This was one of the posts that I meant to finish in that catch up Friday some weeks ago. But I never got to it, partly because I kinda burned out that day and partly because it seems impossible to completely get my head around. I started working on this last May and wrote a bit in late July and the story just kept unraveling in the media and in September I finally tossed the 30 news articles that had stacked up under my desk. Since then I have edited this twice and have only kept the following paragraph from those efforts. At this point, I am not going to go back and cite all references and just wing it. But I will put some links at the end for reference if it interests you.
Once considered the prototype for civilian commission oversight of urban fire and police departments, lately the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has devolved into a hot little mess.
Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission has a fair amount of authority. They hire and fire both the Fire and Police chiefs. They can discipline members of both departments for misconduct. They can set rules and procedures that the two departments are expected to adopt and comply with. There is an appointed commission that the mayor appoints and the common council approves. There is also a full time paid staff who do the day to day work of the commission.
Before I get on my rant, just a short bullet point history to the best of my recollection:
In the past several years, the commission has had three executive directors.
These years have been beset with reports of mismanagement and low morale.
The most recent executive director was Griselda Aldrete was tasked with improving morale and slowing staff turnover. Instead she terminated a number of high ranking staff members and a number of others quit. So apparently morale hasn’t improved.
The commission extended Police Chief Alfonso Morales term by four years.
But after the protests in the city following the murder of George Floyd, there was major push back on how MPD handled themselves. The commission then sent directives to Chief Morales with warnings that non-compliance could result in termination.
Before he could complete the directives, the FPC demoted Chief Morales and he resigned.
Chief Morales sued the city and the courts ordered his reinstatement.
The city has admitted that Chief Morales wasn’t provided with due process and talks continue between the chief and the city attorney’s office.
Despite this being a high profile case, the city attorney himself, Spencer Tearman seems generally missing in action.
Griselda Aldrete resigned but said she would stay on until a replacement was named. After that process dragged on, she left her post at the end of October 2020.
Ms. Aldrete’s leaving finally forced Mayor Tom Barrett to name a replacement.
The commission apparently may have up to 34 employees. When all of this started they had 14. Recently it was reported that they have 12. I don’t know, 34 seems like a lot but 14 seems pretty skimpy.
The commission board itself is authorized for 9 members but only has 7. And one resigned at the same time as Ms. Aldrete leaving us 6.
And the commission is interviewing candidates for police chief. After creating a short list of three candidates, the 6 person commission split 3 – 3 for two of the candidates twice. The mayor has appointed a new commissioner who will hopefully break the deadlock but it may too late since two of the candidates are now on shortlists in other cities. If I were either of them I’d wave bye bye to Milwaukee.
The acting chief is retiring at year end and a second acting chief was appointed. At this point they could just give Chief Morales back his job and get out from under his lawsuit…but I think at this point he’d prefer a huge settlement.
Earlier it was reported that former commission board chair and still current member, Steven DeVougas, sat in on an interview related to a sexual assault investigation. Mr. DeVougas is a friend of the person being interviewed and claimed he was there as an observer. But the officers objected and were uncomfortable since their boss seemed to be representing their suspect. Mr. DeVougas is still on the commission despite being accused of an ethics violation for his presence.
There also seems to be reports that Mr. DeVougas said something to/or about Chief Morales that was seen by some as a threat toward the chief.
The commission had also given directives to former Chief Edward Flynn, Chief Morales predecessor, which resulted in Chief Flynn’s resignation some months later.
The Fire Chief has also retired, so a search for a new fire chief is next up.
Right now the FPC seems like the wild west. Who has oversight of the FPC?
I would think the mayor since he has power to appoint commissioners. A recent article said that the mayor was very critical of the FPC but wasn’t asking them to resign. Can he fire them? Mayor Barrett recently re-appointed one of the current members to an new term. He got some push back on that and given the history, he maybe should have gone with a new face.
What role does the Common Council play? They have the responsibility to approve nominees. Can they remove them?
There are so many issues here that and so many players involved that at some point one of the parties should have been able to call for calm and some common sense. But no one seems to want to really step up…not the mayor, not the common council, not the city attorney, not the commission, not the director.
After the year of protests and calls for accountability by our police forces, this would be the perfect time for the Milwaukee Common Council to review the purpose and responsibilities of the current FPC. Are they meeting those goals? If not, why not? Are those the same things we need from our FPC in 2021 and the future? If not, let’s change the directives of the FPC.
And let’s make sure that the FPC is defined with sufficient staff and actually staffed at that level. And if the actual board can have up to 9 members, full staff the board as well.
And what other changes could be made to not only the FPC, but the checks and balances over the FPC activities and the roles of Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Departments in the 21st Century.
All of Milwaukee deserves a transparent and effective city government…here’s a good place to start. So Mayor Barrett and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, what say you?
oh shoot, I almost forgot. Mayor Barrett appointed Amanda Avalos to the seventh seat on the commission. But when it came up for a vote in the Common Council, they couldn’t vote because?
Avalos’ nomination cannot go to the council Tuesday, however, because a background investigation was not completed by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office as required by city ordinance. It was completed by an outside firm.wtf??