The Saga Continues
Once again, a city committee approved -- after disagreeing -- the reappointment of DCD Commissioner Rocky Marcoux.
“Fireworks will be somewhat abbreviated here,” said Ald. Jim Bohl, but it was a poor prediction: yesterday’s meeting of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee actually got pretty fiery at times. The issue in question was the reappointment of Department of City Development (DCD) Commissioner Rocky Marcoux, which had sent sparks flying in the press even before the Common Council considered the issue, and then really exploded into controversy at the July 24th Common Council meeting. Marcoux”s reappointment was sent back to committee due to issues mostly pushed by Ald. Nik Kovac: that Marcoux seems to prioritize secrecy over transparency, can be vindictive, and displays a lack of vision for Milwaukee.
But the allegation that lit the fuse was that DCD acted illegally by reallocating funds from the Historic Trust Fund Account without council approval. The fund was setup in 1981 to manage small amounts of money related to books sold by the Historic Commission. In 2006 this fund began receiving extra funds from construction permit fees which should have by law gone back to the general fund. These funds were then used to pay an outside IT consulting firm.
During the council meeting Ald. Bob Donovan took illegal to mean criminal and called for a formal investigation by the district attorney’s office. The issue was reviewed in today’s zoning committee meeting. In a letter to Ald. Donovan the DA’s office cleared Marcoux of any criminal allegations of misusing public funds. Referring to the district attorney’s letter, Marcoux stated, “I don’t want to belabor the point on yesterday’s letter from the district attorney, I think that speaks for itself.”
But Ald. Kovac was unmoved. Appearing before the committee he is not a member of, Kovac said he had never claimed Marcoux’s department of was guilty of criminal activity, but added, “I did use the word illegal, which I stand by.” Kovac pointed to three municipal codes he believes DCD’s use of the Historic Trust Fund violated. It is possible to break municipal budget laws without it being a criminal act, he added.
Kovac referred to the use of the trust fund as a “textbook definition of a slush fund,” and attempted to pin Marcoux down on when he became aware of the issue. Marcoux answered “I have no idea,” but explained that once the department received the comptroller’s letter he took steps to rectify the situation. Interjecting in defense of Marcoux, Ald. Michael Murphy cautioned, “I don’t think there was any ill intent for the commissioner to be doing this.”
The issue of transparency wasn’t the only issue hammered on by Kovac; he also pointed to the lack of vision and uneven handling of development proposals by Marcoux. Referring to the handling of the The Moderne, the second phase of The North End, and the Bookends projects, Kovac contended, “we hand pick projects, instead of having guidelines.” The department had taken an unusual position with these three proposals by allowing the use of city loans to fill financing gaps, while historically projects had been excluded from such loans. Marcoux defended himself, saying, “We were faced with the possibility of all three of the projects not moving forward.” So “on a very limited basis,” Marcoux added, he recommended making loans to the three projects.
Both Ald. Bob Bauman and Kovac argued the handling of the second phase of the North End project was problematic. Bauman pointed to Marcoux adding a personal guaranty requirement to the financing deal. Marcoux explained that because the council had added this requirement to The Moderne deal, he felt it needed to be added to similar deals. Bauman countered that the council added a personal guaranty to The Moderne’s proposal because of developer Rick Barrett’s lack of track record, while the same requirement was deemed unnecessary for Mandel Group because of its long track record. Kovac argued that Marcoux’s attaching this requirement was “passive aggressive poison pilling” and “really it was just to block a project.” Marcoux defended himself, saying “it is wholly inaccurate to say I tried to kill that project.”
Prior to the vote, Ald. Willie Wade interjected, “I’m a little bothered by us trying to paint the commissioner as a bad person…all of this stuff is out in the light.”
The committee voted four to one to support the reappointment, with Bauman voting against the motion, just as it had the last time it considered the reappointment. It now goes to the full council. The saga continues.