Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Farley Fiasco

Is the County board punishing Abele’s aide Patrick Farley for whistle blowing?

By - Jun 4th, 2012 11:14 am
Supervisor Jason Haas & Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic

Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic & Supervisor Jason Haas

The mystery begins with an odd flipflop by Milwaukee County Supervisor Jason Haas. At the county board’s finance meeting on May 17, Haas cast the deciding vote to confirm Patrick Farley’s appointment for a new four-year term as director of the county’s Department of Administrative Services. Haas was apparently so proud of this he then tweeted,  “Farley barely approved by committee, 4-3. It now moves to the whole board.”

Whoops. Haas had apparently screwed up. An hour or so after his pronouncement, Haas asked to change his vote to no, and the committee thus voted 4-3 against Farley. Some speculate that Haas was contacted by county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, and asked to do this. Haas emphatically denies this. “That’s ridiculous,” Haas says.

So why the vote against Farley? Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele accuses board members of retribution against Farley, because of his role in the sting operation against former county supervisor Johnny L. Thomas, who has been charged with felony bribery and misconduct.  Supervisor Patricia Jursik may have given the game away when she conceded that Farley’s whistleblower role was a secondary reason for her vote against him.

Abele appointed Farley to this position last year. He seems, if anything, over-qualified for the job. Farley was a private practice attorney for two different firms, served five years in three different administrative positions under Gov. Jim Doyle, and five years as an assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County. It is customary for legislatures to approve an executive’s appointments, unless some particularly egregious information surfaces, but Farley seems squeaky clean. Maybe too clean, given his decision to help the DA nab Johnny Thomas.

So the full board decided to hang Farley out to dry.  At its May 24 meeting the supervisors voted unanimously to confirm nine county department heads appointed by Abele. The one exception was Farley.  Abele’s team had lobbied the board and counted 11 votes in favor of confirming, says his spokesperson Brendan Conway. (Just a majority, 10 of 18 votes, are needed to confirm.) But the board never took this vote. Instead, it voted on a resolution to delay the confirmation for a month, which requires just six votes, a third of the board. Among those voting for delay was Dimitrijevic.

Abele blasted the board chair, suggesting her position “raises the question whose interests she’s protecting, hers or the taxpayers?”

Dimitrijevic, I’m told, declined to talk to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Schultze about the issue. That’s sort of understandable, given what a terrible meanie Schultze is, but the surprise is that she declined an interview with me. Heck, I’m a much nicer guy than Schultze.

Instead, Dimitrijevic issued a press release accusing Abele of “personal attacks” and injecting “external matters” into this debate. She insisted the board’s concern was policy-related, citing three concerns.

First, she noted, Farley’s Department of Administrative Services hasn’t given updates on the Transportation Services budget. But Conway says this is the Department of Transportation’s responsibility.

Second, Dimitrijevic noted, the county board has been waiting for a facilities plan since early in 2011. But Conway says the board didn’t pass any money for such a plan until November, 2011, that the money wasn’t available until January, and Farley has worked as needed on the issue since then.

Third, she noted, Farley needed to provide a progress report on efforts to hire a Sustainability Director for the county. But Conway says the position was just posted in May and anyway, this is the responsibility of the county’s HR Department.

I emailed Conway’s responses along with other questions I had to Dimitrijevic, but she “respectfully” declined “any additional comments at this time,” said board spokesperson Harold Mester.

Yep, Dimitrijevic looks pretty foolish. Worse, she and the other board members targeting Farley are sending a familiar message, that the board protects its own, and that cronyism still reigns at the county.

Dimitrijevic was the youngest supervisor in history, elected at age 22 in 2004, and the youngest board chair in history, assuming the position in April. She’s green as grass in that post, and you sense this is how Abele views her.

But Dimitrijevic is very popular in her district and with the board. Abele and Conway have been very effective at slamming the supervisors over this issue, but the county exec will have to work with the board chair for the next four years. He might have been better served to pull Dimitrijevic aside and quietly express his concerns.

Instead, Abele went on the attack as soon as the committee made the first vote, declaring himself “absolutely stunned” and making Dimitrijevic look foolish in the press. The county exec is certainly right on the merits of the dispute, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Update 12:35 June 4th: Board spokesperson Harold Mester notes that not every County Executive appointment was approved unanimously: Sue Black‘s appointment passed on a 17-1 vote.

-If you were passionately interested in the Talgo issue, you’ll find some interesting comments in response to my last column.

-And for those with twittering time on their hands, you can find my comments at

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Farley Fiasco”

  1. Zach W says:

    Bruce, nice writeup. This entire Farley affair doesn’t pass the “smell test,” and I’m disappointed in some members of the County Board for their failure (or unwillingness) to act independently of the Board Chair.

  2. Nichols Reindl says:

    The days of being able to eat someones food, take their money, and then vote against them are over it seems.

  3. ellen palin says:

    what doesn’t pass the smell test is the set-up job farley and abele ran on john thomas.

    abele’s immature and ridiculous attack on marina is not making her look foolish, it’s making it look like he is totally incapable of working with the elected county board. that makes him another scott walker. hardly what a “leader” looks like.

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