Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Only One Cut Needed To Fix Milwaukee County Government

It is no deep dark secret that there is a massive power struggle going on in Milwaukee County right now.

Chris Abele
On one hand, you have Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. Abele proposed an illegal budget that was unfairly balanced on the backs of the county's most vulnerable citizens and on county workers.

As a prelude to further privatization, Abele wanted to reduce safety in county parks and shift the cost primarily on the City of Milwaukee. He also wanted to cut service to the mentally ill, and have county workers pay $10.5 million dollars for a $9 million hike in health care costs. Most egregious was his proposal to put half a million dollars towards a crony reward program which violates civil service and county ethics codes.

On the other hand, you have the County Board, led by Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, which restored and enhanced the public safety measures Abele had cut and spread the pain of a tight budget more evenly to all the people of Milwaukee County. Furthermore, they made it clear that all county employees, even Abele's hand picked ones, were expected to live by the same rules.

After the County Board made the much needed amendments to his budget, Abele went apoplectic. He's led a very misleading campaign to try to turn public opinion against the Board, much like Scott Walker did.

Ironically, Abele denied making any of this personal, per a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Abele is expected to announce Tuesday his vetoes to changes the board made to his 2013 budget. He plans to restore it to as close as possible to the way he originally proposed it, Abele said. But his disagreements with the board aren't personal, he said.

"My fight isn't with people or personalities, my fight is just for efficiency and sustainability," he said recently. "I have good relations with a lot of the board members. . . . I don't name-call or put out news releases going after people. I don't make declarations that this is going to be war.

"When I see them, I say 'hi,' I smile," Abele said. "I'm a social guy."

So when he leaked information about the Board hiring one retiree, but hiding the fact that he's brought back dozens, that wasn't personal.

Marina Dimitrijevic
When Abele's spokesman made the sexist comment of referring to Chairwoman Dimitrijevic as a "Mean Girl," in reference to the movie of the same name, that wasn't personal. Nor was it personal when Abele dismissed it offhandedly, calling the smear a mere "distraction."

And when Abele had his Director of Administration, Patrick Farley, try to entrap then Supervisor Johnny Thomas, nothing personal there either.

Well, in all fairness, Abele might be telling the truth in a way. After all, look at how he rewarded his hand picked people like Sue Black and Frank Busalacchi.

Then on Monday, Abele went beyond the pale and actually threatened our very democracy in order to strike out at his political opponents:
Abele dropped some broad hints about where all this might lead. While refusing to say whether he would mount an effort to get the state to greatly reduce the size of the 18-member board, Abele noted that the idea garnered lopsided support in spring advisory referendums in a dozen Milwaukee County suburbs.

"Changes can happen," Abele said when asked if he might seek a legislative remedy to his concerns about the County Board. He has backed the idea of a smaller board for years.

Abele noted he successfully lobbied a Republican-controlled Legislature a year ago on the comptroller idea.

"You'll recall the board wasn't comfortable with the elected comptroller idea," Abele said. "We got an elected comptroller."
Downsizing the County Board has been a long time argument.

The official argument is that it would somehow save money.

Sadly, fellow blogger Zach Wisniewski has fallen for this ruse. He sites a number of largely populated counties which have a smaller sized board as proof that it can be done.

One of the ones he cites is the classic one usually used by conservatives: Los Angeles County, which has only five supervisors. What he doesn't include is that the supervisors each bring in about $180,000 per year. They also get very lucrative car allowances, and have a staff of well over 100.

Not really the bargain that proponents of a smaller board would like to pretend it is.

It gets even more ironic if one looks closer to home. Take a look at the three most conservative counties in Wisconsin, all very close to Milwaukee, and all with much smaller populations, and you get a completely different story. Dodge County has 33 supervisors. Washington County has 30 supervisors. Even Walkersha County has 25 supervisors and recently voted against shrinking their size.

So why the big push for Milwaukee County to shrink it's size when the conservative counties don't and when it wouldn't save enough money to make a difference?

One word: Power.

Say they shrink the Milwaukee County Board to nine, half its current size. That would make it much easier for them to gerrymander the districts, like they did at the state level, to increase the power of the conservatives on the board. It would take nothing to give African Americans in the inner city two or three districts and one for the Hispanics on the near south side, leaving the other five or six districts for the much more conservative suburbs.

Then the plutocrats and oligarchs could do what they want to the county, much like the corporate special interests are doing to the rest of the state.

And when you have someone or a group of someones who want to combine the power of government with the power of money, as we have already learned, is fascism. The fact that Abele is ready to remove our democratically elected leaders for the simple fact that they are political opponents is unmistakable and inexcusable fascism.

But I did notice something else from Wisniewski's post.

Two of the three examples he cites, Los Angeles County and Cook County, appear to not have a county executive.

That got me to thinking about the last three Milwaukee County Executives: Tom Ament with his pension scandal; the corrupt Scott Walker with his ALEC-driven agenda and Walkergate scandal; and now Chris Abele with his agenda to dismantle the county and playing the fascism card.

It seems to me that if we just made one cut, the county executive's position, instead of any number of supervisors, our problems would be fixed.


  1. Abele ran unopposed in the last election. If anyone runs against him in the next, I'll vote for them.

  2. Cutting the County Exec would be a good start. But hell, really now, why do we need a county level of government? By statute, Wisconsin Counties act effectively as state departments. They have no power but they do offer state representatives cover when they want to shift mandates down to the property tax. Keeping the counties simply means the state gets a scapegoat.