The least important fact
about the tragic accident that killed a 15-year-old boy on his way to
Summerfest is that it comes at a politically inconvenient time for
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who is running for governor.
Jared Kellner was
crushed when a 27,000pound slab of concrete fell from the outside of a
county parking garage built under O’Donnell Park on Milwaukee’s
important concern, of course, is why 13.5 tons of decorative concrete
on the exterior of a county structure were so unstable as to fall onto
people on the first day of Summerfest.
Questions immediately were raised—as they
should be—about whether more than $200 million in deferred maintenance
in Milwaukee County parks may have contributed to unsafe conditions.
It is no secret that
infrastructure all over America has been neglected for years as
politicians in both major parties have put cutting taxes above most
other public concerns.
Walker simply represents a more extreme version of that
philosophy. The enormous deferral in county park and building
maintenance seemed to have no political consequences for him when all it
meant was trashy public buildings and deterioration of one of the
nation’s premier park systems.
It’s difficult to rally the public against gradual
decline of our quality of life, but a tragedy is a shock to the system.
Nobody gets excited about our deteriorating roads and bridges, either,
until a bridge collapse takes human lives.
Some reporters immediately focused on a
consultants’ report completed late last year warning county officials
that the O’Donnell parking garage needed nearly $600,000 in repairs for
multiple problems, including cracking walls.
Walker appeared at a press conference with
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and other county officials to
announce an investigation into the cause of the accident.
Curiously, Clarke shut down
reporters from questioning Walker about the condition of the parking
garage even though Walker later released a report claiming nearly all
the flaws identified in the consultants’ report had been corrected.
The press conference
raised other questions. Clarke appeared to be taking charge of the
investigation into the accident along with investigators from the
district attorney’s office looking into whether any crimes were
Clarke has no expertise in structural engineering. Most citizens would
find an independent investigation by outside experts much more credible
than one by county officials who themselves ultimately could be held
of the most blatant attempts at blameshifting by Walker and other
county officials was the announcement that the investigation would focus
on the original design and installation of the decorative concrete
panels on the parking garage nearly two decades ago.
In other words, maybe it
was Tom Ament’s fault.
After eight years as county executive, Walker still tries to
blame the financial shambles of Milwaukee County under his
administration on his predecessor every chance he gets.
Now Walker seems to be
suggesting that deferred maintenance and laying off county engineers and
inspectors had absolutely nothing to do with 27,000 pounds of concrete
falling off a county structure, killing a highschool student and
injuring two others.
Let’s see if we can duck any responsibility and pin it on
somebody else, even if we have to go back to 1991. This is from one of
those conservatives who always lecture people without any resources
about taking responsibility for their actions.
The fact is there hasn’t
been a complete assessment of the safety of the O’Donnell Park garage
since 2004, according to county officials.
Of course, Walker’s political opponents are
only too happy to see the possibility of Walker’s tax-cutting chickens
coming home to roost at a critical time in the governor’s race.
One of those was former
Congressman Mark Neumann, Walker’s Republican primary opponent, who
immediately released a statement calling for a full safety review of
deteriorating structures in Milwaukee County.
What makes Neumann’s
opportunism so hypocritical
is that Neumann shares Walker’s right-wing ideology that government
should spend as little as possible to reduce taxes for current voters.
Walker and Neumann
even oppose government spending to create jobs and restore the economy,
claiming they want to protect our poor grandchildren from the onerous
burden of government deficits that will destroy their futures.
deficits always grow during poor economic times and shrink when the
economy recovers and people go back to work and have money to spend.
What really burdens
our grandchildren is hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred
maintenance of our public infrastructure put off by conservative
politicians running for election.
Those costs grow even more enormous in the future and leave us with a dangerously deteriorating infrastructure that can have tragic consequences when it falls down around us.