Monday, March 18, 2013

Abele Wants More Power, Forgets He Can't Do His Job Now

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke a story over the weekend, reporting that Milwaukee County taxpayers might be on the hook for nearly $9 million due to what amounts to a clerical error:
Taxpayers will shell out nearly $8.6 million more than they should on rides for Milwaukee County residents with disabilities over the next three years.

The reason: a botched signature on a bid.

That signature prompted a battle between competing transportation providers and the Milwaukee County Transit System that - coupled with poor planning and bad management - ended with a pair of three-year "emergency contract extensions" that carry the extra costs for taxpayers, a Journal Sentinel investigation found.

"I find it's almost unbelievable that because of one signature in one place, we're going to be losing $8.4 million. That's not even reasonable," said Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik, who serves on the County Board's finance and transportation committees. "People should be able to accommodate a mistake like that."

Jursik, who learned of the cost to taxpayers from the Journal Sentinel, also questioned the length of extensions used by a transit system official to resolve the dispute.

"I can see maybe you'd have a six-month contract," she said. "Maybe a year. But three years? That doesn't sound right either."

The extra cost to taxpayers comes at a time when the transit system is financially stretched after being hit with a 10% cut in state funding in its 2012 and 2013 budgets. The county managed to make up for the $14 million gap through property taxes and a federal transit grant, which expires at the end of this year.
It really is a pretty stupid thing for $9 million to be hinging on one signature. But this is also the kind of thing that happens when politicians want to privatize everything. Private companies only give a damn about their own profit margin and not what the effect is on the taxpayers. The only thing no one wants when it comes to privatization is accountability, which this story exemplifies perfectly.

The story goes on to report how this think kept snowballing into a major fiasco, with man missteps along the way. It might have been possibly headed off if the head of the county's DPW, Frank Busalacchi, had been paying closer attention, but Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele had fired Busalacchi and his top three aides right in the middle of it.

And speaking of Abele, his reaction to this fiasco is priceless (emphasis mine):
Abele said another contract will soon be up for bid: that of Milwaukee Transport Services.

In December, the county's contract with the firm, which has managed the transit system since 1975, was extended for a year. Abele said he intends to put out a request for bids within a few months. He also questioned how often or aggressively the contract had been bid in the past.

The unrealized saving from the transit extension "is not something that's acceptable to any responsible elected official," Abele said. "We will aggressively do whatever it takes - and I think voters would be upset if I didn't - to absolutely ensure that we minimize the likelihood of something like this ever happening again."
I have to admit, this kind of ticks me off.

It was almost exactly two years ago when I had first met Abele at a session of Drinking Liberally. Abele was running around glad-handing everyone in his first race for county executive. When his handlers introduces us, they told Abele who I was and what I did. I advised him at that time that one of the first things he needed to do as county executive was look at the paratransit system. I told him how the cost of it had more than tripled in the past few years and that there appeared to be all sorts of problems with the way the system was working.

Abele took my advice in the same way he addresses any citizen's concern.

He ignored it.

Unsurprisingly, it's the County Board that is stepping up to clean up Abele's mess, just like they did with all of Scott Walker's fiascoes. From the press release from Supervisor David Cullen:
Supervisor David Cullen issued the following statement regarding the reported $8.6 million cost of emergency para-transit contracts:

“The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on March 17 that “taxpayers will shell out nearly $8.6 million more than they should on rides for Milwaukee County residents with disabilities over the next three years.”
“This is an example of what can happen when the County Board is not involved in oversight of contracts. Clearly, not enough scrutiny took place to prevent this apparent cost over-run. While the County Board does not negotiate contracts, it is clear that the Board should have a role in overseeing them. Oversight leads to transparency and can prevent such waste.

“It makes no sense that an emergency contract would last for three years. I want to know what could have been done to make the process more open and transparent.

“I believe an audit of this emergency contract should be performed to determine just how the Transit System apparently spent more than $8 million more than they needed to on an emergency contract that will last three years. We need to prevent this from happening again. I will introduce a resolution at Thursday’s County Board meeting to authorize and direct the Director of Audits to initiate an audit of the procurement of paratransit services on behalf of the Milwaukee County Transit System.”
So, in summary, things aren't that much different than when Scott Walker was county executive. Like Walker, Abele ignores the citizenry in favor of his rich friends. And like Walker, Abele's arrogance leads to a major snafu which will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. Continuing the pattern, Abele squawks like a wet hen but does nothing to fix the mess he created, leaving it to the County Board to be the adults in the Courthouse.

The really scary part is that Representative Joe Sanfelippo has formally introduced Abele's plutocracy bill that would remove the adults and leave Abele with totalitarian powers.


