Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

Some Further Thoughts on the West Bend School Board

There have been a few developments in the ongoing travesty of governance occurring with the West Bend School Board. You can catch up with my earlier posts (post one and post two). Basically, a group of board members led by the board president are running roughshod over and semblance of process or propriety to create two new principal positions and then appoint people into those jobs instead of running through a normal hiring process.

In thinking about it over the past couple of days, I had to take a step back and wonder if I missed something. Was there an overwhelming public push to change from one high school administration to two? Did I miss the social media push, letters to the editor, feedback in public meetings, etc? I looked, and I don’t think so.

When the new Superintendent came on board last year, he spent several months doing nothing but meeting with community groups, teachers, parents, local businesses, etc. to get feedback on what’s working and what’s not. Here is link to his findings that he released in November last year. There is no mention at all of any concern about having a single high school administration. None. One would have thought that someone might have mentioned it if it were such a concern. Perhaps a person or two mentioned it, but certainly not in any volume sufficient to make it into the top ten issues for the district.

I also followed the election we had for school board in April fairly closely. I don’t recall any of the candidates speaking to any concern or anybody from the community asking anything about it in any of the various forums. We had a robust debate about the future of the district and its problems, and the issue of a single high school principal was hardly mentioned – if ever.

So why the pants on fire urgency to make this change and appoint people to the new roles? Why the sudden need to call a special session and ram it through with no public input, no cost estimate, no planning, no hiring process? Where did all of this urgency come from?

I did notice two developments since I last wrote about this. First, the board has changed its agenda for tomorrow. On Friday, it said, “Possible board appointment of East High School Principal and appointment of West High School principal.” That language has been changed. Now it says, “Introduction of possible candidates for East High School Principal and West High School Principal.”

So apparently the board has felt enough pressure to hold off on appointing right away, but will introduce possible candidates and then appoint one of them a week or so later. It is a fig leaf of process. One wonders who they will be introducing. What was the application process? Could anyone throw their hat in?

As a side note, the school board runs the serious risk of substantial legal liability by following this path. By definition, appointing someone to a job instead of having an open and fair application and hiring process means that they are arbitrarily limiting the candidate pool.  The EEOC looks into these kind of things:

The laws enforced by EEOC prohibit an employer or other covered entity from using neutral employment policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative effect on applicants or employees of a particular race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), or national origin, or on an individual with a disability or class of individuals with disabilities, if the polices or practices at issue are not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business. The laws enforced by EEOC also prohibit an employer from using neutral employment policies and practices that have a disproportionately negative impact on applicants or employees age 40 or older, if the policies or practices at issue are not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

The whole point of having an open application process is to not only allow the opportunity to find the best candidates, but also to ensure that the process is fair and available to anyone interested in the job. Process matters and bypassing that process is an act of arbitrary discrimination by the board.

The second thing that has happened is that board member Joel Ongert has posted a lengthy defense of the his actions on his FaceBook page. In it, he makes a couple of interesting comments. First, there’s this one:

What is also exciting is that returning to the two Principal model creates an opportunity to eliminate the (open) position of Director of Secondary Education. Those job responsibilities can easily be enveloped within the two Principal roles as was done in the past.

So is there another organizational change coming? Will there be the opportunity for public input on this one? One of the complaints about a single administration was that the principal was too busy to have a good relationship with the kids. If we take the same FTE count and add in another FTE worth of responsibilities, how does that help? This position might be worth a review, but I sure hope that the board takes a serious look at it and doesn’t just accept the union’s talking points at face value (eliminating this position is a bugaboo of the union).

Ongert also makes this claim:

Not only is there no net cost to the taxpayer, there is a net savings (assuming they eliminate the Director of Secondary Education)

This is a repeat of the assertion that the decision to have two principals instead of one is a cost neutral decision. Bear in mind that they are making that assertion without the benefit of any study or cost estimate. It is a baseless claim. In fact, on the surface, it looks like it will cost more.

Right now there is one principal in five assistant principals. The working assumption is that they will now have two principals and four assistant principals – thus retaining six FTEs. But principals are paid more than assistant principals. So even with the same six FTEs, having two of them be principals will, indeed, cost more. That’s more money for administration and less for classrooms.

