The Urbanist’s Ideal Milwaukee County Executive Platform
The race for Milwaukee County Executive promises to be an intriguing one, if only because in a little over a year Milwaukee County residents will vote for the position four times (two primaries, two general elections). The extra election is caused by Scott Walker heading off to Madison with a year still left on his term. The leading candidates in the non-partisan special election for the remaining year of the term are Jeff Stone (R), Jim Sullivan (D), often controversial Lee Holloway, and first-time candidate Chris Abele. Given that none of the leading candidates have a well-defined platform at this point, it’s difficult to determine which candidate would best represent the interests of Milwaukee’s most urban neighborhoods.
Instead of waiting for the candidates to propose a platform, it’s perhaps worth proposing what would benefit Milwaukee’s urban environment. What would an urbanist like to see included in the platform from the new Milwaukee County Executive?
Dedicated funding source for transit
As we’ve advocated for time and time again on this site, the Milwaukee County Transit System needs a dedicated funding source (likely in the form of a sales tax) and should be operated as an authority. It’s time to take the county transit system off the death spiral it’s on and remove the political budget battles that have led to soaring fares and drastically reduced service.
The Milwaukee County Parks System has nearly redefined what it means to “do more with less” over the past ten years. Similar to MCTS, the parks system should be given a dedicated source of funding and be spun off as an authority. The parks should be a place to play football, not used as a political football.
A plan of attack for the Park East or an interest in selling the land to the city
The land opened up by the removal of the Park East Freeway spur has sat empty for over five years now. While it’s unreasonable to think that all of it could have been filled at this point, there should have been more progress made redeveloping the land by this point. The City of Milwaukee has successfully sold their land in the corridor for redevelopment, Milwaukee County has yet to even put all of theirs up for sale. The new County Executive should have a plan for selling off the land, or they should move to sell the land to the city who has more qualified personnel (in the form of the Department of City Development) to get the land developed.
Moving as many county functions as possible to city governments
The new Milwaukee County Executive should seek to move as many services as possible to individual city governments. Due to the pension scandal, it may be cheaper to move plowing and other services to individual cities. This may also reduce the levels of government one has to interact with to move a project forward in Milwaukee County.
Reducing the size of the Milwaukee County Board
It would be a positive for a candidate to propose reducing the number of Milwaukee County Supervisors as a long-term objective given that other goals are reached. If parks, transit, and culture in addition to other county functions are moved to independent authorities and individual municipalities, there will be less of a need for 19 Supervisors. this will create a costs saving, one that many other urban county governments are already taking advantage of. Reducing the size of the Milwaukee County Board would hopefully increase the quality of candidates for the positions.
Eliminating the position of Milwaukee County Executive
In conjunction with reducing the number of Supervisors, the County Executive should be prepared to replace the position of Milwaukee County Executive with that of a County Administrator. With a reduction in services that are in direct oversight of Milwaukee County, there is no need for the position of Milwaukee County Executive to be as political as it has become. Replacing the elected position with the hiring of a well-qualified administrator will reduce the amount of fighting between the Board and Executive.