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 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.
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.I have to admit, this kind of ticks me off.
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."
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: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 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.”
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.