Finally, I return to the election we had a few short months ago. During that election, the three candidates who were running on the same platform made a big deal about transparency, research, and fiscal restraint. Then candidate Tonnie Schmidt said:

What I can guarantee is that if elected, I will request a wholesale analysis of the WBSD organization chart to ensure position redundancy is monitored and eliminated, that personnel expertise matches the position expectations and that all hiring processes are fair moving forward. I will ask the questions and set the example for accountability.

I’m running for the students who deserve equal opportunity, not forced cookie cutter approaches to education and standardized assessments.

I’m running for the employees who have missed opportunities to lead or excel because of organizational nepotism, unfair processes and bias.

I’m running for taxpayers who believed there were stalwart, conservatives overseeing their hard earned money who instead rubber stamped approvals on every suggestion.

Where is the “wholesale analysis” that was done before making this change? What about “hiring processes are fair?” When did she “ask the questions” during the board meeting where they made this decision? Why did the board “rubber stamp approval on” a suggestion allegedly made to President Larson at a listening panel? Where is the thoughtful, informed, transparent decision making we were promised?

Finally (for real this time), I have asked several times for comment from school board members. To date, the only one who has responded is Monte Schmiege, who deferred to the board leadership. While I am occasionally a critic of the school board, I am also a taxpayer and stakeholder in the district. My elected board members are refusing to even return my emails or calls. So much for constituent services or representative government. Every other elected official at least responds.

 

Flynn Chafes at Oversight

It seems that someone is uncomfortable with someone looking over his shoulder.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said he’ll change the department’s chase policy but is not promising to meet all of the conditions set by the city’s Fire and Police Commission.

“I was taken aback by the level of detail this directive engaged in. I’ve never seen anything remotely like that,” Flynn said. “And I was appalled by the threat of discipline that was appended to it.”

Flynn, defiant and at times exasperated, sounded off on the commission’s rare directive and looked toward his future during a brief interview Friday after he unveiled the department’s new ice cream truck.

The commission, a civilian oversight board, has ordered Flynn to change the policy so officers can chase vehicles on a to-be-created “high-value target” list of vehicles used in rolling drug houses, a practice explored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as vehicles that have fled from police at least twice before.

The board also wants the policy to allow officers to chase fleeing vehicles when officers have probable cause the vehicle engaged in “excessively reckless driving.”

West Bend School Board Prepares to Appoint New Principals

Well, well… the West Bend School Board posted its agenda for its Monday meeting. It includes this:

Action Item 6:45 a. Possible Board appointment of East High School principal and appointment of West High School principal

So here’s where we are… Sometime late Wednesday, the school board president posted notice of a special meeting for Thursday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon – without any public input, study, recommendation from the administration, cost estimate, job descriptions, org structure, or any other details – the school board voted to change from one to two principals for the West Bend High Schools. And now on Monday afternoon, they intend to appoint those principals without any time for people to submit applications, public input, interviews, etc.

This has all the hallmarks of a board that has already colluded to create and then ram a couple of people into these positions. Such collusion would be illegal and a violation of open meeting laws. The lack of any real discussion of the issue on Thursday, or even asking the superintendent to weigh in, indicates that they had either already discussed it, or they have such a passive interest in asking tough questions that it borders on incompetence.  They already demonstrated astonishingly poor governance on Thursday. They appear to be about to compound that on Monday.

I will state again that two principals may indeed be preferable to one. I can certainly see the rationale for it. But the lack of transparency, nonexistent communication, eschewing of public input, failure to do even a rudimentary study of the costs or consequences, and disregard for even basic principles of good governance being displayed by this board is deplorable.

 

Budget Deal?

Perhaps.

Gov. Scott Walker offered a change to his budget plan this week to Republican leaders feuding over how to pay for road projects in an effort to break a 20-day impasse, but it’s unclear if it’s enough to get both houses back to the negotiating table.

“There’s no deal yet. That’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday after he relayed to his members the governor’s offer to use $200 million slated for tax cuts for road projects instead, drawing down bonding levels.

But Walker’s offer did win support from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Republicans, who in letters to Walker and Senate Republicans on Thursday said they accepted the governor’s proposal and want to resume work on the 2017-19 state budget as early as next week.

[…]

Walker’s offer eliminates a $203 million tax cut that would instead be used to reduce or completely wipe out all new transportation bonding in the 2017-19 state budget, the governor told reporters.

