Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Gimbel Gets Reappointed to Wisconsin Center Board

Will continue after 3 decades as board chair! Did mayor and governor swap appointments to make this happen?

By - Jul 16th, 2014 04:05 pm
Convention Center.

Convention Center.

The situation on the Wisconsin Center District board of directors just keeps getting stranger. The board oversees the downtown convention center, the old U.S. Cellular Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre, but as I’ve previously reported, its leadership was adrift, with one third of the seats on the 15-member board either vacant, held by unqualified individuals, or held by persons whose terms have expired.

That included board chair, Atty. Franklyn M. Gimbel, who has served in that position since the WCD board’s very first meeting in 1994, as a 3-year appointee of Governor Tommy Thompson. Successive governors have reappointed the wily 78-year old power broker ever since. When his term expired in May, 2012, and Governor Scott Walker took no action to appoint him, Gimbel just kept on serving as chair. Now, that’s public service! As his biography notes, “helping people is Frank’s passion.”

Indeed, Gimbel went ahead and brokered another deal for the Wisconsin Center, whereby UW-Milwaukee bought naming rights to the Cellular arena for the next 10 years for $3.4 million, a deal that may greatly change the politics involving the push to build a new NBA arena, as Bruce Murphy has reported.

But we’ve now learned that Gimbel has been reappointed to the board by Mayor Tom Barrett. That move seems bizarre, even by the rather lax standards by which WCD board appointments happen — or don’t. For starters, Gimbel has been a gubernatorial appointee for 20 years, but it appears that Walker didn’t want to reappoint him. So instead, he’s now becoming a mayoral appointee.

While Walker declined to reappoint Gimbel, he instead appointed James Kaminski to serve another term on the board. This is rich, as Kaminski is the former head of the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, who retired from that position to become a consultant, and was a mayoral appointee to the WCD board. Like Gimbel, he is considered a member of the city’s Old Guard, and when it comes to the WCD, what might be dubbed The Gang that Just Won’t Quit. Even though Kaminski’s term expired in 2009, he kept serving, like Gimbel. But now he has been re-legitimized by Walker, in what looks like a curious bit of horse trading with his old nemesis Barrett.

Via email, Barrett’s chief of staff Patrick Curley told Urban Milwaukee that Barrett promised to reappoint Gimbel if Walker chose not to, and has lived up to that commitment. “We recommended to the Governor’s staff that they take a look at appointing Jim Kaminski,” Curley added. Certainly sounds like the appointments were swapped, though Curley denies this.

Meanwhile, Caitrin Smith, deputy press secretary for Walker, offered this highly illuminating statement: “There are geographical seat restrictions outlined in statute for the gubernatorial, mayoral, and county executive appointees.  Mr. Kaminsky’s current appointment fulfills those residency requirements.  Additionally, Mayor Barrett has re-appointed Frank Gimbel to the board, so both appointees now meet the geographical requirements.”

So all can rest easy that the geography here is so well worked out, but may wonder why neither Barrett nor Walker offered any statement explaining why either person’s background, credentials or temperament made them a good choice for this position. The Gimbel reappointment, in particular, is raising eyebrows among politicos, as it has been rare to see someone serve eternally as board chair, even in the older, slower days of this fair city. Gimbel has not only served as board chair since the WCD’s creation in 1994, but served for years as chair of its predecessor organization, the MECCA board, going back to the mid-1980s. Moreover, one source informed Urban Milwaukee that Barrett had told Gimbel he was opposed to reappointing the downtown lawyer, though Curley’s statement suggests otherwise.

The appointment must come as a disappointment to Andy Nunemaker, who had been appointed to the board by County Executive Chris Abele. I wrote in November that the appointment was illegal, since Abele’s appointee had to be a county resident from outside the City of Milwaukee, and Nunemaker was a city resident.

