Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

David Clarke the False Conservative

Sheriff Clarke claims the right to spend as much as he wants, while the media ignores this and simply reports on his rants.

By - Oct 3rd, 2013 01:26 pm
Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff David Clarke

By now the media knows they need merely feed Sheriff David Clarke some item to stoke his rage and he will go into his attack mode. No one knows that better than Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Schultze, and he’s now succeeded in creating a huge controversy, what has now been described as a “war of words” between Clarke and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

But as far as I can tell, there is little controversy here and no war of words. This is a dispute manufactured by the media.

It was back on September 25 that Abele gave his annual budget speech. There was no red meat in Schultze’s story about this, nothing for Clarke to get mad about it, just a routine rundown of the budget’s major points

Indeed, Abele’s office issued a detailed, 19-page rundown of the sheriff’s budget, laying everything out in excruciating detail. There is some fascinating stuff in the budget (more about that later), but the bottom line is little change. At first glance it appears the sheriff’s budget has been cut by $7.7 million but if you read the fine print you see that $5.4 million of this represents the fact that the sheriff, by agreement of Abele and the county board, no longer runs the House of Correction, and he also no longer oversees emergency preparedness and the 911 system, something Clarke is not interested in running.

All told, Abele’s office notes, the Sheriff’s budget has been cut by $1.6 million, or just 2.3 percent. “The Sheriff’s budget would still account for 22% of the tax levy, so of every dollar we get from homeowners, 22 cents goes to Sheriff,” Abele’s spokesperson Brendan Conway notes.

Schultze ignored all that and published a story claiming the sheriff’s budget had been cut by $12 million, with no explanation of where he got this number, or any reaction from Abele. Nor did he explain the budgetary impact of the switch in the House of Corrections and other duties. Then he got a comment from Clarke. It was a dandy.

“Abele should be drug tested,” Clarke declared. “He has to be on heroin to be hallucinating with that wild proposal. He might go to bed at night dreaming about being a sheriff, but when he wakes up he’s the same vindictive little man he was when he went to sleep.”

Abele response was, yawn, “it’s unfortunate the sheriff, instead of engaging in thoughtful civil discourse, is making personal attacks and making light of a serious problem in our community and state.”

That prompted TMJ4 to declare there was a “war of words” between Clarke and Abele. That’s sort of like describing a Nazi blitzkrieg against a dozing French farmer as a battle royal. Nothing in the TV news account indicated that Abele had issued a wonky, 19 page document detailing every jot and tittle of the sheriff’s budget.

Clarke offered no substantive reply to Abele’s budget, he just launched into a yet another ad hominem attack. Among his previous rants, he accused Abele of “penis envy.” Clarke has become the boy who cried wolf, but the press is still breathlessly reporting his ever-escalating declarations.

Meanwhile, for those who care to examine the proposed Sheriff’s budget, the document does offer some interesting information, with a detained run-down of 11 different functions performed by the Sheriff’s department.

My favorite is the section on criminal investigations, which notes that the Sheriff’s deputies investigated just 311 crimes in 2012 yet had 23.4 officers assigned to this duty. The document notes that each officer handled an average of 9.1 cases versus 57.2 cases per officer in the West Allis Police Department and 51 cases per officer in the Wauwatosa Police Department. Abele proposed cutting staff devoted to this function nearly in half, from 23.4 to 12.4, “based on data that consistently shows… few felony investigations or convictions, and lower than average caseload per officer, as would be expected in a fully incorporated county” — meaning one where local police departments patrol every square foot of the county.

Abele proposes to allocate these officers to other functions within the sheriff’s department. Clarke is free to ignore this and assign officers as he sees fit. But the budget document does raise many questions about how Clarke runs things. It also begins to provide baseline performance data that begins to measure how much is actually accomplished by officers in various parts of the sheriff’s department. Abele has done the same for every county department, which is major change compared to past county leaders. The difference is that other department heads report to him, whereas Clarke is independently elected and can organize his department as he likes.

As he did last year, Abele has also proposed to have local police departments take over the patrol of the lakefront and county parks. The budget document notes that local police are closer to the parks and more familiar with the surrounding neighborhoods, “which is more efficient than utilizing Sheriff’s Deputies that drive from park to park from disparate locations.” It also notes that some local police departments (notably, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and West Allis, the three biggest) are willing to sign service agreements with the county to patrol their parks at a cost of $10,000 per municipality.

As for having Milwaukee police patrol the lakefront, this “will reduce taxpayer costs by providing a seamless, integrated patrol force in the lakefront parks and in the neighborhoods west of the parks, where MPD must currently keep officers in reserve because the Sheriff often closes the lakefront on extremely short notice and pushes crowds into these areas,” Abele’s document explains.