West Bend High Schools to Have Two Principals

I attended the meeting of the West Bend School Board that I mentioned this morning. What a deplorable example of governance.

Quick background… West Bend has two high schools in one building. It is apparently unique in this regard. Several years ago, in an effort to trim the cost of administration, the district went with a combined principal and single administrative staff. Tonight, the board voted to go back to two principals and, presumably, two staffs.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the decision itself. I see the sense in having two principals and as long as the cost of administration remains neutral or decreases, then it’s really just a matter of organizational structure. I can make an argument for either structure. But the method by which the board made their decision was an example of exceedingly poor governance.

Bear in mind that this is a board whose newest members have promised better transparency and stakeholder input. It is also a school district that was just completed a study about its communications. The study was fairly critical of the district’s communications and transparency and had several recommendations. The campaign promises and study were ignored in this process.

First, the board called a special meeting with almost no notice. The meeting notice was released the night before the meeting. They claim it was released 24 hours in advance in accordance with the law, but if they did it was by the skin of their teeth. The notice was buried in their website, but did not appear on their social media outlets or anywhere else. The only way anyone would have known about the meeting was if they happened to scan the public notices at the library this morning or dug into the meeting agendas about seven clicks down into the district’s website. Fortunately, the Washington County Insider saw it and wrote about it. That appears to be how most people who managed to attend the meeting heard about it.

Second, the description of the meeting in the notice did not mention one principal versus two. It was generic language about administrative policies. The only reason anyone knew that the board would be discussing splitting the principal position into two was because the board president emailed The Washington County Insider saying so.

In other words, the board planned to make a rather significant decision regarding the administrative structure of West Bend’s High Schools and failed to make even a cursory effort to inform the public or invite input. Indeed, their actions indicate that they were almost trying to evade public input.

During the meeting, Board President Tiffany Larson read a lengthy preamble laying out the rationale for the meeting. She stated that after hearing feedback during a listening panel, she thought that the public wanted two principals, so she brought it to the board. Board Member Monty Schmiege questioned her on this point later in the meeting. Larson admitted that the panel was actually a listening panel for hiring a new principal and was not to discuss this issue. She admitted that it was an off hand comment from someone during the meeting. One of the few speakers was an assistant principal who was a member of that panel. She questioned it and said that she did not recall the issue even being discussed. Larson also didn’t name who made the comment. Nobody can apparently even verify that the root comment that generated this meeting even happened.

A few speakers managed to speak during the public comment period. They all supported two principals, but several of them also complained about the lack of communication or notice. One person mentioned that she is a parent whose husband is a teacher and the only way she found out about the meeting was on the Washington County Insider. There was no notice to parents, faculty, staff, or anyone else.

Larson and board member Tonnie Schmidt both brushed aside concerns about communication or public input. Larson made some comments about this being a discussion in the community for years. They said that the reason for the urgency was that they wanted to get it changed prior to the new school year starting. The cited a couple of letters from former principals and comments from unnamed people in the community. Apparently, that passes for public input. I, for one, didn’t even know it was up for discussion until this morning, and now it is done. I suspect that hundreds of people will read this, the Washington County Insider, or the Daily News over the next couple of days and have had no idea this even happened.

Schmiege also made reference to the fact that the issue was discussed previously in a closed executive session and apparently the Superintendent was going to conduct a study of the issue and make a recommendation. The board acted without any research, study, cost estimates, or recommendation from the administration. We have no idea what the cost will be. We don’t know what the division of labor will be. We don’t know what the reporting structure will be. We don’t know anything. All we know is that now there will be two principals instead of one. Larson dismissed such concerns saying that West Bend had two principals for decades and it will work. Only ignorance could instill such confidence.

I would note that I did reach out this morning for comment from every board member. None of them have responded. This is the third or fourth time I’ve asked for comment without any response. The new board’s communication policy appears to be to not communicate at all.

“Huge, big numbers” for Foxxconn Subsidies

One wonders what the package will be.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Republican state senator says the state may reach a deal with Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn by the end of the month and budget talks are being delayed as an incentive package is worked out.

Sen. Luther Olsen tells The Associated Press on Thursday that talks are ongoing about what incentives the state may have to offer to get the iPhone manufacturer to commit.

