haven’t contacted him back yet though either. His nomination was supposed to go before the Board in July but several Sups threatened to vote him down for no other reason than they could and to “get back” at Abele. You should reach out to Sup Haas about that. Before launching into a tirade you should get all the facts regarding what you’re trying to write about.

    1. Dan…that’s great the Mr. Dargle has met and is working with county supervisors…that has NOTHING to do with County Exec Abele’s lack of leadership. At no time did I dis Mr. Dargle in my blog and quite frankly if he is getting around to meet the sups that is a very positive sign of his leadership abilities and I appreciate that. So if you are going to rant about my tirades, please stay on topic.

      1. “but if Supervisor Broderick has to seek out Exec Abele requesting that he submit Mr. Dargle for confirmation, the county executive isn’t doing his job.” seems to be the basis of your “lack of leadership” theme.

        As I stated, Broderick didn’t have to seek out Abele to get a confirmation scheduled. You are implying that because Supervisors are complaining (suddenly!) that Dargle hasn’t been officially nominated, that’s the CE’s fault and a “lack of leadership”. I just don’t agree for several of the reasons above, and as you admitted yourself you don’t have anything to go on besides what Schultze reported in the paper.

        If we want to talk about leadership, let’s ask why Sup. Broderick sent the “where’s the confirmation” letter to Steve Schultze instead of the County Executive. Schultze has nothing to do with the confirmation obviously, yet he’s the one on the receiving end of letters, not the Exec. or anyone who can actually do anything about it.

        To expand on that a little bit, maybe we should be asking what if anything the “Parks Committee” has actually done to improve the condition of the Milwaukee County Parks system at all in the past 1-10 years? There’s been relatively little actually done if you go and look. The crowing achievement of diverting a few hundred thousand from beer sales into a matching fund hasn’t exactly produced results A YEAR after it was approved. I’m confused why people continue to defend and stand up for a system and a group of people who – when they’re not tripping over themselves to get attention from the press – don’t actually get a whole heck of a lot done.

        This isn’t being critical of you Ed. I would just point out that while Supervisors like Broderick are acting all pious with their press releases, they’re actually producing very little in the way of results for one of the greatest public resources in Milwaukee County. It’s lame politics, but unfortunately is what counts on the second floor of the Courthouse as “work” or “progress” lately.

        1. I am not defending the county board here…but the title of this blog is Chris Abele: It’s Time To Start Acting Like A Leader…so you digress…the lack of leadership in the board room is another story.

          If I were CE and I wanted to make sure my selected hire were confirmed, I would do the politicking necessary to get the job done…and it sounds like CE Abele hasn’t that…and if this were the only case…I’d give it the benefit of a doubt…but it’s a pattern…he is not leading.

          1. Fair enough about the Board. I would just say that there is a lot going on behind the scenes that you or I or Steve Schultz aren’t aware of. You don’t know that he *isn’t* politicking for Dargle, so it’s unfair to say that because you don’t know what is or isn’t happening that there’s a “leadership problem”. That’s all.

            1. And you are focusing on one item out of two in one post…that were both reported on the same day with the board is on vacation…and there are lots of examples from the first 7 months of 2013 that we could both go dig up if we wanted to waste the rest of the evening…there are probably even a few posts here on BB about them if I went to look.

    2. Dan- Not sure what you are hearing out in California, but this is 100% false. He may get some tough questions, which any appointee should, but there is no chance he is going to be voted down.

      1. I certainly hope you’re right Stan. I was referring to a situation back in June when the Dargle nomination was originally scheduled. At that point a Supervisor on the parks committee was bragging to people about killing the Dargle nomination because it would raise his political profile. I hope Supervisors realize that they’re not voting on something to increase their profiles but on the future of a generational cultural institution that could use a little less politicization.

  6. Dan,

    Hope everything’s swell in Cupertino.

    I want to get all the “facts” about Dargle. Does he know anything about Permaculture or Aquaponics, or duckponics.

    Will any of those be a factor in Milwaukee County Parks?

    In your opinion, should they be?

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