The budget document shows that Clarke allocated 28 full-time officers to parks patrol yet reported that just 21.4 person hours per day were assigned to this duty. That’s less than 8,000 hours a year by 29 officers whose hours of work should total in the neighborhood of 55,000 officers. No, that’s not much parks patrol, and yes, way too many officers are assigned to this duty. It provides a strong rationale for the switch to local police, something the county board rejected last year.

So yes, there are some potentially controversial issues in this budget document, but the media largely ignored these. And yes Abele has scrutinized Clarke’s budget (along with that of every other county department) since becoming county exec.

If you’re a numbers-crunching fiscal conservative like Abele, one obvious place to look for cuts is the Sheriff’s Department. In the decade prior to Abele’s election, the sheriff’s  budget had risen 61 percent, far faster than any other county department. It was something of a sacred cow under former county exec Scott Walker, rising steadily while the parks budget stayed flat at 0 percent and county transit declined by 8 percent.

The ironic thing is that Clarke claims to be a conservative and he’s at odds with a fiscal conservative. Clarke’s final 2012 budget spent $4.3 million in overtime, increasing total expenditures to $77.7 million. Yet Clarke essentially declares that as a constitutional officer, he can spend whatever he wants. He’s doesn’t just reject (without explanation) Abele’s detailed run-down of how the department might be more efficiently run, but threatens that Abele will “have to sue me in court” to force Clarke to accept any budget cut. His making this claim, moreover, about a budget that barely cuts overall funding for the sheriff.

Call me a wonk, but I think the fact that Clarke claims the right to spend whatever he wants of the taxpayers money is of considerably more importance than whether he thinks Abele is a little man or has penis envy. This is not Reality TV, but a policy issue with large ramifications for taxpayers. Maybe it’s time the media reported it that way.


Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

22 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: David Clarke the False Conservative”

  1. Not content with County Executive Abele’s lukewarm response…Sheriff Clarke decided to go after Daniel Bice today in a release on his Facebook page…offering to compare college dissertations and transcripts with Mr. Bice. It seems that Sheriff Clarke’s “caseload” might be as light as his assigned deputies!

  2. roz says:

    thanks again, bruce for setting out the issues.

  3. DOM says:

    Agree. Except lakefront patrols should remain sheriff. Milwaukee police are overwhelmed by innrr city patrols and won’t assign much to the lakefront.

  4. capper says:

    By your own definitions, Abele is no fiscal conservative either. He and his fellow plutocrats at the Greater Milwaukee Committee – with the aid of some acolytes – sought out and rammed through Act 14, part of which specifies that Abele can hire however many people he feels he needs to run his office and pay them what he wants without any checks or balances.

    Heck, if someone is found to be unfit for a position, Abele can just give them a contract with a salary up to $99,999.99 and no one can stop him. He’s already done that once or twice.

    Hmm, seems that Abele and Clarke have more in common than not.

  5. mkelover says:

    Bruce, why no mention that Abele (or any Co Exec for that matter) can dictate how the sheriff spends his budget? It is completely up to the sheriff how to spend the budget he’s provided. That would seem to be a cogent point backing up Clarke saying that he can spend his budget money how he wishes.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    Mkelover, I guess you missed it, but my column makes clear that Clarke has final authority over how he spends his budget. But he is suggesting the overall budget can’t be cut, which no court would uphold. It’s also worth noting that Clarke has constantly asked for more, resulting in a budget that rose 61% in the decade before Abele was elected, which raises questions about how Clarke has used his authority to allocate resources — it certainly hasn’t been in a manner that helps taxpayers.

  7. dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    Global Warming: Thank God for Global Warming. Finally the first big storm blows up in the Gulf. Scientists tell me that if we had not had Global Warming we would have had a hurricane. If they do not have more hurricanes in Fla. all of the people that left Milwaukee because of taxes and a lousy Milwaukee magazine will never come back.
    I checked with Obamacare and cannot get my Cialis, worhtless plan.

  8. mkelover says:

    Bruce, making clear is not conveyed by saying that the sheriff may “organize” his department the way he wants. People don’t understand that a county executive may attempt to steer policy for the sheriff but that a duly elected sheriff can spend his budget in any manner he/she sees fit. Clarke’s budget went up under Walker as more responsibility was added (County Correctional Facility-South being a huge one). Why not look at the question no one in Milwaukee media has asked about the Abele v Clarke rift? Despite Clarke not campaigning against Abele during his first election, Abele still made it priority number 1 to go after Clarke in a big way and chop his legs out. What was the reason? Was he being told to do this by the local Dem party who hates him with a passion? Was there a previous relationship between Clarke/Abele that was bad? Has Abele ever accepted (or offered) a one-on-one meeting with Clarke to discuss issues/challenges? It would seem these would be normal questions to ask.

  9. Bruce Murphy says:

    mkelover: sorry the language wasn’t clear enough for you, but we’re both in agreement here, the sheriff can allocate resources within his department as he likes.
    As to why cut the budget, to me it’s obvious: because its been growing so much, and because to my recollection the budget has been a sacred cow going back decades and way predating Clarke. I’ve never understood why we pay so much for a sheriff’s dept when local police patrol the entire county. For the first 100 years or so of Milwaukee history this would have made sense, but not since the 1950s.