Olsen says, “I think we should hold off on settling the budget until we know what’s going on with this.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald tells AP that “huge, big numbers” are being talked about to help land Foxconn. But he says he hasn’t discussed them yet with his caucus.

I am not opposed to sensible subsidies to lure large businesses to Wisconsin. The economic impact of something like Foxconn would be huge, so I would expect the incentives to be huge. As long as the benefits to the taxpayer outweigh the costs, let’s get this deal done.

What is more interesting is how this is impacting the debate over the state budget. Some folks are convinced that we need to hold off on a budget to see what the plan is while others are convinced that we need to get the budget done to demonstrate the state’s fiscal solvency. The fact that the Foxconn negotiation is impacting our state budget to this extent indicates just how big it is.

West Bend Car Jacking Suspect Was Just Released

This is unacceptable.

MILWAUKEE — A convicted carjacker is accused of doing it again — targeting a 75-year-old woman in a grocery store parking lot, just after he was released from custody.

19-year-old Rakeem Woodley is wanted for the carjacking Tuesday morning, July 18th in West Bend. Investigators say he grabbed the keys from the woman’s hand, and took off in her vehicle. It happened at the Piggly Wiggly store near E. Washington and Stockhausen Lane around 7:00 a.m.

It’s not his first time committing this type of crime, investigators say.

Court records show in April of 2016, he committed a similar crime at the Milwaukee Salvation Army on Brown Deer Road — hopping in the backseat of a vehicle, and telling the driver “give me the keys or I’ll blow your head off.”

Woodley was arrested days later, in another stolen vehicle, after fleeing from police. He was sentenced to one year in prison and two years extended supervision. He was given credit for the 285 days he spent behind bars, awaiting his sentence.

It’s only a matter of time until this crook hurts or kills someone – if he hasn’t already. Clearly, our laws or the application of them is inadequate.

Emergency School Board Meeting Tonight in West Bend

Well, this is curious

NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

Education Service Center 735 S. Main Street,

West Bend Board Room Thursday,

July 20, 2017 5:00 pm

Call to order

1. Action Item

a. High School Administrative Reorganization

2. Executive session pursuant to Wis. Stats. 19.85(1)(c) to consider employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility, and take any such action, if necessary, based on its discussion, namely: review and consideration of high school administrative assignments

Adjourn

This is odd for a few reasons. First, as far as I can tell, this notice went out last night or early this morning – less than 24 hours before a school board meeting. That is hardly adequate notice for a public meeting. Usually when a meeting is called with so little notice, it is done so because of some emergency or critical issue – like a security issue or a major HR issue. The stated reason for this meeting does not strike me as an emergency. It strikes me as a normal policy issue that could easy be dealt with in the normal course of business for the board. Why the last minute urgency?

Second, on the issue itself, I’m hearing that it is to discuss whether the West Bend High Schools should have a principal for each high school, as they had in the past, or continue with a single principal for both schools, as they are currently structured. If that is indeed the topic to be discussed, then why not put that in the description of the meeting? The reason stated in the public notice is very vague and dull-sounding, but I know that many school district stakeholders have a passionate interest in the issue of one principal vs. two. Why does the notice obfuscate the topic to be discussed?

Third, if the school board is calling an emergency meeting to talk about whether to have two principals instead of one, I can only assume that that means that some of them really want two. Why have an emergency meeting to just affirm the status quo? But I thought the majority of the school board members ran for office saying that they wanted fewer administrators – not more.

We’ll see what happens tonight.

UPDATE: The Washington County Insider has confirmation that this meeting is, indeed, about one vs. two high school principals. Why didn’t they put that in the meeting notice then? And, again, why the special meeting for it?

According to an email from West Bend School Board president Tiffany Larson, “It is a discussion pertaining to the benefit of returning to the traditional 2 principal arrangement or maintaining the current model of 1 principal for 2 high schools.”

NAACP Opposes Naming Madison Building After Obama

Heh. By that argument, we can only ever name government buildings after white men who represent the racist patriarchy, right?

Support from Dane County officials may be waning for a plan to name the City-County Building after former President Barack Obama, after the county’s chapter of the NAACP voted against it.

The NAACP is objecting to the idea on grounds that naming a building that houses a portion of the county jail after the nation’s first black president is inappropriate.

“The building is symbolic of the extreme racial disparities evident in the treatment of African Americans by the criminal justice system of the United States,” the NAACP resolution states.

