Chris vs Chris

We Love the Parks

Both candidates say they love county parks. Which has best approach to maintain them?

By - Mar 2nd, 2016 12:14 pm
Chris Larson vs Chris Abele

Chris Larson vs Chris Abele

Chris Larson‘s View: 

Milwaukee County’s parks are among the best in the nation. Like many other life-long residents, I grew up in our parks. For me that meant running or biking the Oak Leaf Trail and hanging out with friends at Greenfield, McCarty, and Grant parks. Parks are a big part of life now, when my wife Jessica and I need to unwind and our two kids need run around. It’s important for us as a community to ensure every family has the opportunity to experience and enjoy public parks and green space.

The current county executive has put our parks at risk by working out deals with legislative Republicans to give himself unprecedented powers over the sale of County parks and other public land. What does that look like, exactly? Well, in a July 8, 2015 memo, Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren spelled out the new powers granted to county executive Abele: “the executive could lease, sell or convey any non-park county property regardless of Board policy and without Board approval.”

No one person should have that kind of power.

Despite his recent (failed) attempt to sell downtown Milwaukee’s O’Donnell Park to a private entity, Abele says that he has no plans to sell parks – but he has yet to explain why he asked for such sweeping authority. In the meantime, local governments of Milwaukee County’s 19 municipalities are now scrambling to rewrite complicated zoning laws and close any loopholes that Abele helped create.

Milwaukee County’s parks are an irreplaceable part of our legacy. Parks are where our families gather for celebrations, little league games, concerts, and Fourth of July fireworks. Our parks promote exercise and overall well-being for neighbors of every generation. They provide affordable fun and are the first place we often go when the weather warms up (or, as in the case of the Domes, when it’s cold) Simply put, parks are the heart of our neighborhoods and our unique park system is the pride of our County.

I am deeply thankful to the generations before us that worked to create the vibrant network of green space for Milwaukee County, and to those who have fought to preserve it for all of us to enjoy. Now, many of our playgrounds, trails, and amenities are in disrepair or are in need of upkeep. The Mitchell Park Domes are crumbling and, for now, closed.

In July 2015, when the County Board proposed putting $5 million of our budget surplus towards a deferred maintenance backlog of $200 million, Chris Abele vetoed the measure. Now he’s claiming credit for budgeting $500,000 to repair the Domes. As your county executive, I will make protecting our parks a real priority. I will work to secure dedicated funding to clear the backlog of deferred maintenance. I will invest in keeping our parks safe and clean, and will work with neighbors to restore our parks to a point of pride once again, and for generations to come. Our future legacy depends on it.

Chris Abele’s View:

My passion and commitment to conservation and environmental stewardship were two reasons I ran for Milwaukee County Executive in 2011. For decades, prior county executives and county boards ignored the warnings about deferred maintenance in parks. When I was elected, I faced a parks system with crumbling infrastructure, overwhelming deferred maintenance and stagnant revenues. Knowing how much Milwaukee County residents value our parks, I quickly got to work to reverse this trend caused by years of ignoring the problem by the county board and mismanagement by Scott Walker.

To protect our environment and invest in our award-winning parks, we need to use the same common sense we do when making difficult decisions with our own budgets. Blank checks may make for good political sound bites, but they are not realistic. Because of the hard budget choices we’ve made in the past five years, we pay less towards interest and more to parks. Milwaukee County is in a stronger position now to invest in progressive priorities – like parks and the environment – because we’ve gotten our fiscal house in order.

As a result of this approach, we are in a position to find a real, long term solution to the Mitchell Park Domes. Between last and this year, I have requested $1,000,000 from the County Board for immediate repairs to the Domes. This will allow us to fund the repairs needed to safely reopen the Domes, and I have every confidence that they will do so as quickly as possible since the Domes are such an important cultural asset.

Now we are seeking community engagement on the best way forward for the Domes. This approach worked well with Moody Park. With extensive community input, a long-shuttered indoor pool was replaced with multiple amenities like a splash pad, pavilion and community gardens. Another example is the rehabilitation of Menomonee River Parkway. For a long time, Wauwatosa residents wanted the County to address the dangerous driving conditions on this busy thoroughfare. We took action and fixed the problem, and we did so with an approach that is more environmentally friendly and fiscally responsible.

We must look for other ways to improve our environment and improve the quality of life for Milwaukee County residents. There are more issues that must be addressed, such as the removal of the Estabrook Dam. There is no logical reason to continue to maintain the Estabrook Dam – it damages the Milwaukee River ecosystem, and creates a manmade lake for wealthy residents upstream while increasing the flood risk for other river residents.

You have a clear choice to make this election.

