Community calls on leaders to focus on real issues
By Lynda Jones
Opposition is growing against the plan to slash the pay, budget and ultimately the control of the Milwaukee County Board. Last week, the African American County Board Supervisors spoke against the plan exclusively with The Courier, and they were in full agreement that this change was not needed, and it was motivated by individuals who were not looking to continue on a path of “checks and balances”.
Other members of the Board were outspoken as well, including County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic and Supervisor Theodore Lipscomb. Dimitrijevic called it a “vendetta” coming directly from County Executive Chris Abele.
On Friday, Jan. 11, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) joined newly sworn in State Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to introduce their plan to reform the Milwaukee County Board.
Sanfelippo stated, “Milwaukee County already has trouble paying its bills. There doesn’t seem to be enough money for vital services like transportation and public safety, let alone the zoo, our museums and parks,” Sanfelippo said, “By restoring a part-time board to Milwaukee County, as we have in every other county in the state, we will empower citizen-legislators to bring new ideas and fresh energy to Milwaukee County.”
Well, following this announcement it was made clear that other elements were at work with this plan. And, where on the surface these legislators, who by the way do not live in Milwaukee or represent Milwaukee residents’ interests are saying that their intentions are to rein in budget issues, others are seeing it differently.
“They are playing a shell game with us again, and I am tired of it,” stated Rev. Willie Brisco, president of MICAH.
Brisco joined other community leaders on Wed., Jan. 16 at the Transit Center downtown to announce the growing opposition to this reform plan.
“Alberta Darling should worry about River Hills, and not Milwaukee. Stay out of Milwaukee’s business, and same goes to Fitzgearld, and Sanfelippo. The individuals who are really behind this do not have the best interests in Milwaukee. This is a power grab, plain and simple.” Brisco continued.
It was made public this week that the Greater Milwaukee Committee is pushing for this legislation. In fact, their push involves using its nonprofit arm called Smart Government, Inc. to lobby for this reform to push through rapidly.
“The Greater Milwaukee Committee has the resources to come together, sit in a room and raise $5 million if they want to help Milwaukee County. Instead of eliminating jobs.” Brisco said.
Also represented at the press conference was Barbara Becker, of member of the NAACP executive committee who read the following statement from NAACP president James Hall:
‘It should go without saying that the NAACP is deeply concerned with minority representation in local government. We acknowledge that the proposed legislation to change the pay of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors does not reduce the number of seats on the board. If such a proposal were to re-emerge, that would place proportional minority representation in jeopardy then we would respond to such a threat on our political rights accordingly.
Even so, we do recognize that the present proposal to reduce pay may impact the effectiveness of the work of the County Board, so we look forward to a meaningful discussion and more information on services and functions that would be affected by a reduction in pay of board members.
For decades, Milwaukee has had some of the worst socioeconomic racial disparities in the country. At the same time, Milwaukee County is challenged in providing critical services like transportation, mental health services, and the parks system. The causes of Milwaukee’s racial disparities are complex and numerous, so our focus must be on achieving the best outcomes.
As an overriding matter, we need county supervisors, city aldermen, school board members, state representatives, and state senators to be in a position to do their work in the community effectively in order to benefit their constituents; we need them to be able to place new jobs, education, and the reduction of racial disparities at the top of their priority lists.’
Mike Wilder, of the African-American Roundtable said, “Milwaukee has full time problems, huge issues. And we need full time attention to these issues, not part-time.” Wilder also stressed that the public needs to be aware that slashing the County Board, translates to elimination of staff as well. This would impact the research, and information that the supervisors need access to when they sit down to do their jobs in the most effective way.
“I worked as an aide to the County Board, I made about $25,000 annually, and believe me, I more than earned my paycheck.”
Also demonstrating support is the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998. Its president Alan Simonis says, “The Milwaukee County Board should not be dismantled in order to offset the political balance that now exists. Interference with a process that has been in place for many years has no merit except to limit the control of the Board of Supervisors over the management of Milwaukee County.”
He continued, “Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 stands behind the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and offers its support to them.
Democracy dictates that the people of Milwaukee County be represented by individuals who will stand up for them, and not hesitate to put themselves between political overreach and the people whom they represent. Cutting the Board size and the present budget of the Board will only limit their ability to represent their constituents properly.”
Additional organizations that are supporting the supervisors include: Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Voces De La Frontera, Minister Greg Lewis, Wisconsin Federation of Teachers and Nurses and the League of Young Voters. And the list is growing.
Fortunately for now, according to reports the fast track legislation that Darling and Sanfelippo were hoping to push through to be on the April 2013 ballot will not make it there. This would not give voters enough time for any input.
With this time now, community advocates, those for and against the plan will now have time to seek public opinion, and educate the public on the positives and negatives of this reform. Look forward to supervisors holding town meetings and forums on this issue.