On Friday, legislation was adopted by the Joint Committee on Finance that would shut the public out of nearly every Milwaukee County government function and drop a cloak of secrecy over the sale of publicly-owned land and contracts worth millions of dollars in taxpayer resources. These proposals look like a wish list from the Executive, and I ask the Senate and the Assembly to remove the provisions from the state budget, as they are doing with the open records exemptions.And from Supervisor Theo Lipscomb:
These proposals further consolidate powers within the Office of the Executive, and an unchecked Executive is dangerous for the one million residents who live in Milwaukee County. The public, the media, and legislators should ask what if former County Executive Tom Ament had been granted these consolidated powers.
These provisions target Milwaukee County’s diverse community in an attempt to silence their voices; our nearly one million residents should have the same access to representation fair representation as all Wisconsinites. These legislative proposals would bring Milwaukee County out of line with other Wisconsin Counties.
The provisions would make public dealings of Milwaukee County such as contracting, procurement, and the sale of county land a secret because the Executive could simply take unilateral action without public notice and without holding a single public hearing resulting a complete lack of transparency.
Surely, it would be easier for the Executive to spend the public’s money when there is no accountability. However, we believe the public deserves to know what their local government is doing with their money and be able to hold elected officials accountable for their actions and Milwaukee County’s $1 billion budget.
Over the last couple of years, the Board has led efforts to strike an historic compromise between the War Memorial and the Milwaukee Art Museum. If these provisions had been law at the time, this initiative that honored our veterans could not have moved forward. Additionally, we are concerned that the adoption of these measures could jeopardize the future of O’Donnell Park and our compromise to establish a public-to-public partnership with the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The diverse constituency of Milwaukee County is not served well when every time the Executive doesn’t get his way back home he runs to Madison and asks the Republicans in the legislature to enhance his powers at the expense of their voice. I ask legislators to maintain a measure of checks and balances in Milwaukee County government, and invite the Executive to join me in this call for public transparency.
An urgent issue emerged in Madison over the last week and it demands the attention of Milwaukee County residents. While considering changes to the State Budget last Thursday night, the Joint Finance Committee took up a dangerous proposal that could effectively erase your voice within County government. I am referencing item 67 in motion 999 (linked here) of the state budget that passed on a party line vote (14 Republicans – 4 Democrats). Like other provisions in the same motion, such as those concerning open records, this provision would close Milwaukee County government to its citizens and allow the County Executive to operate without public oversight.You can find out who your representative is here.
The motion reads in part, "…specify that the county executive’s actions shall prevail over the county board's action to the extent that the county executive’s action and the county board’s actions conflict." The effect of such a provision is to nullify the representation citizens have today through the County Board, even when there is unanimous opposition to the actions of the county executive. By law, under this proposal, every time the County Executive disagrees with the Board, he will ultimately get his way - even young children understand that’s not a fair way to play ball.
This legislative scheme is a consolidation of power by the County Executive that is unprecedented anywhere in our great nation; it is an attack on political representation within Wisconsin’s most populous and diverse county and can legitimately be labeled as un-American. It is particularly ironic that such a dangerous power play to vest authority in a single officeholder was adopted just days before legislators returned to their districts for parades and celebrations in honor of our nation’s declaration of independence from oppressive rule by a monarch.
It is important to emphasize that this is a bad idea no matter who sits in the County Executive’s chair. My opposition is not about any specific person or personality. No executive should have power without checks and balances; this proposal is a recipe for corruption and scandal. I don’t trust anyone who would seek such power and I question anyone who would grant such authority. It begs the question, is this a reward or part of another deal hatched in secret and hidden from view of the public?