My letter to the editor in today's Journal Sentinel can be found here. The letters editor actually cut quite a bit of the piece out, so here is the entire thing I submitted:
Milwaukee's parks once again rank low in the annual rankings of metropolitan park systems by the Trust for Public Land (Milwaukee drops in park ranking, May 23rd).
Our Milwaukee County Park system being ranked 16th out of 40 cities was primarily buoyed by the massive acreage of our parks system and resulting proximity many residents have to their parks. That's the good news.
The bad news is that our spending per resident and amenities per resident are near the bottom of the other 40 major park systems in the U.S. Unfortunately, despite years of reports showing similar disturbing trends, little appears to be happening to ensure the long term viability of our park system that celebrates it’s 105th birthday this year.
Something – besides the predictable finger pointing by politicians that coincides with another disappointing annual report – needs to be done in the next 5-10 years to secure the future of our parks in Milwaukee or the rich tradition of stewardship residents have taken pride in for over a century will end.
In the early 1980’s, the Milwaukee County Parks Commission turned over governance of our parks to Milwaukee County Government, making ours one of the very few major park systems the Country managed by a municipality.
This change in governance of our parks directly coincides with the point at which the parks in Milwaukee started their slow deterioration. Thirty years of competition with state mandated County services, apathy by elected officials and a decrease in funding has resulted in shuttered buildings and over $200 million in deferred maintenance.
While spending by Milwaukee County Government has nearly tripled since it took over our parks in 1982, the budget for the Parks Department has actually decreased when you factor in inflation. Every County Board and every County Executive over the last 30 years shares some culpability in that fact. With our elected officials unwilling to appropriate dollars for our parks, other funding sources have been proposed.
A dedicated sales tax for our parks is desirable as a secure and dedicated funding source, but the political reality is that Democrats punted on the idea in 2009-2010 and Republicans are reluctant to support a tax increase now that they’re in control in Madison.
So with neither side willing to take on the referendum that Milwaukee County residents approved nearly four years ago, a different option needs to be considered if we're to continue to have a vibrant park system in Milwaukee for the next 105 years.
Thankfully we don't need to blaze a new path in how to manage and fund our parks here in Milwaukee. We simply need to look at how the rest of the major metropolitan areas in America manage and fund it’s park systems, which means getting our park system out from underneath Milwaukee County Government.
I believe we need to take a serious look at returning our Milwaukee park system to the successful “Park Commission” model – preferred by park pioneers like Charles Whitnall – which served us well for 75 years and ending the experiment of County governance of our parks.
If our parks were flourishing under County Government it might be a different story, but the opposite is true and year after year of data remind us the current County governance experiment for our parks is failing.
It’s time we free our parks from Milwaukee County control so they don’t have to compete for funding with state mandated services, residents can be more closely involved in their success and we can finally start addressing the problems our parks face instead of kicking the can down the road until the next election.
There will be significant push back from those invested heavily in keeping control of our parks under the County Government, but their self-interest is outweighed by the generational responsibility we have to our park system in Milwaukee.
The Trust for the Public Land just launched a new website called ParkScore that allows you to compare the 40 largest metropolitan area's parks against eachother. Rankings are based off things like total acreage, number of playgrounds per capita, and the amount of spending per resident.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee continues to do poorly in rankings against other major metro areas in the US. While our score of 16 out of 40 metro areas may not seem too bad, the majority of our points are due to the large park system we have. Our spending per resident and amenities per resident are near the bottom.
While I'm on the subject of parks, it should be pointed out that this year marks the 105th anniversary of what we now know as the Milwaukee County Parks system. It's a great milestone to achieve but the fact is as we celebrate 105 years of incredible public parks in and around Milwaukee, they've probably never faced more serious challenges as they do today.
The fact is that something needs to be done in the next 5-10 years to secure the future of our parks in Milwaukee or the rich tradition of stewardship residents have taken pride in for over a century will end.
If you were to examine the other 40 cities in the ParkScore rankings, you'd find one area where Milwaukee stands alone: the way we govern our parks here. 30 years ago, the parks previously run for over 75 years by the Milwaukee County Parks Commission were turned over to the Milwaukee County Government. Unlike the vast majority of other park systems in the U.S. we here in Milwaukee let our local government administer and manage our parks system.
This change in governance for our parks directly coincides with the point at which the parks in Milwaukee started their slow deterioration. A deterioration that over 30 years of competition with other County programs, apathy by elected officials and a decrease in funding has resulted in shuttered buildings and over $300 million in deferred maintenance.
While a lot of people still cling to the idea of a dedicated sales tax for our parks here in Milwaukee – full disclosure: I supported the sales tax and was one of the people who helped pass a County referendum to enact it – the reality of the situation is that the Republican controlled legislature and Republican Governor will never support a sales tax increase. For those who would hold out hope for a friendlier legislature and/or Governor I'd remind you that even when Democrats controlled the legislature and Governor's mansion, the idea still went no where.
So a different option needs to be considered if we're to continue to have a vibrant park system in Milwaukee for the next 105 years.
Thankfully we don't need to blaze a new path in how to manage and fund our parks here in Milwaukee. We simply need to look at how the rest of the Country does it, which means getting our park system out from underneath Milwaukee County Government.
I believe we should return our park system in Milwaukee to it's original successful governance model and end the 30 year experiment of County governance which by all objective means has been a failure.
There will be significant push back from those invested heavily in keeping control of our parks under the County Government, but their self interest is outweighed by the generational responsibility we have to our park system here in Milwaukee.
She's making the announcement on the Eric Von radio show this morning and I am very excited to see her bring her energy, enthusiasm and personality to the race. She's going to have a website up soon where you can find out more information about her and her campaign and I'll pass it along as soon as I get it.
Nikiya has been a friend for several years now and I'm looking forward to supporting her.
I hope you'll join me to kick off the 18th Assembly District campaign of Evan Goyke tomorrow. Details:
Wednesday, May 9th
African American Women’s Center, 3020 W. Vliet Street
5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
This is another open seat. Rep. Tamara Grigsby is leaving the Assembly to deal with serious health issues. She's been a great Representative and I hope I can continue to be represented by a young, energetic voice in Madison. That's why I'm supporting Evan and I hope you will too.
I had heard about this a few weeks ago and over the weekend it became official.. Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo is going to be running for the Senate seat opening up when the term of Spencer Coggs expires this fall/winter. Despite being elected to City Treasurer this spring, Sen. Coggs is keeping both positions – and both paychecks for that matter, a move that's en vogue amongst elected officials in Milwaukee these days.
Over the weekend, Supervisor Michael Mayo announced he'd be running for the Senate seat. Rep. Elizabeth Coggs is also going to be running for the seat.
This is the Senate district I live in, so I'm watching it with a close eye. Frankly, I'm happy that there's another – yet unannounced – candidate who will be announcing her run later this week. Mayo has been on the County Board for over a decade and Coggs was there for over 20 years before running for the Assembly in 2010.
And yes, it does seem like we're in the midst of a never ending campaign cycle these days.