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Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Reversing Abele’s MV Transit Contract Was the Right Thing To Do

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A review panel made up of Milwaukee County supervisors did the right thing and reversed the Abele administration’s intent to award Dallas-based MV Transportation with a half-billion-dollar, three-year contract to operate the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS).

The panel—supervisors David Bowen, Pat Jursik, Theo Lipscomb and Tony Staskunas—sifted through hundreds of pages of legal documents and heard a full day of testimony from attorneys for two of the losing bidders on the contract—current operator Milwaukee Transport Services (MTS) and Veolia Transportation—as well as the county’s private attorneys.

The review panel didn’t make its decision to embarrass County Executive Chris Abele or because it is anti-privatization.

The panel decided to pull the contract because the bidding process used by the Abele administration was screwed up beyond repair. It was so flawed and corrupt that the county cannot even use the results to begin negotiating with the second-place bidder. It has to start an entirely new bid—hopefully a much fairer one that can withstand legal and ethical scrutiny.

The transit contract is a perfect example of why we need checks and balances and transparency in government—more specifically, why the Abele administration needs close oversight. If the MV contract had been signed and delivered as is, Milwaukee County transit riders and taxpayers would have to deal with substandard service (MV won the lowest score on the operations evaluation) and most likely higher costs in the long run.

We don’t think Abele was deliberately trying to steer the contract toward MV, but he certainly championed the contract that we now know was awarded unfairly and his administration did everything it could to avoid handing documents over so that MTS and Veolia could appeal.

The Abele administration needs close oversight and must be held accountable by taxpayers. If not for the thoughtful deliberations of the supervisors on the review panel, Abele would have rewarded an apparently less-than-stellar transit operator with a $492 million contract to run a vital public service. Abele likes to use buzzwords like “best practices” and may think that his version of “best practices” is serving the community, but the transit contract is a perfect example of why he can’t be trusted with the very adult responsibilities of running Milwaukee County. He likes to “play around” with things at the county that are vital to average Milwaukeeans, and his “playing around” in this case could have ended with less bus service and some average working people losing their transportation to work.