Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Extraordinary Fiscal Liberalism of David Clarke

It’s difficult to find anyone who increases his budget faster than Sheriff Clarke.

By - Apr 10th, 2014 01:25 pm
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Sheriff David Clarke

Sheriff David Clarke

Let us begin with candidate David Clarke, the fiscal conservative running for reelection in October 2010:

“I have balanced every budget I’ve been given,”  Clarke told Third Coast Daily, “because of my elimination of duplicate services and my focus on reducing costs while increasing safety. I have instituted a mindset of efficiency into this organization. I’ve done more without receiving more.  It’s not about having more resources; it’s about being more determined”

Let us now contrast that to Sheriff David Clarke, the fiscal liberal who is forever spending more than he was budgeted. He busted his budget by nearly $6 million in 2010 and 2011, and by about $1.4 million in 2013, he is on pace to run a $4.6 million deficit this year and he has just threatened to sue the county if he doesn’t get more money.

What’s remarkable about these overruns is that Clarke already had so much money to work with even before he busted the budgets. As I’ve previously written, the sheriff’s budget was something of a sacred cow under former Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, rising by 61 percent from 2001 to 2011, or about twice as fast as inflation.

Current County Exec Chris Abele has tried to reduce the sheriff’s budget, but Clarke has enlisted the county board to override some of these cuts or has simply run deficits.

It is difficult to find any governmental leader who spends as freely as Clarke. In the past I analyzed local government spending, finding that from 2007-2012, the tax levy for Milwaukee Area Technical College actually dropped by 1.3 percent and rose by 7.2 percent for Milwaukee County, by 10.1 percent for the City of Milwaukee and by 19.7 percent for Milwaukee Public Schools (but most of that increase was driven by adding the cost of ever more voucher schools).

During this same period, figures from Milwaukee County show, the tax levy for Clarke’s budget rose by 33.5 percent, or more than three times faster than the rate of inflation. Given that his department accounts for almost half the county tax levy, the county’s 7.2 percent growth during this period was largely driven by the Sheriff’s budget.

Meanwhile, again during this same period, spending on law enforcement for the 72 counties in Wisconsin rose by 24 percent, as reported to the state Department of Revenue. That figure, however, would be a good deal lower if you removed the Milwaukee County numbers.

The remarkable thing about Clarke’s ever-ballooning budget is that he runs the only county that is fully incorporated, where municipal police departments together patrol the entire county. In a typical year, as I’ve previously reported, the sheriff’s department handles about one-fifth of one percent of all crimes in the county.

Needless to say, if the city or county or schools budget had risen as fast as Clarke’s, conservative critics and talk radio would be screaming bloody murder. But Clarke continues to get their support, even as he advances the most bizarre legal theories to justify his profligate spending.

Clarke has in the past suggested that as an independently-elected constitutional officer, he has the right to determine how much money his office needs. The mind reels to contemplate just how much higher the budget would go if he ever gained such freedom.

More recently as spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Clarke acknowledged that “the sheriff does not have autonomous hiring authority.”

Yet Clarke’s subordinate, sheriff’s Inspector Edward Bailey argued that the County Board “must fund the (sheriff’s) office sufficiently to meet state mandates and provide law enforcement.” And Clarke has threatened to sue the county to force it to give him more funding. This is fiscal liberalism on steroids.

No other county faces this continuing drama between the sheriff and the county government. “I don’t think we see a lot of that,” says Kyle Christianson of the Wisconsin Counties Association. “Typically the county board sets the budget for the sheriff.

In his five page letter, Clarke offers some details as to the fiscal challenge he faces. But every county department must struggle to meet its budget. Indeed, these departments have had to struggle all the harder because so much of the total budget goes to the Sheriff.

Abele has twice proposed a budget that would save the taxpayers money by having municipal police patrol the parks, and Clarke has reacted like a petulant child, with derogatory remarks and a charge that Abele suffers from “penis envy.” Meanwhile not one of the 19 municipalities or their police departments came to Clarke’s defense. They obviously didn’t feel the parks patrol by Sheriff’s deputies was needed.

Abele, County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb and Deputy Sheriff’s Association President Roy Felber have all questioned why the sheriff added deputies to all courthouse entrances, which also are staffed by security guards. Supervisor Mark Borkowski accused Clarke of doing this to make the point that Abele cut the sheriff’s budget too deeply. And we the taxpayers are paying for Clarke to make this point. After all, it’s only money.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

25 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Extraordinary Fiscal Liberalism of David Clarke”

  1. stacy moss says:

    Yes he does go over budget, but so do most entertainers.

