Chris Abele focuses on county budget, transit in Press Club appearance
Speaking to a capacity crowd at the Milwaukee Press Club Thursday afternoon, County Executive candidate Chris Abele opened by addressing recent news about a neglected OWI charge in 1996 that was not fully resolved until 2003.
“I’m not proud of what happened,” Abele said. “As soon as I got the notice, I resolved it. I paid a fine, I took responsibility.”
Abele said that consolidation – in several forms – is one route to saving money. Services between county and local municipalities could be fused, such as public works, maintenance services and health department functions. Consolidation could be financially beneficial in two basic ways: by allowing the county to generate revenue by performing services for local municipalities; or by having a local municipality – or an entity collectively composed of the county and municipalities – perform the service at lower cost than the county on its own.
For example, Abele has proposed that 911 calls from cell phones go directly to the City of Milwaukee’s Public Safety Communications Center instead of the current practice where the county receives cell calls and transfers them to the originating city (an option currently being explored by several Milwaukee County communities and the County itself). Combining the county’s economic development office with the City of Milwaukee’s is another example shared by Abele – an idea Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has pledged support for.
Abele, who has vowed not to raise taxes, said he will “look for the most efficient delivery of services we can get.”
Consolidation would also be targeted toward decreasing unemployment. Job creation efforts could be more potent, Abele said, if the county partnered with local municipalities and the state.
“We should pool our tools,” he said.
When asked what county services he would propose to keep or cut, Abele would not say specifically, though he said he plans to review the efficiency of departments to make “data driven” decisions. He added that the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex has the “most direct impact on human lives” of any county-run entity and described the situation at the center – which was cited last year by regulators for numerous safety problems – as “tragic” and “immoral.”
“There’s been no accountability,” he said.
Abele defended county ownership of General Mitchell International Airport. He said the airport is critical piece of infrastructure that many people depend on, and rejected previous proposals to privatize it.
“Privatization is a tactic, not a goal,” Abele said.
On public transit, Abele said he wants to ensure the county’s bus system remains intact and available. He said the system could do a better job of optimizing capacity by improving the mapping of routes and supplying more buses at times of higher demand, such as rush hour. He added that investing in public transit is important for job creation and that he does not support a fare increase.
This is Abele’s first run for public office, but the philanthropist and entrepreneur (he co-founded a medical waste disposal company called Sterilogic and currently co-owns CSA Commercial, a real estate development firm, and is a minority shareholder in TCD’s parent company, Vital Media Group, LLC) has been working behind the scenes to improve Milwaukee County and causes he supports for many years.
He has served on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee since 2001 (and as board chairman from 2004-08). In 2010 he received the Most Valuable Person Award for “his outstanding community involvement and service to the children of Milwaukee.”
He is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts board, chair of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra board and a member of the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation (which encourages college attendance, starting as early as 8th grade).
Other service highlights:
- Carr Center for Human Rights Policy: Abele currently sits on the advisory board of this research center located at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
- Medical College of Wisconsin: Abele currently serves on the Board of Trustees.
- Milwaukee Art Museum: Abele currently serves on the board of directors.
- Milwaukee Film: Abele was the co-founder and former board chair of Milwaukee Film. Abele currently serves on the organization’s board of directors.
- Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design: Trustee
- Physicians for Human Rights: Trustee
- Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin: Abele is a former Board Member, and currently serves on their honorary board.
- Public Policy Forum: Trustee
- River Revitalization Foundation: Abele currently serves on the Board of Directors, and previously held the position of Board Chair.
- United Performing Arts Fund: Board Member
- Visit Milwaukee: Abele currently serves on the Board of Directors
Next week on TCD: GOP candidate Jeff Stone takes the Press Club podium. The election for county executive and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, along with other local and state races, is April 5.
Disclosure: Chris Abele is a minority shareholder in ThirdCoast Digest’s parent company, Vital Media Group, LLC. He is not involved in the day-to-to operations or editorial perspective of this website.