Sheriff Clarke’s New Buddies
The conservative lawman and liberal county board have suddenly gotten very friendly. Why?
Sheriff David Clarke has gotten awful friendly with the Milwaukee County Board. That’s odd, since the proudly conservative sheriff in the past has taken a dim view of board and its liberal majority. Clarke called it “one of the most dysfunctional governmental bodies in the state of Wisconsin,” adding that it “should be downsized immediately. The number that comes to mind is five – the same number of supervisors in Los Angeles County, California.”
Board members have not been quite as stinging towards Clarke, but have certainly jabbed at him for creating a “boot camp”-styled program for jail inmates:, and for his plan to move the work release program from downtown. They even got into a dispute over Shakespeare, with supervisors defending a program that would use the Bard’s plays to help reform youthful offenders after Clarke blasted it as “a stupid and insane idea.”
The latter dispute arose after the board supported cuts in the Sheriff’s budget proposed in 2011 by County Executive Chris Abele. But by last fall, as the board became increasingly opposed to just about anything proposed by Abele, they overthrew his proposal to pay the Milwaukee Police Department to patrol the lakefront and other county parks. Led by County Board Chair Marina Dimitrijevic, the board restored 27 deputy jobs that Abele’s budget eliminated from Clarke’s staff and then overrode Abele’s veto of this.
Clarke is now on record as a fan of Dimitrijevic, calling her “pleasant” and “trustworthy,” noting that “She lets you know what her position is going to be and you can kind of take that to the bank.”
Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice wrote a column noting that the normally outspoken Clarke was saying nothing about Rep. Joe Sanfelippo’s legislation to downsize the board. “The pay and duties of the Board are not my concern,” Clarke said to Bice. As the columnist noted of Clarke: “gone is the talk of the ‘dysfunctional’ board and the need to downsize it ‘immediately.’”
In an email to Bice, Abele aide Brendan Conway suggested Dimtirijevic and Clarke had “joined forces” to protect each other. Bice forwarded the email to Dimitrijevic, and within a few hours Clarke had a copy of it. Clarke immediately went to his frequent promoter, conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes, and accused Abele of “penis envy.” Dimitrijevic, meanwhile, denied to Bice that she forwarded the Conway email to Clarke.
Blogger Dan Cody, the board president of the Parks People, and an unsuccessful candidate for county supervisor who supports downsizing, has been lobbying in Madison for this. He noted that in “talking with legislators on both sides of the aisle and at least four of them asked me why Sheriff Clarke was personally calling them and asking them to vote against Rep. Sanfelippo’s bill.”
Sanfelippo says he heard from legislators that Clarke had made some calls to them. “I heard he had some questions as where the power would go, that he was concerned that the county exec would have too much power.”
Meanwhile, Clarke has been spending taxpayers’ money, money overseen by the county board, to run ads urging citizens to arm themselves, and has been out of state attending a graduate degree program in California. This must have outraged the board’s liberal majority, which has been free with criticism of the sheriff in past years. Yet they have said almost nothing.
Odds are they have been restrained by Dimitrijevic, who has done a great job of uniting the board against both Abele and the downsizing proposal.
Does Dimitrijevic Favor Reform?
In the recent JS profile of her by reporter Bill Glauber, Dimitrijevic emphasized her willingness to embrace reform. When asked more directly about a reform to to downsize the county board, she told WTMJ radio, “this county board has always been open to reforms.”
History suggests otherwise. Back in 2011, when then-Supervisor Sanfelippo offered a proposal similar to his legislative bill to the county board, Dimitrijevic called the bill “a complete distraction.”
As Sanfelippo recalls it, “she fought me tooth and nail on it. She was one that was vocal against it. A lot of other supervisors didn’t say anything but voted against it.” Her outspoken opposition no doubt helped Dimitrijevic build support for her later bid to become the new board chair.
Board members back then opposed a county-wide referendum on downsizing the board, so some municipalities created their own referendums. Even then, some board members tried to stop this: In Glendale, Supervisor Theo Lipscomb joined those who successfully killed such a referendum.
Steve Taylor ran and was elected as county supervisor in 2012 as a supporter of downsizing the board. But he soon told Oak Creek Patch.com that it was a “waste of time” for him to spend any time on this issue because the board was solidly against downsizing. “Based on my conversations with county board members, there’s no traction to do anything,” Taylor said.
Taylor, by the way, said the only hope on this issue was that the legislature get involved. Now that the legislature has, Taylor is among a few board members willing to even consider Sanfelippo’s bill. The rest are solidly behind Dimitrijevic’s call for “local control” and allowing the board to decide on how to reform itself.
Thus supervisors recently passed a resolution asking the state legislature to permit the board to downsize its own operation. But how sincere was this vote? Several supervisors, including Peggy West told Fox 6 that while they supported this resolution, they had no intention of voting in favor of reducing the board. Even with Dimitrijevic doing her best to unify the board as a pro-reform group, supervisors couldn’t resist the chance to express their outrage about the idea of downsizing.