Bruce Murphy has an excellent article today out that really clears up a lot of the confusion surrounding the County Board reforms. A lot of heat has been generated over the past week because of what was reported in Wisconsin's largest daily newspaper regarding the "takeover" by the County Executive of the Milwaukee County Board.
Judging by the reactions by many to the story that covered the legislation, we're one step away from fascist Italy.
Murphy lays out in detail why that's not exactly the case despite what was reported in the newspaper and reacted to in press releases and on other websites.
Schultze, for instance, claims the bill gives the executive “the authority to hire as many staff as he wishes for the county executive’s office.” Nonsense. The executive’s budget would have to be approved, as before, by the county board. “The most powerful control the board has is the power of the purse strings,” Sanfelippo notes. “What Schultze wrote is completely misleading.”
Schultze also wrote that the county exec “would gain power through authority for all contracts.” Also misleading. The exec can now approve any contract worth less than $50,000. The legislation would increase that to $100,000. For any contract worth $100,000 to $300,000, if just one board member objected, a full vote of the board would then be required to approve it. And for any contract of more than $300,000, board approval is automatically required.
Schultze writes that the board “also would lose its power to change terms of any proposed sale or lease of county property.” True, the board would not be able to renegotiate deals, but it would retain the power to set the parameters and policies for any sale or lease agreement, and the executive would have to follow those. Once a deal is negotiated within those parameters, the board would have the choice of approving the deal or not. “This forces the executive to work more closely with the board to make sure the deal gets approved,” Sanfelippo notes.
Schultze writes that the executive would gain more power by being put in charge of the county’s lobbyists. That’s true, but a tad misleading: it simply returns the county to what was true for decades; the exec always hired and fired the lobbyists until the board grabbed this power less than a decade ago.
The whole piece is worth a read and provides a good sense of balance to the issue. A great example is not a lot of people know that it was only recently that the Board voted to consolidate County lobbying efforts under itself, before that, the Exec. had that "power". Or how the Exec. already has the "power" to approve contracts up to a certain level.
For the record, I completely agree that the JS reporter in question suffers from the same problem most in his profession do: he can't burn his sources. It's true in sports reporting and political reporting and has been rearing it's head in local political reporting for years before this issue. That said, I find Steve to be a nice guy who works hard and have nothing against him.
What's become interesting to me about this whole issue is just how willing some third party groups are willing to make this their Waterloo.
There are frankly a lot bigger fish to fry in Wisconsin and in Milwaukee than the makeup and power of an outdated and overinflated form of municipal government. It would be great to see some of the same groups that feel the need to hold rallies and protests over this issue get involved in things like lowering Milwaukee gun violence or dealing with the massive problem we have in human trafficking and underage prostitution or of inner-city police brutality.
Those things impact this City and County a heck of a lot more than County Board reform, but where are the protests and press releases about those issues?