It started when Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele - Mr. Accountability himself - presented an unbalanced budget that attacked vulnerable citizens, taxpayers and workers. Not only was the budget more than $3 million off at the get go and cut a services across the county.
The Milwaukee County Board took that stinking pile of offal and tried their best to make a responsible budget out of it, without raising taxes and restoring the services that Abele had cut.
Among the more major issues were two pools; Abele's security; the transit system; the privatization of mental health services and the closing of parts of the mental health complex; the salaries of some of Abele's staff; worker's benefits and Abele's plan to downsize the Sheriff's Office again.
Just as his predecessor, Scott Walker, tried to do for years, Abele wanted to close the deep well pools at Noyes and Pulaski Park. He said that they weren't making enough money. He wanted to replace them with a skateboard park and a splash pad.
But the pools are mainly used by senior citizens and disabled adults who use them year round for exercise, aqua therapy and socialization opportunities in a safe setting. I don't see much therapy coming from a splash pad or a lot of elderly people wanting to go skateboarding, especially in winter.
The Board listened to the overwhelming demand of the people and restored the pools.
Abele had added $400,000 to the county budget to pay for a personal security detail for himself. Not only that, but the county's own sheriff deputies weren't good enough for him and he wanted to contract for his security. Some speculated that he wanted to hire City of Milwaukee police officers in an effort to further tweak Sheriff David "Looney Toons" Clarke's nose.
The Board noted that Abele's request was five times the cost if security was provided by the Sheriff and felt that Abele's personal beef with the sheriff wasn't worth that much money. They cut his request back but still left him with the generous amount of $100,000 for his security detail.
The Transit System
Part of Abele's budget scheme included contracting out the oversight of the transit system to a Texas-based for-profit company named MV Transportation, which has ties to major Republican operations and campaigns. But because of Abele's sketchy backdoor dealings this has now ended up in court.
The Board did a surprisingly logical move of putting in the consideration of bringing the whole system back in house. The end result is that the Board gave Abele until April to clean up his contract mess or it comes in house.
Mental Health Services
Abele's budget called for the closing of one of the long term care units at the mental health complex. His plan was to integrate all of the patients into the community by November 2014, even though there aren't the resources available to take care of them and that most of the placements already attempted have been unsuccessful. On top of that, Abele also wanted to lay off all of the county's community support workers, which would have furthered the likelihood of the placements being unsuccessful.
The Board went along with the closing, but took out the timeline. In it's place, they wanted an accountable system that ensured there were resources in place. They also called for a semiannual report on the tracking of the patients to make sure things were working as they were supposed to and that these vulnerable citizens weren't ending up in the streets, in state hospitals, in jail or in the morgue.
The Board also restored all of the community support positions so that the patient who are moved out will have someone to help them succeed.
I still believe this to be a big mistake. No matter how well meaning the idea is, the fact is that there will also be some patients that would be best served in a long term care facility. By denying them this, the county is putting them in harm's way and could be violating their civil rights, especially if they end up being incarcerated.
Wages and Benefits
paying the most in the state for their health care benefits - to unconscionable levels. His moves would have bankrupted some employees and made several more eligible for food stamps and other financial aids. It would have meant up to $3,500 taken out of workers' paychecks, on top of the more than $10,000 Abele is already taking out.
The Board lessened the hit the workers have to take but given how much more they are already paying, what they did was not nearly enough. However, to be fair, the Board was already hindered by the fact that Abele failed to produce a balanced budget so they had to also come up with an extra $3 million.
To help make up for some of Abele's short fall, the Board capped the pay for some of Abele's department heads at $120,000. Unbelievably, Abele started to mewl that his staff couldn't work for such a piddly amount. It was like listening to Sean Duffy all over again.
Abele's budget called for the laying off of 25 deputies, handing the park patrols to the municipalities and giving the City of Milwaukee money to pay for a ShotSpotter system, to help police find where shots were coming from. Abele also called for taking the dispatch center, the emergency preparedness center and the enforcement of arresting escaped work release inmates.
Abele did this in part to retaliate against Sheriff David Clarke. This is understandable since Clarke is a disgrace to his uniform and to his office. He is grossly incompetent, has utterly politicized his office and has embarrassed the county with his inane antics.
Abele also did this to further his agenda of dismantling the county and abdicating his responsibilities and duties to the public.
The Board eliminated all of Abele's cuts and subsidies to the municipalities except for the ShotSpotter funding.
The saddest part of this is that Abele and his supporters started to attack the Board, stating that they were in cahoots with Clarke and that they supported his poor behavior. What the Board did do was save the jobs of 15 deputies, preserved public safety and kept from shifting the tax burden on to the taxpayers of the City of Milwaukee. It also kept the majority of the force intact for Chris Moews when he becomes the new sheriff next year.
In other words, they kept Abele from cutting off his nose to spite his face.
Yet to some of Abele's supporters, this was tantamount to funding al Qaeda, of all things. Talk about losing all perspective.
As one might have expected, Abele griped about the repairs done to his faulty budget and took things beyond the pale with this:
"I wish our disagreements weren't rather self-evident in their wrongness," Abele said. He singled out the board's vote to cut the pay of six of his top aides as particularly unwise.Hmmm, Abele must have so much money that he forgot he was the one who paid the state legislators to ram this poorly thought out law through the process.
Abele said those cuts seemed to be motivated by anger by supervisors over the new state law that curtails County Board power. Abele was a prime backer of the legislation.
"If the board is angry about something, well they can take it up with the state (officials) who changed the law," Abele said.
The budget now goes to Abele for him to veto the parts he doesn't like. It will be interesting to see what he does do, since most of the amendments and the budget itself passed with veto proof majorities.