Milwaukee County Board Chair Dimitrijevic had a long interview with the Journal Sentinel regarding the plan to cut Supervisor pay in today's paper. The whole thing is here, and to be honest it's a wonderfully crafted defense from a political standpoint.
At a time when people are generally cautious about giving any political entity too much power, she makes the convincing case that the Board has an important role to play as the legislative branch of government and plays a role in the "check and balance system" we're all familiar with. Politically it's smart and she's on message repeating different variations of the theme several times:
"That is essentially an elimination of the Milwaukee County legislative branch because how would we function? We'd almost be voluntary," Dimitrijevic said.
Even if the board had $1.1 million, that wouldn't be enough for supervisors to "do our legislative oversight," Dimitrijevic said.
"What's really going in here is a reduction of checks and balances and a consolidation of power," Dimitrijevic said.
So while it's a very well crafted defense and smart on a political level, it's also completely misleading and off base.
The fact is despite Dimitrijevic's saying so, County government in Wisconsin doesn't adhere to a "check and balance principle" like we're used to at the Federal and State levels of government. As we all remember from civics class, in that style of government, the Executive appoints judges, judges rule on law from the legislative branch and the legislative branch confirms judges.
In Wisconsin, our County Boards don't "legislate". They set and administrate policy through ordinances like "Parks close at 10pm" that manage County departments. They aren't "legislators" like we elect to Madison or Washington DC.
Neither do our County Boards provide a "check" on the power of the Executive or on the judges of Milwaukee County. The County Exec. doesn't appoint judges nor does the Board confirm them. In fact, they're elected to office just like Supervisors and the Executive.
The County court system in Milwaukee (and other counties) handles things like criminal, children's court, civic and probate court responsibilities. It doesn't rule on County ordinances that the Board passes.
I get why the Board Chair is using this argument. Most people don't understand what form of government we have here in Milwaukee – and every other Wisconsin – County. They hear "check and balance" and share the concern for too much power in one "branch" and they perk up because those are terms they can understand.
The simple fact is that because of the changes made to County governance in the 60's and 70's (not all of which I agree with by the way, but that's well before my day), the County Supervisors in Wisconsin don't legislate or "run" the County.
They supervise County departments, debate a budget and pass ordinances.
It's not founding fathers stuff despite what you might read in the paper, but it was never meant to be. We have a system of "checks and balances" that works well where it needs to: at the Federal and State level.
Trying to use that false comparison as an excuse to not allow voters to weigh in on Supervisor pay is off base. And while I give it an "E" for effort, it's completely misleading and she knows it.
To be honest, the highest member of an elected body misleading residents about it's role is what makes it even more disappointing.