The Board took care of some unfinished business. Unfortunately one of the items was the de facto agreement to privatize the parks by approving John Dargle as the new Parks Director.
The topics addressed were varied, but there were basically six topics:
- Funding for homeless shelters
- The treatment of former county housekeeping staff
- The Transit/Paratransit System
- Parks and Pools
- Mental health services and the mental health complex
- Employee pay and benefits
Funding for Homeless Shelters
A number of executives and board members from various homeless shelters spoke to the board, asking for more funding. They pointed out that they've seen the demand for their services double in the past year even while federal and state funding has been cut. One executive said that their organization is forced to choose between feeding their clients or maintaining staffing at safe levels.
Former Housekeeping Staff
This is an involved story which is appropriate for another post, but in a nutshell, the former county housekeeping staff have been getting the shaft from Abele's administration. The workers were only asking to be given a fair shake and for the county to follow civil service laws.
Given the high level of turnover due to Abele's mismanagement, one would think that finding them jobs within the county system shouldn't be too difficult.
Transit and Paratransit
There were a number of citizens with disabilities who asked the board to maintain Abele's proposal to cut fees for the paratransit system from four dollars per ride to three dollars. Unfortunately, Abele's "fudged math" (which I'm not convinced was an accident) prevented that. However, the board was still able to reduce fares by 50 cents despite Abele being short $1.5 million in this one area.
Likewise, the same people, plus many others, warned against going with Abele's cockeyed scheme to give the transit contract to an out of state, for profit agency with a very bad track record.
Parks and Pools
In his proposed budget, Abele wanted to close the indoor pools at Noyes and Pulaski Park and replace them with a splash pad and a skate park. Apparently Abele feels that the disabled and elderly citizens who use these pools all year long for exercise would get the same benefit from three months on a splash pad or by riding around on skate boards. There was an overwhelming demand by citizens to keep the pools open, which the board proposes to do.
On a humorous note, Supervisor Deanna Alexander, Abele's personally owned supervisor, decided she would make a token effort to show she too supports the parks, even though she doesn't really. Her focus was on just one, Lindsay Park. Hilariously, her supporters - at least one of which doesn't even live in Milwaukee County - came to show their support of her facetious effort with signs like the one pictured, which you can see it misspelled.
Mental Health Services
This was perhaps the most contentious issue.
On one hand, there were several advocates for the closing of the mental health complex and putting the patients in the community and that this should happen as soon as possible.
On the other hand, there were other advocates that agreed with moving the people out of the complex, but wanted it to be done in a safe and appropriate manner, pointing out that the way things were being done now were not working. It was again pointed out that as of a month ago, the county has only been able to successfully integrate seven people. It was also pointed out that there was no way that the county would be able to meet their own quotas and that will put them in an emergency situation at the hospital, where there would not be enough staff. Workers testified that they were already having to hire pool people - at much higher costs than the regular workers - to fill the gaps left by workers forced out by Abele.
It is rather disconcerting that there is no tracking system on what happens to the patients that are being evicted from the hospital.
There was also another group of people, many of them workers, who asked the board approve some amendments by Supervisor Peggy Romo West which would restore the targeted case management and community support programs that Abele wants to abolish.
Employee Wages and Benefits
There is no denying that county workers, notably AFSCME members, showed up in force at the meeting. They argued that the hikes in health care costs and pension contributions were becoming much too much for them to bear. It was pointed out that, each year, workers were already losing thousands of dollars each while Abele was mewling about a cap of $120,000 for his staff.
This is a subject that I will go into more detail at a later date, but suffice it to say that Milwaukee County employees are paying much, much more than employees of the City of Milwaukee or the State of Wisconsin for worse benefits.
What I found to be particularly egregious is the fact that as airport workers were emphasizing the importance of their work and the poor way they were treated, Abele left the room laughing.
And Abele and his staff wonder why there is such a high turnover rate.
There were a couple of other notable testimonies.
One was from Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum, which gets most of its funding from the Greater Milwaukee Committee, advocating for closing the pools, privatizing mental health services, downsizing public safety and restoring the excessive pay of Abele's staff, even as the room was full of people who depend on these services and workers who were getting the shaft. Talk about conflict of interests.
The other was from Orville Seymer of the misnamed Citizens of Responsible Government, who went into a nonsensical and misogynistic tirade against Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. It is a testament to Dimitrijevic's leadership that she did not have him ejected from the room like former Chairman Lee Holloway had to do a few years ago. Seymer's conduct was so boorish that he actually got booed by the crowd.
In summary, I would simply remind the board of their campaign from earlier this year when they were holding hearings on OUR Milwaukee. The prided themselves on being the representatives of the citizens of Milwaukee County, which is so very true. They are not Abele's board and they are not the Greater Milwaukee Committee's board.
They are our board and should make their decisions based on the will of the people, not the plutocrats.