The simple remedy here, would have been for Barrett to choose Nunemaker, a House Confidential Honoree, as his appointment. Nunemaker said he had hoped this would happen. Nunemaker is in his 40’s, has tremendous energy, and has raised his profile considerably over the years. Instead, Barrett chose Gimbel to continue at a time when an expanded convention center and new NBA arena have both been proposed, both of which might involve the taxing power of the WCD.

Also new to the board is attorney Jason W. Allen of Foley and Lardner, appointed by Abele to replace Nunemaker. It appears he lives in Fox Point (on Allen Lane, no less), and would therefore qualify for the position, being a county resident outside the city.

Meanwhile, insiders are predicting Gimbel will prevail on his fellow board members to vote to reappoint him as board chair, pushing Gimbel into his fourth decade in this position.

For those keeping score (and it’s not easy), the Wisconsin Center District Board of Directors now consists of:

Franklyn M. Gimbel, Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, operating as Chairperson
James C. Kaminski, Kaminski Consultants, operating as Vice Chairperson
Jason Allen, Foley & Lardner
Joseph Bartolotta, The Bartolotta Restaurants
Joel Brennan, Discovery World
Senator Alberta Darling, Wisconsin State Senate
Mayor Kathy Ehley, City of Wauwatosa
Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, City of Milwaukee
Representative Dale Kooyenga, Wisconsin State Assembly
Stephen H. Marcus, The Marcus Corporation
Martin Matson, City of Milwaukee Comptroller
Alderman Michael Murphy, City of Milwaukee
Alderman Robert Puente, City of Milwaukee
Chris Schoenherr, Wisconsin Deputy Secretary of Administration
Jeff Sherman, OnMilwaukee.com
Russell Staerkel, Interim President & CEO

3 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Gimbel Gets Reappointed to Wisconsin Center Board”

  1. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Gimbel might be power broker, but has screwed up the district. Poor convention center, too small for many things and the old auditorium conversion, worthless. Have been there several times. It could have been built cheaper and easier by tearing down the old building. Wasn’t needed but Gimbel had to run and do it quick when the Bradley Center people started talking about it.
    Need new blood in Milwaukee leadership there is abominable.

  2. Urban Dweller says:

    All of this is “bizarre” only if you ignore that both Gimbel and Kaminski have served the Wisconsin Center and the people of Milwaukee exceedingly well. Even Walker, who can hardly be accused of being concerned about governing, probably gets this – but he couldn’t appoint a Democrat his donors would consider a high-profile enemy combatant.

    Throwing the speculative NBA arena into the mix is hypothetical fantasizing on Mr. Horne’s part. In reality, there is no plan, no legislation, no financing, no taxes, and no more than an opinion role for the Wisconsin Center District. Its board oversees the funding and operations of the convention complex, provides money to Visit Milwaukee for marketing, and that is all.

    Whether that role expands remains to be seen, but don’t bet on it. Just for starters, the Wisconsin Center District is a public entity, subject to open records and meetings laws; does anyone think the NBA will tolerate that kind of public scrutiny? Moreover, it is openly acknowledged that full-time shops, bars, restaurants and attractions in the proposed facility, and the revenue they would capture for the Bucks, are the sole reason the NBA demands it be built. The notion of Wisconsin Center District sales taxes being used to fund competition would not sit well with the hospitality businesses who collect them!

  3. Milwaukee Native says:

    Michael, I know this is commentary, but this statement begs too many questions:

    “..its leadership was adrift, with one third of the seats on the 15-member board either vacant, held by unqualified individuals, or held by persons whose terms have expired.”

    Who are are/were the “unqualified individuals”? Wait, don’t tell. That seems unfair or worse. Perhaps you want the reader to guess who you mean, but since everyone listed has at least one role/connection that would seem to qualify them, it keeps us guessing. Maybe the qualifications have to do with residency or something else, but without naming names, perhaps you could just list them.

    Having lived away from MKE for years before returning, I’ve missed whatever drama involving WCD that seems to have earned them the scorned step-child status. But really, if they indeed pay their bills and keep up their properties, unlike the Bradley Center, can’t we cut them a little slack? I know no one there, but I want them and all the downtown attractions to do well.

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