Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

County Lobbyists Asleep on the Job?

They should be working to get more state funding. But they’re too busy protecting the county board.

By - Feb 5th, 2013 10:30 am
Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors member Theodore Lipscomb, Sr.

Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors member Theodore Lipscomb, Sr.

This is a critical time for Milwaukee County’s lobbyists. The most important lobbying they do is for state funding, as changes in this have a huge impact on the county budget — and Milwaukee taxpayers. And that lobbying largely happens every other year, when the governor presents his biennial budget and the legislature amends it and passes the revised bill into law.

“This should be the busiest time of the year,” says Brendan Conway, a spokesperson for  Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “Two years ago, Milwaukee got a $28 million cut in state aid. At the very least they should be lobbying to get that money back.”

Last time around the state cut aid that helps fund the county transit system. A state task force has recommended restoring this aid, but there’s no guarantee the governor or legislature will go along with this.

Then there is state funding for the county courts, for mental health and child support programs at the county. Because of state funding cuts, the county lost 26 Child Support Services positions, Conway notes.  So are the county’s lobbyists on top of all these issues?

“I can only hope they are lobbying on that but I have no way to know,” says Supervisor Deanna Alexander, vice-chair of the county board’s Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. Alexander says the committee’s monthly meeting scheduled for February 1 was cancelled, so she had no opportunity to question the county’s lobbyists about this.

Exactly why this meeting was cancelled is quite a mystery.

AIexander says she talked to Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, the committee chair, and “I questioned why, with the meeting being so close to the budget address by the governor, why we wouldn’t have an update regarding that. I was told it was because no one is making any commitments ahead of time on the budget, and we probably wouldn’t know more until June.”

June? That would be more than three months after Gov. Scott Walker introduces his budget.

In an email to me, Lipscomb offered a different take, saying that while the biennial budget session is the busiest time for county lobbyists, “the Governor has not introduced his budget, which is the formal kickoff of that process.”

But Milwaukee County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic says the lobbyists are actually quite busy now.  “Our Intergovernmental Relations staff is busy communicating with state legislators on our Milwaukee County legislative priorities, which the board and county executive support.”

But Conway says he’s heard from legislators that the county’s lobbyists have been spending all their time lobbying in opposition to the bill by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo to downsize the county board. One Capitol insider who knows the county lobbyists says “I would say that’s their top priority, defeating the effort to downsize the board.”

In an email exchange with Dimitrijevic I asked her “how much of county lobbyists’ time has been spent lobbying against idea of downsizing the board?” She declined to answer.

It’s worth noting that Sanfelippo’s original bill called for the legislature to approve a county referendum on whether the board should be reduced to part-time status. “Milwaukee County taxpayers were paying for county lobbyists’ efforts to prevent voters from getting a chance to vote on this,” Sanfelippo marvels.

When I began my reporting on January 28, I checked the records of the state Government Accountability Board, with which lobbyists have to register and note any issues they are working on.  Milwaukee County’s lobbyists had registered to lobby generally on the biennial budget and specifically on the issues of mass transit and limiting the salary of county boards. That’s it.

But on January 29, the day I contacted Lipscomb and Dimitrijevic with my questions, the county’s lobbyists suddenly signed up to lobby on 30 more issues including everything from issues like disabilities services to Guardian ad Litem costs to Youth Aids and Circuit Court funding and Behavioral Health Funding.

By contrast, the City of Milwaukee’s lobbyists have been working on lobbying the Walker administration on a long list of items since last summer.

Still, since there is now such a huge number of issues the county’s lobbyists are getting involved in, you might wonder anew why the February 1 Intergovernmental Relations committee meeting was cancelled. The committee might have discussed the strategy to be pursued on any of these 30 issues.

Alexander believes that a key reason the committee meeting was cancelled was so lobbyists couldn’t be questioned as to what they have been working on. “I don’t know if that was the primary driver of the decision, but I certainly think it was a factor. I had asked Lipscomb what lobbying was being done on the Sanfelippo bill.”

Now that question won’t have to be answered.

Dimitrjevic insists the decision to cancel the committee meeting was made by Lipscomb. But the board chair handles the hiring and firing of the county lobbyists, and Dimimtrijevic also is a member of the IGR committee. (In fact, it’s the only committee she sits on.) And Lipscomb appears to be a key ally of the board chair on a range of issues.

Dimitrijevic, moreover, has been very aggressive in how she controls the activities of other board members as a recent story by Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice has reported.

In short, I think it’s a safe bet the board chair was consulted by Lipscomb when he decided to cancel the IGR committee meeting.

Correction: An early version of this column mistakenly stated the state cut the county by $26 million and cut 28 child support workers; corrected figures are a $28 million budget cut and loss of 26 child support workers.

Short Takes

-Supervisors Mark Borkowski and Steve Taylor have proposed cutting the board to 13 supervisors and slashing the board’s budget by 50 percent.

Stan Stojkovic, Dean of the UW-Milwaukee’s school of social welfare, is an expert on law enforcement and has for decades been a dispassionate observer of the police department, able to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of every Milwaukee police chief. So it is notable indeed for him to write an op ed declaring that Sheriff David Clarke is unfit to hold office.  “Clarke has a track record of alienating others in government service – judges, district attorneys, law enforcement professionals,” Stojkovic writes, and “is despised by many in his own department, who view him as vindictive and heavy-handed…I do not know of another criminal justice official in the county who views him as a competent and successful leader.”