My opponent voted to maintain the costly Estabrook Dam while I am committed to removing it.

My opponent will try to scare voters into thinking I want to sell Milwaukee County Parks, but here is the truth: over the last five years, I have added more than 150 acres to the park system and significantly reduced the deferred maintenance.

As I have done for the past five years, I will continue to put the County in the best financial position possible so we can protect and expand our park system.

The Domes

10 thoughts on “Chris vs Chris: We Love the Parks”

  1. Dave says:

    When the county board is as destructive as it is sometimes its best to go around them. Larson is going to raise your taxes. He is saying that before he is even elected. Just imagine how tax hungry he will be after he is in the position. He is raising them on everyone, not just the imaginary millionaires that people seem to want to tax. Your property taxes will go up as well with Larson.

  2. Joe says:

    Not to say I favor one candidate over another, but when Larson cites a corporation counsel memo which states that “[Abele] could lease, sell or convey any **non-park** county property regardless of Board policy and without Board approval,” doesn’t that directly undercut his claim that Abele could sell the parks?

  3. Peter says:

    Would that it were so simple, Joe. But it depends on how you define the term “non-park.” I guess you have to ask yourself – if parks are not at risk, why has Abele sent two rounds of letters to officials at Milwaukee County’s 19 municipalities urging them to re-zone their park lands “just to make sure” they won’t get sold? Is it because they could be sold unless they are properly zoned?

    According to today’s Journal Sentinel “A total of 6,568 acres of Milwaukee County-owned parks, parkways, trails, agricultural and flood management land has not been zoned by municipalities for park use and is vulnerable to sale without County Board approval, officials said Tuesday at the conclusion of a review of property records.”

    You can read all about that here:

  4. Gary says:

    Joe quoted: “which states that “[Abele] could lease, sell or convey any **non-park** county property regardless of Board policy” …

    Thank you for that Joe. I like Christ Abele, and I like Chris Larson, but I don’t like Chris Larson’s political friends.

  5. John says:

    Chris Abele repeatedly takes credit for adding 150 acres of new park land. Yes, that did happen on his watch, but he land added was a swap, not really and ‘add’, and it was proposed by Nortwest Mutual. The land in question was agriculture land owned by the county across the road from their NML’s Franklin Campus. The NML land is a high-quality natural area now named “Barloga Woods” in honor of the late Richard Barloga a noted environmentalist. It was a win-win land swap, and the troubling thing is since Barloga Woods WAS owned by NML clearly it would not have been zoned park land. Whether Franklin sees fit to designate it so remains to be seen. So, yes, Abele did agree to a good deal, but it’s not as though he’s actively championing our parks.

  6. RB says:

    So glad to see the positions of both candidates laid out side by side in place of an op-ed or endorsement.

  7. It’s nice to see both of them side by side, but I don’t believe either of them. I don’t think they are lying, but in the absence of more information it is hard to know what is going on.

  8. Dan says:

    The inaccurate statement that Estabrook Dam harms the environment (when it actually maintains it) just demonstrates the lack of research going into the current uninformed policy decisions. It is same underlying issue as the domes; (1) years of deferred maintenance are taking their toll, and this issue is not contained to our parks, but is affecting all county maintained infrastructure. (2) the current Executive prioritizes the desires of special interests and lobiests over the needs of the country. It is time for a change.

  9. JP says:

    Interesting that Abele, who has a multi-million dollar networth, is so quick to dismiss the needs of a neighborhood of working class families where the avg property value is $70k-250k as “wealthy” and insignificant. As if that will make voters forget how he caters to out of state multi-millionaires, like selling county owned land for $1 instead of market value.

  10. M says:

    Abele: “My opponent will try to scare voters into thinking I want to sell Milwaukee County Parks.”

    No, Mr. Abele has already done a very good job of scaring voters by actually trying to sell O’Donnell Park, not once but several times!

    Most recently, Abele got his GOP pals to write into the state budget that he could specifically sell O’Donnell to a for-profit buyer without any public input or board review. This was while Milwaukee Art Museum was in good-faith, board-approved negotiations to explore ways to keep the park public through some type of arrangement. That scheme was foiled after alarmed museum and parks supporters contacted legislators.

    Fortunately, MAM is still working on that effort. We can only hope Abele does not try to scuttle any plan that preserves all O’Donnell Park’s public facilities, including plazas and a pavilion with the best views of Milwaukee’s lakefront.

    Abele recently claimed that O’Donnell was not a “real” park, thus justifying his ongoing efforts to sell it. In Abele’s world view, Millennium Park is also not a “real park.” So perhaps citizens need only worry about parks that Abele does not consider “real parks.” That is, if we can find out which ones are on his hit list.

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