  2. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    A 61% increase in 12 years mirrors the rise in salaries given to the unions by the county board. The county has not taken advantage of tough negotiations with the deputies and has not held down salaries overall in county cause they count on county votes.
    Clarke has had to cut lots of positions the last ten years.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Bob, the problem with that theory is that the other county departments weren’t rising at the same rate. County overall went up 7% while Sheriff’s dept went up 33%.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Thanks Bruce, I did not have that figure, I thought it was just your latest diatribe against David. I need to study the whole budget more. One thing you need to know.
    My musings on the Conservative movement goes out to thousands of people daily and they all tell me the same : 4 pargraphs and shut up. No one reads more than that. Tweets are 140 characters.

  5. Blaine says:

    …Bruce, I’m comfortable with more than four paragraphs. Likely not the only one. Feel free to write what you need,

  6. Michael Nowotny says:

    And to think 12 years at the helm of the MCSO Clarke hasn’t hired a deputy in all that time. Personnel numbers have gone from 675 officers to 210. Clarke hasn’t had to cut positions but has indeed deminished positions to a pathedictly low number. Constantly puts deputies on mandatory OT assignments, lakefront, guarding the courthouse doors. and what ever unneeded services we need. CID services are basically nail. Clarke really has no idea what a budget is. But for twelve years he has bamboozeled the taxpayers. Conservatives love him because he follows lock step to their desires. He’s a little man that hasn’t got his way and doesn’t care about the county. And you want this guy as mayor. This city would be in more dire starts than it is with Barrett. I say a new sheriff is due (Chris Moews) and let Clarke draw his county pension with drop backs and such, and ride off into the sunset.

  7. The Danimal says:

    Well that explains a lot about conservatives.

  8. Steven K. says:

    Why do liberals have such an issue with money spent on the military or law enforcement? This entire article attacks Clarke yet paints Abele as a saint. Why? Bruce, why don’t you write about the personal vendetta against Clarke that Abele has had since the moment he took office? Clarke never campaigned against him, nor endorsed his opponent. Abele has gone after Clarke like no one else in county government since taking office. Not even the board had such a laser-focused attack initially. Bruce also fails to mention that the biggest part of Clarke’s budget is running the jails. Housing criminals is not cheap. Until very recently, Clarke, until very recently, ran both the HOC and downtown jail. We all know that Bruce has had it in for Clarke for many years, but he’s cherry picking his stats on this one. Why not review both the sheriff’s budget since Clarke came into office and compare that to that of the county board or other county offices? (keeping in mind that crime has not really gone down during that time)

  9. Observer says:

    It’s my understanding that the County Board eliminated some managerial staffing in the Sheriffs department only to have him continue staffing as before. That is preposterous. Maybe the department needs to be privatized or at least Freeway policing done by the State Patrol.

  10. Steven K. says:

    Hey Michael, any proof that he’ll get the pension backdrop? Or are you just assuming that like you are with much of what you typed? On one hand you slam Clarke because he doesn’t have enough deputies, but then on the other hand you advocate for a puppet sheriff in the form of Moews who already has bowed down to the throne of Abele. This is same Abele who has pushed even more cuts to the deputy ranks.

  11. Malcolm says:

    Wait, his budget rose 61% in ten years AND his personnel has dropped from 675 officers to 210? Is that true? Bruce, if Nowotny’s numbers are true, then Clarke is even more wasteful than I thought.

  12. duncan says:

    Isn’t it funny how, in light of data that shows a politician has, quite frankly, betrayed conservative values of limited government and frugality .. and instead of calling it what it is, conservatives suggest the media has it in for him?

  13. Observer says:
    From that link:

    Clarke kept a net of 23 positions filled even though the sheriff’s 2014 budget provided no funding for them, according to a letter from the sheriff’s office.
    Clarke kept all five deputy inspectors in place, even though the budget cut funding for three of them.

    Clarke also kept 12 captains though funding for eight disappeared. And 18 sergeants remain in the department, though funding was cut for six of them.

    In addition, Clarke kept his two inspectors — Richard Schmidt and Edward Bailey — on the job, even though the budget included funding for only one of them.

    Abele has said the cuts were made because the sheriff’s office was top-heavy with managers.