  10. Timmer says:

    I rarely see a sheriff at a park. Doesn’t Clarke run as a democrat?

  11. Kyle says:

    Seriously Dohnal? In a story about the county sheriff you decide to talk about global warming, hurricanes, and the ACA? Do you have talk radio Tuerette Syndrome? You aren’t helping any of your causes.

  12. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    I talk bout global Warming fiasco as a way to prove that the Left in this city is on drugs or something, maybe glue. but no one here gives credit to David for being right on about what the cause of crime is in this city. it is not cause regular citizens own a semi auto gun or a pistol but because judges put few gun crimes thugs into jail and the headlines today in the Journal show that we put most of these mental problems back on the street.
    We spend too much money on useless welfare programs that solve few problems when we could help those in mental distress.

  13. Andy says:

    Bruce, my argument for your position would be that the city of Milwaukee has far more serious problems to address then evictions, park patrol (which they don’t seem to have the resources for), highway safety, etc. They can’t keep up with what they have let alone take on additional responsibilities. As of right now, I just don’t see any way for us to dismantle the sheriff’s dept.

    Also, I was unaware of how much the Sheriff’s budget grew. I thought we only have a fraction of the deputies we had 10 years ago, but can’t find a good source of information to back that up. How do we have so many fewer deputies but such a larger budget?

  14. Bruce Murphy says:

    Andy, the 61% growth in the sheriff’s budget has been reported several times in recent years.

  15. Kyle says:

    While I think you can call into question the headline answer Politifact gives sometimes, their analysis of the reasons the sheriff’s budget has increased so much does help explain why:

    So clearly, as a conservative, Clarke should have fixed the county pensions and benefits by now.

  16. Bruce Murphy says:

    Yes, Kyle, the column shows his budget went up 62% over a decade, while Parks was flat and Transit was in decline. Clarke requested budgetary raises of 4% to 13% each year. I think most would agree that’s not the approach of a fiscal conservative. As for pension and benefits, that’s an issue for nearly any county department because they all tend to be largely driven by personnel costs. Imagine if every other dept had gone up 62% over this period and where that would leave county taxpayers. Finally, if you’re walking into the county exec position looking to try to reduce costs, what looks like the lowest hanging fruit?

  17. Bill says:

    I never understood why the Sheriff department has such a strong presence in Milwaukee. Having grown up in the Detroit area we almost never saw County patrols unless we were in the fringes and rural area where local police presence were less prominent. It always seemed that freeways were patrolled by the State Police and all local enforcement was by the municipalities.

  18. Kyle says:

    Bruce, can you provide a link to the budget details you’re referencing? I can only seem to find information back to 2006 and 2007, and parks is up 10% from 2006. I’d love to have the same information you do so I can better understand the changes in the last decade. Thanks.

  19. bruce murphy says:

    Kyle, it’s all there in the Politifact column your linked us to.

  20. Stacy Moss says:

    Clarke offered no substantive reply to Abele’s budget, he just launched into a yet another ad hominem attack. Among his previous rants, he accused Abele of “penis envy.” Clarke has become the boy who cried wolf, but the press is still breathlessly reporting his ever-escalating declarations.

    It should be noted that the term PENIS ENVY, has gained a new meaning. As it was put forth by Freud, it does not apply to the relative size on the male member (it was about being a girl not having a penis).

  21. Kyle says:

    Bruce, the link I provided says that half the time, Clarke reduced or didn’t raise the rate, and the other half was between 4% and 13% every year. It also points out that he was below inflation until 2011 when he requested 13% to cover an accounting change. That’s not quite the “4% to 13% each year” you claimed. The politifact report also said nothing about the parks or transit budget to explain your claim “Parks was flat and Transit was in decline”. I found a 2006 budget that showed Parks (the Parks, Recreation & Culture line item) at $65 million, and the 2012 budget has that line at $73 million. That’s a 12% increase. So I’d like to see that the Park’s budget was $73 million in 2003 to back up that claim, but I can’t find it. I did find that a business journa thatl attacked the 2003 budget for underfunding the sheriff (among other things), but it didn’t provide a link to anything substantial.

    Stacy, it’s entirely possible he was using it correctly and calling Abele a girl.

  22. bruce murphy says:

    Kyle, you’re right, I misstated one part of the JS link you cited, Clarke raised his budget 4 to 13% in half of the years. Overall his budget went up 62% over a decade, which is what my column reported, though Clarke wants to make it a 37% increase by not including employee benefits increases. (Every govt official would love to claim this way of accounting.) By comparison, the JS story notes, “it’s a big bump compared… with the zero percent increase for the Parks Department, or the drop in levy for transit.” Which is also the same thing that I reported.

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