Greg Jones, president of NAACP Dane County, included the resolution in a letter Monday to the Dane County Board, the Madison City Council, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin stating the organization’s objections to the idea.

New Business and Jobs are Bad

This has to be one of the stupidest editorials I’ve read in a long time.

The sudden influx of 10,000 jobs in Janesville could only be a good thing, right?

Not necessarily.

News of Foxconn considering and then passing up Janesville as the site of a $10 billion expansion project might have left some people feeling disappointed. But we know from experience the pitfalls of allowing one company and industry to dominate the local economy.

The GM plant closing happened not even 10 years ago. Let’s not forget with its closing came the sucking sound of hundreds of people’s livelihoods disappearing. When a community relies on a big employer, its fortunes rise and fall with that employer, too. The car industry is notoriously cyclical, and Janesville endured many ups and downs through the years before the bottom finally fell out in 2008.

[…]

Sure, we’re puckering a little, here, from sour grapes, but winning 10,000 Foxconn jobs wouldn’t be a perpetual party for the economy. It would come with a hangover.

Their argument is basically that having a business open in town and create thousands of jobs is a bad thing because that company may leave one day and the jobs will go with it. In their view, unemployment is better because at least that can be perpetual.

What they ignore is the fact that GM created jobs, employment, and a good lifestyle for thousands of people for generations in Janesville. Yes, they eventually left and Janesville misses GM, but they are taking the wrong lesson from that experience. The lesson is that the city must diversify its economy to mitigate the negative effects of business closings. The lesson is NOT that they should eschew big businesses moving to town unless the business can guarantee that jobs will last for eternity.

Uihlein Backing Nicholson

Eh..

Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein has now donated a total of $3.5 million toward a super PAC supporting Republican Kevin Nicholson’s potential campaign for Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat.

Uihlein, who is one of the nation’s biggest Republican donors, founded the Pleasant Prairie-based Uline company.

He gave $2 million earlier this year to start the super PAC “Solutions for Wisconsin.” A spokesman said Uihlein donated another $1.5 million last quarter.

So far, Uihlein is the super PAC’s only donor.

Solutions for Wisconsin is focused exclusively on supporting the potential U.S. Senate bid of Kevin Nicholson, a Marine veteran, businessman and former Democrat.

“I strongly encourage others to support this effort and avoid a repeat of 2012’s divisive Republican primary,” Uihlein said in a statement released Wednesday.

While I appreciate Uihlein being willing to seriously support an effort to defeat Senator Baldin, his choice of candidate leaves something to be desired. Could he put his money behind a real Republican instead?

Prevailing Wage Repeal Gains Momentum

Do it!

Full repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage requirement is once more gaining momentum after its lead state Senate supporter said it must be included in the next state budget.

The demand from Assistant Senate Majority Leader Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, inserts another wrinkle into already-tense talks about how to break the state budget impasse. Lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker already missed a July 1 deadline to enact the budget.

Twenty-four GOP lawmakers included prevailing wage repeal in a separate proposal, made public Thursday, that they say would cut costs at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Together the developments re-ignite a prevailing wage repeal debate that, at least publicly, had grown dormant in recent weeks.

Appeals Court Upholds Wisconsin’s Right to Work Law

Excellent!

MADISON, Wis. – Moments ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law in International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 v. Schimel, affirming the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Attorney General Brad Schimel hailed the decision.

“The decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirms what we have argued since this law was enacted in 2015, that Right-to-Work is constitutional. The Constitution does not protect a union’s right to take money from non-union members and I’m proud to have defended the rule of law in Wisconsin.”

Illinois Budget Hits Wisconsin

Heh.

A set of tax hikes recently approved in the Illinois state budget will reduce Wisconsin’s general fund by $51 million in the next state budget, according to a memo released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The Illinois budget, enacted last week after a two-year stalemate by a legislative override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto, includes a 32 percent tax increase that will bring in an additional $5 billion for the state. Because of an income tax reciprocity agreement between the two states, that means Wisconsin’s budget will take a hit.

The agreement has been in place between the two states since 1973. It allows people who live in one state and work in the other to pay income taxes only in the state in which they live. Because Wisconsin has more residents working in Illinois than Illinois does in Wisconsin, Wisconsin makes a payment to Illinois each year. In addition, Wisconsin residents who earn income in Illinois other than personal service income pay taxes on that income in Illinois, then claim a credit in Wisconsin.

