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Issue of the Week: County Board Downsizing On Hold—For Now

Plus: Hero of the Week

Jan. 30, 2013
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Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis)
Milwaukeeans are no fools—when they sense that something isn’t right, they will speak out, and that’s exactly what happened following the Abele/Sanfelippo power play.

New state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) had barely been sworn into office before unleashing a firestorm of controversy over his plan to slash the responsibilities, pay and budget of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. Not only would his plan radically transform county government, but it would have forced a referendum with a relatively short lead time to be placed on the ballot in April and impose harsh funding cuts quickly.

Sanfelippo has now said he’ll hold off on the measure if the board decides to downsize itself. If that doesn’t happen to his satisfaction, Sanfelippo will unleash his reorganization plan again.

We understand and support the goal of saving taxpayer dollars, but we have serious concerns about the content of the legislation and the process employed. Sanfelippo’s plan was—and still is—unfortunately misguided and undemocratic.

Although it’s promoted as a “good government” measure, it would probably have the opposite result. Sanfelippo’s bill would consolidate power into the hands of the county executive, who is currently controlled by the deep-pocketed special interests. It would simply be inviting corruption. Although legislative bodies at all levels of government can get unruly and can seem to be acting unreasonably at times, they are a necessary check on the power of a central executive. Democracy is an inherently messy process, but these legislative bodies are the true voice of the people. Without a functioning board, and the very public and transparent debates conducted in its chambers, an executive can and will make deals with well-connected cronies and cut the public out of the democratic process. We saw that happen when, shortly after he was first elected, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele selected and promoted one developer for the county’s Transit Center after a handful of developers made presentations in private meetings with an ad hoc committee selected by Abele. This is the sort of backroom dealing we see in Third World authoritarian governments.

In contrast, the board vetted the proposal in public, allowing county residents to become engaged in the process. This invariably produces a far better outcome.

If Sanfelippo’s measure goes through, expect more deals cut in private with the county’s precious resources on the chopping block. The unscrupulous members of the business community see an opportunity to grab control of county contracts and assets, plain and simple.

In addition, Sanfelippo’s measure would cut the public out of the debate to cut the board’s pay and resources. Rushing through the bill would have given Milwaukeeans little time to organize community meetings to discuss the proposal in full. His plan to ram the bill through the state Legislature would have diluted Milwaukee County representatives’ power. After all, Milwaukee County only sends a handful of representatives to the state Legislature. They’re vastly outnumbered by legislators from all corners of the state who would have a disproportionate say in local Milwaukee matters.

What’s more, the current Republican-led Legislature has little respect for public, open meetings, and we seriously doubt that Milwaukeeans would have been heard in full in Senate or Assembly hearings. Even an issue as important and contentious as the proposed mining bill got short shrift in its one public hearing last week. Speakers were limited to a few minutes of testimony and Republican legislators—and mining executives—constantly groused about having to conduct the public meeting at all.

Sanfelippo’s call for a binding referendum was a power play that quickly came to light. His attempts to force the referendum onto the ballot with a short lead-time and then spend millions of dollars (Abele was already spearheading fundraising efforts) on false and negative advertising to push the measure through were hardly subtle.

We hope that Sanfelippo was being honest about holding off on his radical plan to silence voters. Milwaukee County needs highly functioning democratic institutions, not less democracy.

Heroes of the Week: Milwaukee Pets Alive Volunteers

Milwaukee Pets Alive (MPA) is an entirely volunteer-run nonprofit focused on ending the killing of homeless pets within comprehensive rescue programs. Specifically, MPA works solely on finding permanent homes for healthy, treatable and rehabilitative cats, dogs and small animals that are about to be killed or have no other options at the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). MPA was founded in March 2012 and has rescued more than 80 Milwaukee animals from MADACC, with more than 50 adopted into permanent homes.

“Without our passionate volunteers, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have in less than a year,” says MPA’s Lisa Frymark. “People in Milwaukee love animals, want them to lead happy, healthy lives and have risen to the challenge when we call upon them. There aren’t enough words to thank them for everything they do, day in and day out, for Milwaukee’s homeless animals.”

MPA relies on volunteers to foster rescued animals since it does not yet have a space of its own. The nonprofit is avidly seeking the generosity of building owners throughout Milwaukee County willing to donate space. Those interested in donating space can contact executive director Lisa Grabowski at 414-520-8107 or lgrabowski@milwaukeepetsalive.org.

Interested in fostering an MPA animal? Email foster@milwaukeepetsalive.org.

Volunteers with fundraising and grant-writing skills are needed, as well as people interested in becoming dog and cat foster coordinators, animal handlers, adoption counselors and special events coordinators. In addition, monetary contributions and in-kind donations of cat carriers, dog beds, flea and tick preventatives, dog and cat toys and clumping/clay litter are highly appreciated. Readers interested in volunteering can email volunteer@milwaukeepetsalive.org. To make a donation, view a full donation wish list or learn about the current pets available for adoption, please visit milwaukeepetsalive.org.


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