Home / News / News Features / Out-State Legislators Will Determine the Future of Milwaukee County at Committee Hearing on April 10 in Madison

Out-State Legislators Will Determine the Future of Milwaukee County at Committee Hearing on April 10 in Madison

Legislature could grant sweeping powers to Milwaukee County executive, opening the way to sweetheart contracts and other corruption

Apr. 3, 2013
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
Republican lawmakers have not scheduled a public hearing in Milwaukee County on the controversial bill to grant the Milwaukee County executive sweeping powers over local government.

The bill will get a hearing in Madison, in Room 412 East of the state Capitol on Wednesday, April 10, before the Assembly Committee on Government Operations and State Licensing.

The committee will vote on the fast-tracked bill the following day.

Committee chair state Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) refused Milwaukee Democrats’ requests to hold a hearing in Milwaukee County, state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) told the Shepherd.

Committee member Sinicki opposes the bill, which she called “purely a power grab” on behalf of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. She said that she hoped Republicans, who are in the majority in the Legislature, would realize that the bill was an attack on local control and therefore vote against it.

Assembly Bill 85/Senate Bill 95—largely the work of state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis), state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and the Abele-aligned Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC)—would reduce the pay of a Milwaukee County supervisor to about $24,000 annually. That provision would be put to county voters in a binding referendum on April 1, 2014.

“The portion of the bill that directly affects constituents the most is the question of representation, that is on the ballot,” stated an email from Josh Hoisington, an aide to Rep. Sanfelippo.

But the vast majority of AB 85/SB 95’s components would go into effect immediately—without the consent of Milwaukee County voters—if or when the Republican-dominated state Legislature passes the bill and Gov. Scott Walker signs it.

Therefore, state legislators could radically diminish the Milwaukee County board’s authority over contracts, land sales and county operations long before Milwaukee County voters are allowed to vote on the referendum in 2014 to reduce supervisors’ pay.

Weakening the county board is eliminating needed oversight to prevent corruption from developing in the county executive’s office.

“This [bill] would make the Milwaukee County executive the most powerful county executive in the state of Wisconsin,” said Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic. “With a very weakened legislative branch.”


County Government Would Be Concentrated in Executive’s Office

The non-referendum “power grab” provisions would give the Milwaukee County executive sweeping powers over local government.

These Legislature-enacted provisions would weaken the Milwaukee County board in matters ranging from the oversight of land sales and contracts, to the administration of child support enforcement, work centers and fish hatcheries.

The Milwaukee County executive-enhancing provisions include:

  • Cutting the Milwaukee County board’s overall budget to 0.4% of the county property tax levy, a roughly 80% decrease that would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. No similar budget-saving changes would be made to the county executive’s staff. The board would also be prohibited from cutting the executive office’s budget or staff.

  • Reducing a Milwaukee County supervisor’s four-year term to two years, while the county executive’s term would remain at four years.

  • Allowing the Milwaukee County executive to convene a board meeting without offering a reason, a power not granted even to the governor.

  • Giving the Milwaukee County executive legislative powers by allowing him or her to introduce ordinances and resolutions.

  • Prohibiting Milwaukee County supervisors from reviewing contracts under $100,000, a weakening of the current $50,000 standard. The board’s finance committee could vote on contracts between $100,000 and $300,000 but those contracts also could go into effect if that committee does not vote on them within 14 days after the county executive signs them. The board could vote on contracts worth more than $300,000 or take up contracts rejected by the finance committee.

  • Requiring Milwaukee County supervisors to get permission from the Milwaukee County executive before contacting a department head.

  • Giving the Milwaukee County executive the authority to oversee all county departments, potentially including traditionally independent or board-reporting departments such as the corporation council, labor relations and the Community Business Development Partners.

  • Granting the Milwaukee County executive the sole authority to negotiate labor agreements. The board could give an up-or-down vote on the contracts.

  • Allowing the Milwaukee County executive to sell or lease county property and only permitting the board to give an up-or-down vote on those contracts.

  • Authorizing the Milwaukee County executive to solely administer the child support enforcement program, work centers, relief programs, fish and game hatcheries and harbor facilities.

  • Preventing the county from putting any other referendum question on the ballot when the board-reduction referendum is up for a vote on April 1, 2014.


Dimitrijevic: ‘A Recipe for Disaster’

Board Chair Dimitrijevic said she was surprised by the breadth of the governance changes in the bill, saying she’s never heard members of the public or other county officers seek the majority of these changes.

She said she was concerned about the diminished role for the board and the public, since the county board is required to be more transparent and open than the county executive’s office. She said that change opened the door to potential abuse of power by the county executive.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” Dimitrijevic said. “When you take the board out, you might as well take out the public.”

The public hearing on AB 85 will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10, in Room 412 East of the state Capitol in Madison.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs, chaired by state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) but as of this writing it has not been scheduled for a public hearing.

Sanfelippo aide Hoisington said the lawmaker welcomed the opportunity for a public hearing on AB 85 in any location.

Abele's office did not respond in time for this issue's deadline.


Would white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan pose the same threat they do now if a mainstream Republican were president instead of Donald Trump?

Getting poll results. Please wait...