By Ariele Vaccaro
Continued from the Nov. 7 issue of the Milwaukee Courier:
Chris Abele’s explanation for joining the 2011 race for Milwaukee County Executive is simple.
“I love my city,” said the now County Executive of five years.
As Abele approaches the end of his first full term, the Milwaukee Courier met with him to find out how far the county has come, the philosophy that got it there, and what’s in store for the future.
Child Support and Fatherhood
According to Abele, Milwaukee Child Support Services is about more than enforcement.
The county has been aiming to facilitate the connection of fathers with their children through a number of efforts, including the use of a federal grant called “Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood”.
With the grant, Milwaukee County was able to make 500 job placements.
Child Support Services announced in early October that the federal grant would be renewed for another five years.
It will be used to continue programming for job training, education, and other services such as help acquiring driver’s licenses.
“We’re going to be able to do a lot more,” Abele said.
Both the County Executive and Child Support Services Director Jim Sullivan have contended that the programming helps fathers foster relationships with their children and makes it more likely that fathers will make their child support payments.
In July, the County and City of Milwaukee came together to announce their adoption of a “Housing First” initiative.
Their goal? End chronic homelessness in three years and keep individuals off the street and out of jails.
During an October press conference at the Guest House, county officials announced that they were way ahead of schedule.
Representatives from the Guest House and Hope House endorsed the program which offers housing to individuals who have been homeless for a year or at least four times in the last three years.
Participants receive a caseworker and are offered services for addiction, mental health, and more. However, none are not forced to take on those services in order to stay in housing.
During the conference, Housing Division Administrator James Mathy said that no one has turned down the services yet.
Abele hasn’t raised taxes in the five years of his tenure as County Executive. In September, he announced that the 2016 budget won’t be calling for any tax hikes either.
However, the county executive is currently under fire from County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb for neglecting to attend board meetings on the new budget.
The Chairman said in a press release that the Board would be suing Abele over the missed meetings — which he said Abele is legally required to attend — and for attempting to institute “a shadow system of compensation to increase the pay of his political appointees.”
Abele argued that his presence at the meetings isn’t necessary.
“I have yet to hear a single specific question from the Board that has not been answered by department heads or my office,” Abele said in an email to the Courier. “It’s unfortunate that the Board would rather spend $150,000 in taxpayer funds on a lawsuit instead of just talking to me about their questions.”
Lipscomb has been vocal regarding his opposition to cuts to the Sheriff’s Department as well.
Still, Abele was optimistic about the sustainability of the budget.
“The budget I have just given to my partners, the County Board, reflects how in five years we have gone from questions about the County’s existence to being able to craft a fiscally responsible budget that creates economic opportunity, expands services, and rewards the hard work of our employees without raising taxes,” he wrote in an Oct. 12 release.
The County Board recently passed an amended budget that restores funding to the Sheriff’s Department, which Abele made cuts to in his recommended budget.
According to Abele, bus fares, routes, and maintenance have become reasonable and steady since he stepped into office.
Despite transit cuts on the part of the state budget, the County has managed to increase miles travelled by Milwaukee County Transit System buses and bring workers to communities outside of Milwaukee.
The Amalgamated Transit Union and Milwaukee Transit Riders Union are currently requesting that the County allocate funding in the 2016 budget for a new route, the 80X or 80 Express, that would travel from Mequon to Oak Creek. They’re also asking for the construction of a new transit hub at a five point intersection where the 80X would intersect.
With the 2016 election year impending, Chris Larson announced his plan to run for County Executive. The young Democratic lawmaker currently represents Milwaukee in the State Senate.
With incumbency on his side and a number of accomplishments to point to, however, Abele may be a more than formidable challenger to Larson.
On October 12, Larson revealed he would be running for County Executive. Abele responded positively, stating in a press release, “I welcome State Senator Larson’s decision to run for County Executive.”
Abele has remained involved in many nonprofits and charity causes since becoming an elected official, including Planned Parenthood and the Boys and Girls Club.
Abele recently donated $250,000 to MATC’s new Promise Program, which will allow freshmen to attend for no cost after federal aid.
He remains optimistic for the future, having seen a County, which he said was in financial shambles five years ago, exceed expectations.
“I’ve always found that we can accomplish more when we seek allies and solutions, not fights and enemies,” said Abele in an email to the Courier. “That’s the approach I brought to the County, and now five years after the Public Policy forum questioned whether County government should even exist, we’re turning the corner and empowering more people to live better lives.”
County Executive Chris Abele spoke to Eric Von during The Eric Von Show which airs Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on WNOV 860 AM The Voice. Listen to WNOV on TUNE IN on your mobile device or online at WNOV 860. com.