Those two factors together will result in a $51 million reduction to Wisconsin’s general fund in 2017-19, according to the memo.

While unpleasant, some perspective is necessary. This $51 million represents about 0.07% of the state budget. It’s a rounding error, sadly. That’s how much our state government spends.

Washington County Board Decides to Not Decrease Pay

I know… I’m shocked too.

The new proposal would have eliminated the per diem allotment and instead offered a $550 per month salary. When the proposal reached the Executive Committee, Supervisor Mark McCune made a motion to reduce it to $500 per month, and also applied the reduction to the county board chairman’s salary.

“My concerns with this ordinance is if and individual spends a lot of time on different committees, and you are asked by the county chair and leadership to serve on those committees, that you be rewarded for the extra time you put in,” Supervisor Michael Miller said. “It is like having a company and you have an employee working 60 hours aweek and an employee working 40 hours a week. You would want to compensate the employee for working the 60 hours.

Supervisor Marilyn Merten agreed when she referenced supervisors who are members of multiple committees and allocate additional hours to studying the issues and attend the meetings.

“When you are putting in additional time, you

should be recognized for that and compensated for it,” she said. “I have no problem with the compensation reduction and showing a good faith effort that we too are reducing things, but I think the per diem is something to make a fairness out of what committee assignments people have.”

The opponents framed the issue as a fiscal one.

“We just created a committee in the consent agenda that’s geared toward moving off of county tax levy, the History Center, AIS (Agricultural Industrial Society), the EDWC (Economic Development Washington County) and the Visitors Bureau,” Supervisor Christopher Bossert said. “Last month we voted to implement park stickers. All of that is for fiscal reasons so we should be looking at our own pay, our own practices and sharing in that pain.”

Supervisor Timothy Michalak agreed.

“As an individual who has been on salary for years, you put in the time and you just get the work done,” he said.

It’s not a ton of money, but it sure is symbolic.

Gronik Jumps In

Well, this should be fun.

Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik has formally launched his campaign for guv, declaring on a new website that it’s “time for a different kind of leadership in Madison.”

Gronik also used the website to take a shot at Gov. Scott Walker, saying the days of the incumbent blaming “the people of Wisconsin for the fact that his policies can’t grow our state are coming to an end.” He also wrote Walker will undoubtedly have unlimited resources, “but I am not intimidated.”

“I’m not a politician. I’m a business leader with the progressive values necessary to beat Governor Scott Walker and make living in Wisconsin better for all of our residents — that’s why I’m running for governor,” Gronik wrote.

Gronik did not immediately respond to an email from WisPolitics.com seeking comment after he announced his campaign in an interview with The Associated Press.

It looks like he’s jumping in a bit early to try to ice out other contenders like Vinehout and Evers. He has said that he won’s self-finance his campaign, so he needs to lock up donors.

Recalling Barrett

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

It is easy for most people in Wisconsin to look upon the troubles in Milwaukee from a distance, lament the immense waste of money and opportunity, pity the victims of crime, cluck our tongues in disapproval and hope their troubles remain confined by the city’s borders. Yet while Wisconsin’s direction is increasingly divergent from Milwaukee’s trajectory with the blossoming of other communities, Milwaukee remains Wisconsin’s largest city. Its gravity still tugs the rest of the state.

Milwaukee’s problems are not new. Like many other Rust Belt cities, the shifting economy coupled with dreadful local leadership has drained the city of much of its vitality. Since 2004, Milwaukee has been led my Mayor Tom Barrett, and under Barrett’s leadership, Milwaukee has suffered.

It is gloomy to recount the statistics, but recount them we must. Between 2004, when Barrett was sworn in, and 2014, the last year for which the FBI has tabulated statistics, the overall violent crime rate in Milwaukee has increased almost 90 percent. The aggravated assault rate is up 263 percent. Robberies are up; burglaries are up; motor vehicle thefts are up.

While Milwaukee has benefitted from a resurgence in downtown development, the majority of the city is languishing under an economic malaise that rivals that of Detroit. This is especially true for Milwaukee’s black citizens. In 2015, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data, the unemployment rate for black Milwaukeeans was 17.3 percent compared to 4.3 percent for white Milwaukeeans. The income gap is one of the largest in the nation with the median household income for black families being $25,600 compared to $62,600 for white families. Milwaukee is considered one of the worst cities in America for black people for good reason.