-There is something fishy about the dispute between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee War Memorial over the museum’s plan to undertake a $15 million renovation plan. By all accounts veterans were happy with the plan because it would renovate the shamefully-neglected War Memorial and thereby create a more fitting memorial to veterans. But now some group called the “Veterans Community Relations Team” has arisen from nowhere and disagrees with the plan. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story portrays this as a dispute between the War Memorial and the museum, but nowhere in the story is a representative of the War Memorial quoted. It looks more like a dispute involving some group that may or not speak for all veterans in town.

-Have a story tip or question for Bruce Murphy? Send it to


Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

8 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: County Lobbyists Asleep on the Job?”

  1. duncan says:

    Great reporting, Bruce.

  2. Jim McGuigan says:

    Have you ever considered following up on what Supervisor Alexander actually does? We know what she doesn’t do. She doesn’t go to meetings in her district when it involves parks. She doesn’t spend a lot of time following up on issues. I doubt that she can even name all the parks in her own district.

  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce, you slay me. The head of the Social Welfare Dept. is an expert on law enforcement. He should stick to tiddlywinks or something that those depts. can understand. when has social welfare people solved anything, not in Milwaukee. the more of these people that we fet the more we get of people on welfare. We need solutions to welfare, we need jobs and to teach kids to read. The rest of the social welfare cabal is worthless.
    I do enjoy the humor, though.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    She cashes her checks.

  5. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Bob at Wisconsin Conservative Digest: Stojkovic is a criminal justice professor and criminal justice has been part of the UWM Dept of Social Welfare for years. If you check the clips, you’ll find Stojkovic has been quoted in stories about law enforcement going back more than 25 years. Few in town have his expertise in this area. Which is why his op ed was such big news.

  6. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    To quote Sam Rayburn: “I would trust him a whole lot more if he run for sheriff just oncet”>

  7. Bill Sweeney says:

    I had not seen this statement by Sheriff Clarke which he made after the tragedy at the Sandy Hook elementary school:

    “Shame on liberals for exploiting tragedy once again in our country and try to use tragedy as a reason to take our rights away. Liberals are shameful.

    We have to resist with the ferociousness of a junk yard dog, any, any attempt by liberals to make us less free by chipping away at our constitutional freedoms. The second amendment is as sacred a right as is first amendment or any other amendment.

    I’ll be willing to have a conversation with liberals about gun control in the same conversation we should have about whether government should restrict our first amendment right or how about whether we should scale back our fourth amendment rights, how about restricting our 14th amendment due process rights? Let’s have a debate about the second amendment in that same conversation. Then let’s see what the left has to say about restricting our freedoms.

    Liberals don’t care about curbing violence because if they did they wouldn’t coddle and call for more leniency for criminal perpetrators. When a hold-up man sticks a gun in someone’s face and takes their money, liberals want to offer job training, they want the criminal to serve their sentence walking round in the community with a monitoring device on. How crazy is that.

    All the left is interested in is having the government control every aspect of our lives. Calling for gun control is just another aspect of furthering their socialist agenda.

    All of these suggestions about the need for gun control are the mindset of sheep. Once the wolf is at the door, you’re helpless. Sure run and hide from a sociopathic killer. See how far that gets you. You know where that ‘ll get you? 26 dead at Sandy Hook School. No one could stop the shooting and the cops weren’t there yet. The only reason there weren’t more slaughtered is because the wolf took his own life before slaughtering more innocent sheep.

    I would suggest that business owners remove those signs at their front door that guns are prohibited. It is nothing more than telling a sociopath that if they choose this place to slaughter people before carrying out their death wish that no one on site will be able to stop them or fight back. Do liberals really think that a sociopathic killer or even a hold-up man is not going to enter a place with a gun because a sign says guns prohibited?

    Thinking that prohibiting guns within 1000 feet of a school creates a safety zone may sound warm and fuzzy. All its does is identify for a sociopath that he can slaughter as many people as he wants before anyone with a gun can stop him. In essence we have made schools more vulnerable to attack by mass murderers because the closest person who can stop the attack and limit the carnage is 1000 feet away and that’s just to get to the building. Then it takes awhile to figure out where the killer is even for law enforcement. Do you realize how many people will be killed by a mass murderer in that much time?

    I have a better idea to all this run and hide advice. How about an armed tactical trained officer or security officer in every school and public place (theaters, malls ect) in America. How are we going to pay for it? With all the federal money we spend on “going green projects and other waste of money social service spending we do. And spare me the idea of more gun control. Gun control has never worked and never will. That’s a sheep mentality. It’s like saying lets capture all the wolves and then the sheep will be safe. Yeah right.

    I’ve had it with these sociopaths slaughtering innocent people who are in no position to defend themselves.

    I was in Jerusalem last year. You couldn’t go too far without seeing an Israeli border patrol agent, national police officer or security guard all armed with Uzi’s. It was impressive and I felt safe. They don’t talk about gun control in Israel to prevent violence. They dare gun toting perps to bring it.”

    Here is a copy of the Sandy Hook Promise: “I Promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    I Promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.”

    If Sheriff Clarke wants to live in a community where you can’t go too far without seeing a “border patrol agent, national police officer, or security guard all armed with Uzi’s,” perhaps he should think of moving somewhere else.

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Thank God for Sheriff Clarke, the only one that makes sense. Milwaukee is falling apart, lost population for decades, unemployment high and schools, everything run by democrat Libs, are terrible. Those of us that are the targets of frequent crime hope that maybe this message will get around then the perps will leave us alone. If the left wants to put signs out in front of their houses, “gunfree zones”, so be it.
    In Chicago only 6% of the perps that used guns ended up in jail cause of the “soft on crime”, let’s love everyone Leftists, no wonder they have out of control crime. They need to have straw man, to knock down, as they won’t take responsibility themselves so they blame Clarke here and guns down there.
    Has a Leftist ever solved a problem?

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