  14. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Steven K: I have in the past compared sheriff’s budget to other departments, for instance Parks and Transit, and they were flat or declining compared to 61% growth for Sheriff. You can see that in more recent stats: all county up 7% and Sheriff up 33% from 2007-2012. But you are right about the backdrop, Clarke is unlikely to benefit from that though he will collect both a city and county pension.

  15. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    To really make some sense out of these raw numbers being demagogue you have to know what the percent of the budget is actually changeable? Gas? No. Auto repairs, No. Salaries? No, ammo? equipment? How does it relate to the HOC? Just blowing off on two numbers is not very good, unless you are blowhard.

  16. Horatio says:

    Uh, Bob aka Wisconsin Conservative Digest, another problem with your first argument is that Act 10 specifically exempted law enforcement officers from the salary negotiations, so the DSA can negotiate on salaries up to any level and a lot of other things. They have already adopted the County’s health plan.

  17. I agree that Clarke is a spendthrift, wasting money on his ponyback rides and the personal gym in the Safety Building. But you are wrong where you say Abele’s budget would save money. What it would have done is unfairly shifted the burden on City of Milwaukee taxpayers for what is a county service. It would have also lessened public safety. They can’t even keep up with the shootings now, and it’s only April.

  18. Does it matter? says:

    Here’s my question to all those stating that Clarke has the right to all of this money even though his staffing levels have fallen to the lowest of all levels. Clarke hasn’t hired ONE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER in 13 years. And that’s a fact.

    To Steven K. — Currently his Back Drop is at approx. 1.5 Million dollars. When he signed on in 2002 he transferred his 21 years with Milwaukee over to County time. This creating him to be allowed to get a dropback. Check county records for it. Open Records has records of this.

    And lastly to Malcolm, these numbers are true — You can find them in Open Records as well. In 2002 there were close to 700 sworn law enforcement personal in the Sheriff’s Dept. now he has hired 300 C/O’s to work in the Jail but at approx. $15 less an hour than a sworn officer.

    And those opposing Chris Moews for backing Abele — Well then you obviously don’t like saving money because that is what Abele has done in Milwaukee County. Be what you say but county budgets has gone down under Abele. And Ladies and Gentlemen is a FACT.

  19. Actually, the county budget has gone up two out of his three years. And that does not include the costs he is incurring by delaying the inevitable payouts for his illegal actions. What has gone down are services. And that is a FACT.

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What does his pension have to do with anything, David never voted for any of that stuff. He is the only one that is not blaming all of the problems caused by the inept leadership of Ed Flynn and Tom Barrett. they do nothing but blame everyone else. Why does milwaukee accept that. Barrett has spent most of his time not only blaming every one else but trying to get another job. Give him the judgeship and let David fix this mess. He fixed the HOC and then Abele, cheesy little rich boy that he is, takes it away.

  21. blurondo says:

    If Clarke needs more money, he can do what all businesses do – raise it. Get out on those freeways and start writing citations for the thousands of traffic violations that take place every day.

  22. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    blurondon, where do you live? will ask him to set up speed trap there.

  23. MkeFan says:

    Clarke spent an hour with Gousha at Marquette last week and talked a lot about leadership and ideas. His ideas make no fiscal sense. He spent so much time talking about education and his solution … boarding schools! He talks about being an bureaucracy buster, but after 12 years as sheriff he is the bureaucracy.


  24. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Left in Milwaukee has intense hatred towards David cause he is not one of their House guys. He stands up and out instead of buckling under to leftist orthodoxy and worse he is right.
    He was handed the mess in the HOC left by an inept manager and fixed it up. They took it away cause he was making it not a real pleasant place for the thugs.
    He has run a excellent dept. and proposes answers to problems while people on the Left, that have run MKe., like Mke Fan for decades have really screwed up. Every measure shows that.
    It takes real stupidity to be named in the worst run cities, worst poverty, worst schools, top ten most, violent full of abandoned houses and having a heroin epidemic without any noticeable answers to any of these problems. It really infuriates the White Left that people like Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson exist. They are supposed to be picking cotton and saying: “Yes suh master”. They are the real racists.
    When the Left brings forth some answers to these problems then they can criticize Clarke.

  25. Observer says:

    “David”? “House guys”? “It takes real stupidity to be named”? “picking cotton”? “Yes suh master”?
    You won me over. Where do I sign up? I want to be part of the small w, capital C, capital D militia. When do we secede?

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