Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Rocky Road

Some aldermen want to dump DCD head Rocky Marcoux, but Mayor Barrett disagrees.

By - Jun 26th, 2012 09:00 am
Rocky Marcoux, Department of City Development Commissioner

Rocky Marcoux, Department of City Development Commissioner

Almost as soon Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele took office, he was looking for ways to cooperate with Mayor Tom Barrett on boosting city development in places like the Park East corridor. But the Abele administration soon ran into a roadblock: Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux.

“The hardest guy to work with on this was Rocky,” says a source close to Abele. While the relationship has improved in recent months, the source notes, Marcoux has generally made it more difficult for the county and city to join forces.

East Side Alderman Nik Kovac is working behind the scenes to convince Common Council members to vote against the reappointment of Marcoux, who has served for eight years. Mayor Tom Barrett has until July 16th to make the reappointment and the council then has 45 days to vote on whether to approve the reappointment.

“I’m emphatically opposed to reappointment,” says Kovac. Downtown Alderman Bob Bauman is just as opposed. “I think it’s telling that the two aldermen with the part of the city where most of the development is occurring are opposed to reappointment,” Bauman says.

Maybe so, but they still get only one vote apiece.  They’ll need six more to kill the reappointment, which seems fairly certain to be made. “As of today the Mayor’s intent is to put Rocky’s name forward,” says Barrett’s chief of staff Pat Curley.

Bauman says Marcoux did a good job as chief home builder for the City Housing Authority but lacks the “big picture thinking” and is miscast as “the city’s chief articulator for the built environment.”

Kovac agrees. “Ideally, someone in that job is transparent, fair and doesn’t change the rules in the middle of the game” — but that’s not Marcoux, Kovac says.

Bauman says Marcoux has mishandled a number of projects and runs his department in an intimidating fashion. “It’s an East German state over there,” Bauman charges.

Curley defends Marcoux and blames the economic slowdown for any lack of progress in  development. “It’s really a lousy market,” he says. He argues that Marcoux did a great job marshaling the city’s forces in its effort to convince the Kohl’s company to move Downtown. “That was a pretty impressive showing.”

To which Bauman is scornful: “General McClellan gave a great performance at Antietem. But did you win?” Kohl’s, of course, turned the city down, “and the real estate community is saying Rocky blew it,” Bauman contends.

Bauman says developers like Barry Mandel and Gary Grunau have complained to him about Marcoux: “Grunau said we’re never going to support the mayor again unless they get rid of Marcoux.”

“The mayor has known how the development community has felt for years,” Kovac contends. “This is a mayor who needs to be pushed.”

Curley concedes developers are not happy with Marcoux, but contends that’s a universal condition, as developers push the city for subsidies and other help: “I think with any commissioner developers get unhappy.”

In the background to this issue is the feeling that the administration of former Mayor John Norquist was much more visionary on development. Curley concedes many developers now see that time as “a golden era,” but says they also had complaints back then.

Norquist was known for his passion and in-depth knowledge about urban design. By contrast, Kovac charges, “both Marcoux and the mayor are blind to good design. I think the mayor would even agree to this weakness. It’s okay to have a weakness, but your job is to staff with strength for your weaknesses.”

Kovac would like to see a national search for a new commissioner. “I think the mayor has hit two home runs, with Police Chief Flynn and with Art Dahlberg, head of the Department of Neighborhood Services. Both were the result of national searches.”

Kovac says at least three other Common Council members will join him and Bauman in opposing reappointment. “I think most are undecided.”

In March, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story by reporter Tom Daykin found five common council members who supported Marcoux, including Willie Wade, Michael Murphy, Ashanti Hamilton and Terry Witkowski.

But the fifth and perhaps most outspoken fan of Marcoux was near South Side alderman Jim Witkowiak, who was defeated in April by Jose Perez. Perez (who once worked at DCD and reportedly had run-ins with Marcoux) is expected to oppose reappointment. (Perez did not respond to requests for comment.)

Daykin listed five other aldermen (Jim Bohl, Bob Donovan, Joe Dudzik, Robert Puente and Tony Zielinski) as undecided or “expressing concerns” about Marcoux.  In short, the council could go either way.

The decision is likely to have a major impact on future development in Milwaukee.

-Note to readers: I will be on vacation for two weeks, look for the next column on July 10.

Categories: Murphy's Law

10 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Rocky Road”

  1. MKEmxp says:

    It’s way past time for Rocky to go. Someone should have listened to Brian Reilly years ago.

  2. Patty Doherty says:

    The Commissioner of DNS is Art Dahlberg.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Patty Thanks good catch.

  4. GT says:

    “the administration of former Mayor John Norquist was much more visionary on development” – Completely agree if we’re talking about Barrett v. Norquist, but it’s a bit of an unfair comparison of Marcoux against Norquist. At the end of the day, Rocky answers to the Mayor, so he’s not going to exceed Barrett’s “vision” or the scope of his position.

  5. Jesse Hagen says:

    “At the end of the day, Rocky answers to the Mayor, so he’s not going to exceed Barrett’s “vision” or the scope of his position.”

    If this is true, then that is why Marcoux needs to be replaced. The DCD commissioner should be pushing the mayor (if needed), as Bruce mentioned… you hire out talent for your weaknesses.

  6. Tom says:

    This guy has got to go. Take a look at how well the City of Milwaukee’s Development Site is kept up to date. The attention to detail is lacking and so is a vision. Mayor Mier, Norquist and others have shown more leadership in shaping the city. All the major developments of Milwaukee occured under their watch. We need a proactive development organziation and not one that reacts to federal hand outs or local developer proposals only. A move and a shaker and not an administrator.

  7. GT says:

    Again, the comments of Jesse and Tom should be directed at Barrett. Clearly Barrett is comfortable with Rocky, and clearly he’s not going to recommend someone for appointment that pushes against him, that’s just not how he or Milwaukee works. While there’s value in the checks and balances of having department heads with autonomy who challenge Executive power, there’s also value in having a unified vision and approach, especially when the City has to act with unified leverage in development decisions. I think that this is a valuable discussion, but that greater value would come from addressing the lack of leadership and vision from the Mayor’s office rather than DCD as the return would be greater for the City.

  8. Jesse Hagen says:

    GT, again this is where Barrett needs to bring in the talent & use it effectively.

    The position of mayor for the city of Milwaukee has a very broad reach. It seems that Barrett leans in the right direction on this issue but isn’t perfect. This paltry difference is not a reason to replace the mayor & it’s irresponsible to call for his replacement, especially when you’re not putting someone else forward.

    Tell us, what’s the alternative? I’m not seeing a deep bench of political talent on our side of the fence, so who have you got in mind?

  9. Chuck Peirce says:

    I agree. Rocky Marcoux does whatever to make his boss, Mayor Barrett happy, who has never expressed an iota of curiosity or understanding the way cities work. It takes a real commitment to put urban planning on the agenda, not just the right person. So I say, it’s Mayor that needs to change, or change his mind.

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