By Lynda L. Jones
County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic did not mince words when she spoke out against state lawmakers taking interest in how the Milwaukee County Board should run and be paid.
She says that County Executive Chris Abele’s inability to work well with the County Board led him to push for a measure for a binding referendum to cut supervisors’ pay by 70 percent to $15,000 a year or less and cut the board’s $6.6 million budget by 85 percent to about $1 million.
She also accuses Abele of launching this move because he has a “personal vendetta” against supervisors.
Abele responded by saying, “It’s not a personal thing, this is just letting people vote on this issue. I don’t see much downside to that.”
Despite the County Executive’s position that his intentions are not personal, there have been many public disputes that have occurred under his tenure in the position.
Abele and the 18-member County Board have clashed on a series of issues this year, with the board rejecting Abele’s plan to have the Milwaukee Police Department take over lakefront and other park patrols from the Sheriff’s Department; denying his request to have at least one county lobbyist report to him; and forcing Abele’s economic development director to abide by the county residency rule or quit. The director, Brian Taffora, chose to quit late last month.
It is also more than curious that with a 70 percent pay slash, and budget cuts, the responsibilities and in essence power of the supervisors allows more power and control to the county executive’s office.
“Who really suffers under such a move are residents, Supervisor David Bowen (10th Dist.) says, “there needs to be a means for checks and balance in county government, and that is what we have now. How would state lawmakers feel if the federal government came in and proposed to slash their authority, pay and budget in operation. This is a unprecedented proposal. And it should not move forward.” He added.
When asked if he felt stabbed in the back considering that a former supervisor is one of the individuals siding with Abele? Bowen stated that he would have felt betrayed if he had not seen it coming, but based on what this particular supervisor pushed for and failed at during his tenure it did not surprise him that he would push for this as a way to get back at the board.
The former supervisor being reference is Joe Sanfelippo, who is now a State Representative (R-West Allis). Sanfelippo has confirmed that he plans to introduce the bill early in the new legislative session, with the aim of quick passage so the changes could go before voters in an April binding referendum.
Cutting pay by 70 percent makes the supervisor position a part-time position, and current supervisors agree that this job and the responsibilities that come with it cannot be successfully accomplished on a part-time basis.
Supervisor Theo Lipscomb Sr. (1st Dist.) says that the job of a county board supervisor is too complex to be sliced down to a part-time status. Reportedly, Lipscomb said that the measure before state lawmakers would concentrate power in the county executive by limiting time and resources for the board. “That would disrupt the balance of power between the executive and the board and “silence the voice of the legislative branch of county government,” Lipscomb said.
Supervisor Russell Stamper II (5th Dist.) says that he plans to reach out to constituents and informed them on what is at stake if such a bill passes from the state legislature.
“This is an attack on our entire county government. The county board is responsible for vital services that residents need, and their voice is important when it comes to how to administer these services.” Stamper stressed.
He plans to meet with fellow supervisors, and unify on the message that this is not a part-time job, and cannot be effectively performed on a part-time basis.
Stamper and Bowen gave a broader perspective on the short sighted vision of this plan. Milwaukee County has already a small board compared to others in the state. In fact, in Dane County there are 37 county board supervisors that represent a total population of 450,000 plus. Milwaukee County’s population almost 1 million residents have 18 supervisors, meaning that each supervisor represents more than 50,000 residents.
Stamper says that he was surprised that as a newly sworn (Monday) in state representative, Sanfelippo would have such a plan in place and revealed the day after being sworn in.
“I came into the new year with plans on working on transit, and many other important issues for our residents. Now, we have to spend valuable time defending the independent operation of county government and protecting the voices of our constituents.” He said.
County Supervisor Willie Johnson (13th Dist.), who is now serving in his fourth term on the board weighed in as well on the proposed plan. Johnson says that he sees it as an attempt to take the board in a direction of people who are wealthy only being able to serve. He also agrees that the job of a supervisor is a full time position, and cannot be accomplished on a part-time status, especially in Milwaukee County.
“Milwaukee County supervisors each represent more than 50,000 residents. Where elsewhere in the state, like Dane County, each supervisor represents about 13,000 residents. With 37 supervisors, they can afford to be on a part-time basis, we cannot.” Johnson added.