While Barrett has been referred to as a “caretaker” mayor due to his lack of robust leadership, his caretaking certainly seems inadequate given Milwaukee’s decline. And yet, the people of Milwaukee have elected and reelected Barrett four times. In the most recent election in 2016, he was reelected with 70 percent of the vote. Despite the fact that Barrett has been desperately trying to get out of the city by running for governor three times, Milwaukeeans seem satisfied with his governance. One can forgive those of us who live outside of Milwaukee for having difficulty mustering compassion for Milwaukee’s wellbeing when Milwaukee’s voters appear to have so little regard for it.

However there is a growing, diverse, and energetic group of Milwaukeeans who have had enough. A group calling themselves “Save Our City. Milwaukeeans Can’t Wait” — a descriptive if unwieldly moniker — has announced plans to launch a recall effort against Barrett. The group is headed by Allen Jansen, a resident of the city’s south side who has supported the mayoral campaigns of Joe Davis and Bob Donovan. The group’s treasurer is Darryl Farmer, a member of the Black Panthers Party and controversial resident of the city’s north side.

Although newly announced, the group is already garnering wide support from a varied range of Milwaukeeans who are dissatisfied with Barrett for everything from lead pipes to crime. The groups lists four reasons for their effort to recall Barrett.

First, they allege that Barrett’s misplaced priorities of using tax dollars for the construction of a downtown trolley instead of focusing on health, public safety, education, etc. constitutes malfeasance in public office.

Second, they allege official misconduct on the part of Barrett in that he pursued an agenda that personally benefitted his campaign donors.

Third, they allege dereliction of duty because Barrett failed to fulfill his obligation to sufficiently protect Milwaukeeans from crime.

Fourth, they allege that Barrett endangered public health by not acting to replace Milwaukee’s lead lateral pipes.

Of course, none of these allegations are new. Milwaukeeans knew of these failures before they reelected Barrett last year by an overwhelming margin. Yet perhaps the fact that such a coalition of Milwaukeeans has coalesced for change is a ray of hope for a city desperately in need of competent leadership.

Barrett has responded to the recall effort by saying that he welcomes a conversation about Milwaukee’s future. Well, then. Let us have that conversation.

Bill Would Allow Schools To Provide Firearm Education

Good.

Wisconsin high school students would learn how to handle a range of guns — from handguns to rifles — as an elective class under a state Assembly bill introduced last week. 

Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) is the lead sponsor of the bill, which would allow schools to offer on-site gun education classes. Its purpose is to promote gun safety and to boost participation in trap shooting, he said.

The bill would not change a current law that prohibits live ammunition and its use on school property.

The bill would not require schools to offer a class. If they did, students would not have to take it. However, the bill would require school superintendents to develop curricula.

Baldwin Might Vote for Socialized Healthcare

Ummm

EDGERTON — Count Sen. Tammy Baldwin as a “maybe” on supporting a single-payer health insurance proposal.

“Ultimately, I’ll look at the bill when it comes in, but I anticipate I will (support it),” the Wisconsin Democrat told reporters Thursday. “It’s been a long position of mine, and frankly, it’s really time that we address this partisan nonsense that’s been going on.”

…isn’t Senator Baldwin the member of a governmental body in which she can write and submit bills herself? Why does she have to “look at the bill when it comes in”? Can’t she write her own?

Legislature Likely to End Tax Hike Loophole

Good. It is about time the legislature ended the abuse of this loophole.

The use of energy efficiency exemptions has spiked in the past three years.

In 2015, the statewide total reached a new high of $347 million, and schools nearly matched that figure in 2016 with $316.3 million. The total for 2017 has already surpassed $300 million.

Unlike traditional referendums, energy efficiency resolutions require only the authorization of a local school board — not voter approval.

If a district approves a resolution exceeding $1 million, a public hearing must be held and voters may request a referendum vote if they can gather the necessary signatures during a 30-day petition period.

Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget proposal calls for the elimination of energy efficiency exemptions. The Senate and Assembly budget bills both include language to discontinue the exemptions, but schools have until the effective date of the bill to file a resolution.