Jeramey Jannene

The Urbanist’s Ideal Milwaukee County Executive Platform

By - Jan 7th, 2011 10:35 am
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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.

Dedicated funding source for parks and culture

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.


13 thoughts on “The Urbanist’s Ideal Milwaukee County Executive Platform”

  1. Sam says:

    Not really sure how most of these positions would benefit the urban environment/city residents other than dedicated funding, an administrator instead of an exec and a better Park East plan of attack. More than anything, they’re just regurgitated neo-liberal ideas about how big gov’t. is bad.

    I’m really not sure who would benefit from a smaller county board. Democracy is worth a few hundred thousand in supervisor salaries. Someone who wanted city residents to have more of a say on a county level should push for more supervisors, with districts that represent actual neighborhood boundries and not a half century of gerrymandering. Here in Copenhagen, where I’m currently living we’ve got a city council with 55 members, local neighborhood councils which do small scale planning, and a regional council that has 41 members. It works well- all residents’ issues get addressed and the local gov’ts know what’s going on out in the streets.

    The city and county should also work together more within the existing law framework, something which will hopefully be easier now that Walker is gone. The city’s decisions about street design, fx. make a big difference in how well the buses run. Why isn’t there someone who makes sure that when the city builds corner bump-outs that they don’t box in a bus stop? Why are there both city and county owned parks, roads, etc? If anything, in an almost fully urban county, it makes more sense for these things to be decided at a county level.

    The real problem with county gov’t as I see it is that it isn’t accountable, accessible, or taken seriously. Look at the website for example, or try to request info. As a city resident, I should have a co representative that I can easily discuss issues with, and I should be able to go online and easily see everything the county does, and who is in charge of what. If there’s a trash problem at a local park, I should be able to email someone in maintainence to get it fixed. I’d really like to see a truely liberal county executive candidate who’s interested in changing the status quo for the better of residents, and not just interested in cutting costs. Look at all the really innovative urban cities out there (Portland, NYC, San Fran, Toronto, Minneapolis, Vancouver, London, Copenhagen, Berlin, etc…), they all have pro-active gov’ts that are interested in trying new things and getting people involved in planning for their cities’ futures.

  2. cgleiss says:

    Forgot one. Eliminate the Milwaukee County Board entirely. As the county has no unincorporated areas, almost everything the Board exists for is a duplicative service. Essential county services that are not duplicative could be handled by one (or more) of the local municipalities in a combined City/County government.

  3. JCG says:

    You’re pretty much right on the money, Jeramey. Though I disagree wholeheartedly with the last one. Putting the decisions in the hands of an unelected official won’t make those decisions any less “political”, just make them less accountable and give us, the people they affect, less recourse to change the direction of those decisions. Really, that argument that the position has become “too political” is the type of wishy-washy argument you usually hear from people who pay no attention to politics (I know this is not you, which is why I’m surprised to hear it from you), and would rather just be left alone to watch their American Idol and not have to think about things. Hate to break it to you, but everything in life is political.

    Bottom line: more accountability, not less, is the route I always prefer.

  4. MilwaukeeGuy says:

    @cgleiss “Forgot one. Eliminate the Milwaukee County Board entirely”

    Yes, this can’t come soon enough. I will vote and encourage everyone I know to vote for any leaders who promises to restructure, transfer functions and work to eliminate the Milwaukee County Government entirely. We don’t need it. Period.

  5. ktkof08 says:

    I really think it’s time Milwaukee County looked at alternatives to business as usual. I think some sort of consolidation between city and county needs to happen, even perhaps a fairly complete consolidation.

  6. JPK says:

    The County doesn’t need the special districts or any kind of govt reorg/reshuffle. Institutional change really only changes the institution. The County’s parks/rec and transit programs simply need more resources to improve.

    When the City of Milw eliminated 2 seats on the Common Council a decade ago, did that improve candidate quality?

    What the County needs is adequate funding/revenues for programs and services. No fancy institutional change necessary.

  7. GT says:

    I agree with your points, but the majority lack a connection to an “urbanist” perspective. Your suggestions of eliminating County functions, downgrading the size of the County Board, and reducing the Executive position are all valid points and likely will benefit the efficiency of county government, but come from a service provision perspective that shouldn’t be tied to an urbanist platform. There my be potential danger in aligning an urbanist perspective, in lieu of a personal perspective, with one side or the other in the County governance issue as this is one of the most divisive issues in the Milwaukee region.

  8. Jesse Hagen says:

    It becomes an urban issue when a layer of government is grossly dysfunctional compared to another layer with the same resource base.

    If you compare the City of Milwaukee and the county of Milwaukee, there are operating at completely different levels of competence with comparable tax base and constituencies. Milwaukee County has a slight advantage when it comes to resources but time and again have failed to even address, let alone solve problems in Milwaukee county.

  9. Sam says:

    I think this has a lot to do with people being confused about what the county does and why, and not a structural problem. We’d get more competitive races if people realized (and the county promoted itsself) that county govt actually does a lot of the most important things in the area, fx parks, transit, social services, justice, etc…

  10. GT says:

    @Jesse Hagen – This is required reading related to City vs. County performance. The most recent tracking report conducted by the Public Policy forum (pdf), and if you flip through you can see that despite much dysfunction surrounding the discourse, many County functions perform well. In speaking with various personnel, these successes (zoo, airport, parks) happen in spite of County government. The real story is how poorly the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development has performed – far and away the worst performance measured in the report –

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @GT What am I missing here, what I see in that report is that as the country went into the Great Recession the real story is that DCD had less deals to work on. What am I missing?

  12. Jesse Hagen says:

    I skimmed it and the first thing that caught my eye was the short timetable examined and the lack of comparison to other metropolitan areas. I wouldn’t be so certain you can draw any real conclusions from that report… only see the relative change of a couple departments over the last couple years.

    Also as Dave Reid mentioned, the DCD can only entice businesses that are looking to open, relocate, or expand… not much of that going on in the last few years. Not sure if you’ve picked up a paper anytime over the last couple years, but the economy is a little rough for most people and businesses.

  13. Garrick Jannene says:

    I realize I’m a little late to this party, but I stumbled across it again recently.

    The County Executive himself can’t eliminate the position, because it’s actually required by state law in counties with more than 500,000 residents.

    It’s on page 752 (9 of 36) of this document:

    So it’d take action on the part of the state legislature to get rid of the position. No matter which party is in charge, I’m not sure how it’d go over, but I’m finding difficult to believe that Walker would sign off on eliminating a position he himself held for 8 years.

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