Milwaukee County Board Gets What They Deserved

In a rush to prove themselves ineffective an unable to act as a mature legislative body, the Milwaukee County Board has just earned themselves not only the wrath of a majority of the Republican legislature, but Governor Scott Walker as well. They proved that they just don’t get it.

Now I’m not at all willing to goose step to the drum of the tea party republicans who run our state. I find them to be short sighted and unable to understand that infrastructure should be fixed when it is cheap to borrow money to fix it. That doesn’t strike me as very bright and it’s not only no way to run a business, it’s no way to run a government. I find their desire to trip over their own feet to make corporations happy at the expense of the general welfare of the public (and real small businesses for that matter) to be, well, un-American.

But what I do understand, and this is a fact that evades a majority of the County Board, is that Milwaukee County is, by legislation, effectively a department of the state of Wisconsin. They may be elected to a local legislative body, but that does not mean that they should spend time beating the drum to things they cannot impact or change. Spending County dollars to lobby state legislators about things that do not directly affect County government is foolish. It is an exercise in futility, a waste of local property tax dollars and it is akin to poking a ferocious bear with a stick. Not smart.

When Governor Walker pushed through legislation that effectively decertified public unions, that was the law of the land. He has effectively won his fatwah against unions and that meant that local governments did not have to negotiate with a union that had no standing to negotiate. But it appears that that is exactly what Chairman Marina Dimitrijevic did. Why? Perhaps it was her philosophical belief that unions are a good thing and they ought not ignore the folks who claimed to represent the employees. Is it a bad thing to talk with employees? Of course not. Employees can find inefficiencies that cannot always be found by management. Audits of these processes can often ferret out these problems and employees must be part of the process — but if a union is effectively defunct, and the order from the State is to not negotiate with decertified unions, then it was Dimitrijevic’s responsibility to follow state law.

Now I have a certain amount of healthy skepticism about this. I know some of the veteran County Supervisors and they seem to get it. Others do not. One of the Supervisors who seems to get it right every time is John Weishan. If Weishan says it, I have a fairly high degree of confidence in this ex-Marine. And with Weishan saying that Dimitrijevic must go, well, I tend to believe him.

My skepticism comes from the sources of the stories in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. One such source is Rich Abelson. Abelson is the guy who is still collecting a paycheck from the decertified union, AFSCME District Council 48. Abelson is one of those guys who will say whatever helps Abelson. He lies and is a bully. Abelson said that Dimitrijevic was negotiating with him according to the Journal-Sentinel. If that’s true, and if it came out of Abelson’s mouth the truth of it is highly suspect, then Dimitrijevic made a bone head move.

Then there is the issue of the reporter. Steven Schulze is happy to write some pretty salacious sounding stories that have traces of truth, but when presented in his context have little truth to them. My recommendation to anyone who is interviewed by Schulze, whether you are a democrat, republican or non-partisan elected official – record the interview. Record the interview, inform him that you are recording the interview, and then podcast it if you find that he has taken liberties. Do not make the mistake of talking to Schulze about two different issues. He lacks the depth and understanding to separate issues. If he interviews you about an issue, do not let him stray to other issues. He will transpose facts in such a way that will make whoever the interviewee look bad and then the journalism community will give him an award for it.

So there you have it. Understanding what has happened, on this, the day that Governor Walker has signed legislation to single out the Milwaukee County Board for punitive legislative action, while giving the County Executive power than that position has ever had, provides the context to understand how it has happened.

But why has this happened? Historically there have been statesmen on that board who understood how things worked. Now they have almost no members who have been there for any length of time. Walker and his disciples made sure of that.

What they really need to do, and this will probably sound stupid to some, is reduce the sizes of the districts to the size of, say one of their neighboring communities — Waukesha. Do something simple. I hate to say this, but just compensate them as a part time board. Increase the amount of districts so that common people can actually talk to their Supervisor. Give them something like a buck a constituent, but only give them 10,000 constituents each. Do what so many of the other Wisconsin Counties have done — enlarge the board enough so that when people want to talk to their elected county Supervisor, they can. But don’t make the salaries enough so that they can live off of them. They don’t need to go to every Senior citizen and community meeting on the planet anyway. Bring them back into the private sector so they can be in touch with what the public is struggling with. You’re going to get some real goofballs on that board, but you’ll also get some real quality people.

Here’s the thing — whatever they want right now; it’s not going to happen. There is life after politics. If they make an effort to succeed, they will succeed. Things are not the same. Things cannot be the same. It’s a new day. Like it or not, deserved or undeserved, the rules have changed and so should the county board.



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