  1. "I advised him at that time that one of the first things he needed to do as county executive was look at the paratransit system. I told him how the cost of it had more than tripled..."

    Uhhh...the cost of the paratransit system has not more than tripled.

    On what do you base this claim?

    1. The cost we were billing Medicaid, which is taxpayer money.

  2. If they were not billing Medicaid, wouldn't it then be property tax dollars?

    1. you can't detract from the huge screw up here Keith no matter how you frame it and the taxpayers are on the hook. These dictatorships being created in Wisconsin are destroying our cities and our state

    2. So you're saying it's OK to take money out of the taxpayers right pocket, but not their left. How utterly dishonest and dastardly.

    3. No.

      What I am saying is that you complain that the cost of a ride to Medicaid (Family Care in this case) increased. OK, but the fact is had the cost to Family Care not increased, the cost would have increased to the property tax payer.

      By shifting the cost of the ride taken by the client of Family Care to Family Care, the County reduced the property tax subsidy to Family Care. Family Care receives funding to provide a basket of services to its clients. One of those services is transportation. Paratransit is barred by federal law from denying a ride to a qualifying individual. So, if a private company like Community Care paid only $5.80 for the ride that costs Paratransit (and therefore the property tax payers) $23, then Family Care is receiving a hefty subsidy.

      Oh and if Family Care picks up more of the cost of the service for which it is driving demand, then several million property tax dollars are now available to use elsewhere for other services. Perhaps in your world unlimited property tax dollars were available to the County and so this was not an issue, but over here in reality that was not the case.

      So I guess another question for you is what would you have cut at the County instead of charging Family Care for the cost of the service it consumes?

    4. You cut the profit margins of transport companies bilking the tax payer. Privatization pays for the service and adds the profit margin all to the tax payer's bill. When the government performs the service directly that money is spent only for the service and in the long run always ends up screwing the tax payer.

    5. Despite all of your obfuscation, the real question still remains: Why did Abele fail to look into this problem when he was made aware of it?

    6. How is it my obfuscation when it is directly related to something you wrote?

      The Office of the Comptroller will perform an audit. Good. A neutral third party will look at what happened and tell us. And if Abele screwed up we will all know.

      Good thing we have that office around now, isn't it?

      That being said, the question about your statement still stands. It looks like you had time to write 3 or 4 new posts but not the time to back up your statement about the cost of a ride tripling. Probably because you know you were wrong about it.

      That suggests that, as with so many other plainly false statements you make, Abele probably ignored your advice from your conversation because he's realized, like so many others have, that you don't really know what you're talking about.

    7. You are obfuscating by niggling at whether it is three, four or five times while dancing around the real question - why didn't Abele look into what he knew was a problem.

      And yes, Jerome Herr is a fantastic auditor, just as he was when he worked for the Board. Too bad all that money had to be wasted to have him do the same job in a position that duplicated the one he had.

  3. But wait. The claim was that "the cost of paratransit more than tripled".

    I would assume that means the cost of a ride charged by the vendor rise from $X to $3X.

    If on the other hand the cost charged by the vendor was just paid for out of a different pot, then it would seem to be false to claim the "cost of the ride more than tripled".

    Further, as I understand it, Family Care organizations purchase rides on paratransit for their clients. Is it not reasonable for the Family Care organization to pay the cost of that ride as part of the service being offered? Paratransit is banned by law from turning down any eligible person who requests a ride, so it makes sense for them to charge the full cost of the service to the agency that is driving usage. Otherwise the property tax payer is subsidizing Family Care (and therefore the State), are they not?

    Also, a quick search of County budgets shows the rate paid by Family Care organizations rose from $10.80 to $15.80, so even if you're just complaining about the cost to Family Care, it would appear the cost rose 50%, not 300%.

    So help me out here, how is Capper's claim accurate?

  4. Anon 9:07, I am not trying to detract from the huge screw up, I am trying to get to the bottom of the claim that the cost of the paratransit system as more than tripled.

    If the cost has more than tripled, than it theory the cost of a ride was $Y and now it's 3 X $Y. But if the cost is still $Y, it's just that more of it is being paid out of a different pot, then the claim cannot be accurate, correct?

    A simple search of the county budget documents shows the price charged to Family Care rose from $10.80 to $15.80 in 2011. That does not suggest the actual cost of the ride rose at all, just that the cost charged to Family Care rose by about 50%.

    So help me out is Capper's claim about the cost increase accurate?

    -Anon 8:27 & 8:41

    1. Well, first of all, I said over the past several years. You looked at one. Not exactly the same, is it. You're simply moving goal posts and falling flat on your face in the process.

    2. OK, what is the current cost per ride and in what year was that cost one-third of the current cost?

      Thank you.

  5. Abele screws this very simple transaction and he wants MORE power?!?!? Um. No.