The board also voted 17-0 to reject a long-languishing $9 million contract to have CleanPower take over all janitorial services for the county. Some supervisors have objected to low pay offered by CleanPower, an issue championed by SEIU, a union attempting to organize janitors.As the astute reader might have noted, the vote was 17-0. But there are 18 supervisors, which is why I said almost unanimously.
The firm pays janitors $8.75 an hour to start, according to testimony by employees of the firm.
Abele said he'll work with supervisors to try to negotiate an acceptable cleaning contract with CleanPower.
Supervisor David Bowen said he would like to see the cleaning contracts rebid, with specifications revised to give smaller firms a chance to compete. Cleaning firms not big enough to bid on a combined contract covering all county buildings didn't get a fair shot in the last bidding competition, Bowen said.
To be honest, I didn't think much of it at first, figuring that one of the supervisors was in the bathroom or something.
But then Supervisors Khalif Rainey and Russell Stamper II issued a press release that raised my eyebrow:
Milwaukee County Supervisors Khalif Rainey and Russell Stamper II today said they would introduce a resolution requiring supervisors to provide an explanation when they abstain from voting on the Board floor or in committee, saying that the residents of Milwaukee County demand such transparency.A quick check revealed that the abstaining supervisor was - to no great surprise - Deanna Alexander. the Purple Unicorn of the County Board.
“We have approximately 54,000 people in each of our districts who deserve an explanation for any abstention,” Rainey said. “If supervisors have a good excuse for abstaining, they should explain it to the Board and to their constituents. That way, the people of Milwaukee County will not be left to wonder whether there is some sort of conflict of interest or other reason for staying out of an issue.”
Rainey and Stamper said they became concerned about the issue after an abstention by a supervisor from a vote to reject a $9 million contract with Encore One, doing business as CleanPower. The contract was for the purpose of housekeeping and janitorial services in Milwaukee County facilities.
“If there is a conflict of interest, the public has a right to know,” Stamper said. “A supervisor used the existing Board rules to abstain from a vote on a $9 million contract. Supervisors were elected to vote and the public deserves to know why they abstain. If you’re not going to vote, then you should provide a reason. This incident was a red flag for transparency.”
The CleanPower contract was rejected Thursday on a 17-0 vote of the full Board, with one abstention that came without explanation.
“Refusing to vote and refusing to give the public an explanation for failing to represent constituents’ interests on a multi-million dollar contract does not pass the smell test,” Stamper said. “The public deserves greater transparency from their elected officials, so we are researching how other legislative bodies handle abstention votes and will introduce legislation to create greater accountability by the Board.”
Stamper said the resolution would end any speculation by requiring a full explanation of abstentions.
“The Board deserves transparency, our constituents deserve it, and the people of Milwaukee County deserve it,” Rainey said. “We need to require such explanations to provide full transparency for the people of Milwaukee County.”
There are only a few reasons why a supervisor might abstain from a vote.
One is that she has some personal interest in the business, such as owning stocks or having a relative involved with the company. But that doesn't need to be a deep, dark secret. In fact, if she does have some personal interest in CleanPower, her stating so would be a mark of transparency, responsibility and good leadership.
Another reason why a supervisor would abstain is if she had recently received a campaign donation from the company. This is a possibility as that Alexander fancies herself as an up-and-comer in the GOP (even though she claims to be Independent). But as with the personal interest, coming forth would make her appear more credible and responsible.
The only other reason that I could think of for her to abstain would be that she was told to. And the only person she listens that closely to is her benefactor, Chris Abele. Heaven knows she doesn't represent her constituents. But why Abele would direct her not to vote is anyone's guess. It might have to do with his proclivity towards sketchy backroom deals.
But given her own history of shady deals and poor behavior, Alexander really needs to be forthcoming and inform her constituents on why she refused to represent them on this particular vote. She owes them at least this much.