County Suffering from Poor Communication

There is a lot of blame to go around these days in Milwaukee County government and communication seems to be one of the major casualties in the war between the County Board and the County Exec. Neither has any benefit of how government can or should work because neither has had the historically normal benefit of being able to learn from their predecessors.

Until Communication is restoredExecutive Chris Abele is left to learn his role only by the example of his predecessor, County Executive (now Governor) Scott Walker. Walker tried to run County government in a top down fashion. His style of government was extremely divisive and partisan and if Walker wanted something, he didn’t hesitate to step on others to get. Although county government is technically non-partisan and has been run in a traditionally non-partisan fashion for decades, Walker changed that. Walker’s style of government was to divide, assign blame and to conquer. When he did not get what he wanted, he could always run to the AM talk radio guys whose own partisan loyalty enabled them to back up anything Walker said whether it was fictional or not. When Walker was elected Governor, the more democratic leaning Abele was elected to fill out Walker’s term. That left no predecessor of any political or philosophical similarity for Abele to turn to for advice.

County Board Chairman Marina Dimitrijevic was similarly saddled with a responsibility and no decent role model to turn to in order to understand how the County Board should run. Her predecessor, Lee Holloway, had been elected by a coalition of suburban republican Walker loyalists and racially loyal central city African-Americans. From the moment of his selection as Chairman by his colleagues, it was clear that nothing would be accomplished on the County Board for four long years. There was no way that Holloway would get his racially-centric agenda approved by the centrists or the Walker loyalists. Policy debates were for show and the only way that a majority of the board came together was when centrists, leftys and minority supervisors held together at budget time to oppose the more punitive parts of Walker’s budgets.

Walker had successfully divided and conquered the County Board.

But now it’s a different time and a different board. Neither branch has benefited from effective non-partisan predecessors and colleagues showing them the way to get things done without ripping each others throats out.

Dimitrijevic instituted a policy where Abele’s department heads are not allowed access to the County Board Supervisors offices without the aid of an approved escort. She then took it a step further by tossing aside a century of tradition and eliminating the formerly-lifetime-rights for past Supervisors to have hallway and floor privileges. She may not have realized it, but her actions are the equivalent of a “not welcome” sign. This is a severe departure from the past.

In the past, consensus building and hard working Supervisors not only worked with the County Executive on policy issues, but they also tapped as a healthy pool of picks for department heads. Abele has no such understanding of County history and Dimitrijevic has continued to culture an adversarial relationship with the Exec.

None of this is necessary. Abele and Dimitrijevic are leagues closer on political philosophy than either of their predecessors ever were. To make matters even more strange, if you set them both in a room together and peppered them with hundreds of questions on what should happen in County government in the future, they would likely agree on almost everything.

But the key there would be in getting both of them in the room together.



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