Council Members Blast Chief Flynn
Demanding more input into Flynn's decision making, they refuse to allocate federal funds.
The Milwaukee Common Council expressed their frustration with Police Chief Edward A. Flynn and his plan to spend $1.1 million in federal asset forfeiture money by refusing to allocate the funding. They’ve been holding the money, one of the few controls they have over the department, for months now.
The funding was finally ready for approval today after sitting in the recently renamed Public Safety and Health Committee since April. Then Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II took the floor and soon set off a 45-minute floor debate on Flynn.
The funds are being allocated from the federal government’s asset forfeiture program. The fact that this money is even spent was news to Stamper, though he has served on the council for three years. “I thought the drug money was burned somewhere,” he said, then added, “if we’re going to use drug money for something positive we need to use it to fight drugs.”
According to a letter submitted to the council Flynn intends to spend the funds on leasing tasers ($125,000), security cameras at police stations ($100,000), training ($50,000), a fuel tank monitoring system ($75,000), computers ($65,000), bicycle patrols ($30,000), “neighborhood intiatives” ($35,000), dog food, dog medical care and dog boarding ($6,000) and administrative costs ($50,000).
No one is convinced the police department will cease to function without the $1.1 million in question. The department has a budget just over $302 million for 2017. Ald. Michael Murphy, who didn’t support the hold on the funding, put this in perspective, saying the $1.1 million is “a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money. The police department budget last year was I think was over $300 million.”
During the debate, which saw nearly half the council chime in, Stamper kept railing against the department. “Right now I say we don’t approve this money. I say we have them come to us with a plan for what they are going to do for our districts.” The alderman, who represents the city’s poorest district, went on to state “until I see improvement, until I see respect for my neighborhood which I live in – 20 percent of the police don’t even live in the city, approximately – I say we don’t approve this money.”
Frequent critics of the police chief joined in to support Stamper’s cause. Ald. Mark Borkowski called the Fire and Police Commission “inept” and went on to state “it’s very clear that the police chief has run roughshod over them.” Ald. Robert Donovan said that bringing in state statute 6250 or the Fire and Police Commission was a bit extreme, but then complained, “it’s either Ed Flynn’s way or the highway, and I don’t buy that.”
Ald. Tony Zielinski offered this revelation: “I have the Legislative Reference Bureau working on legislation to empower the council to remove the police chief with a two-thirds majority vote.” Such a law would require state approval, which would be hard to sell to the Republican-controlled Legislature. Zielinski argued that the legislation would inspire better communication with the department.
Ald. Robert Bauman joined in by stating “I’m absolutely in support of holding this, and maybe holding this indefinitely, until we (get) our Department of Justice report.” Bauman was referring to a United States Department of Justice draft report on the Milwaukee Police Department that Flynn possesses and has refused to turn over to the council. Bauman warned that the council may soon need to hire outside council to resolve the matter.
Council president Ashanti Hamilton ultimately told Stamper that because the matter is an allocation of resources it only requires three votes to hold. Stamper started pointing around the council floor to count his votes, which drew a quick quip from Bauman that “you had three votes an hour ago.”
The council finally voted on the matter, but only after allowing an opportunity for seemingly half the council to air their grievances against the chief.
The measure passed on a 10-5 vote. Voting against the hold were council members Hamilton, Cavalier Johnson, Bohl, Murphy and Terry Witkowski. Council members Nik Kovac, Bauman, Milele A. Coggs, Khalif Rainey, Donovan, Chantia Lewis, Jose G. Perez, Zielinski and Stamper voted for the hold.
What happens next is anyone’s guess: some council members want the funds allocated differently, some want more control over the police department and some seemed most interested in scoring political points.
The council’s next opportunity to approve the matter comes at their regularly scheduled meeting on July 31st. If action isn’t taken then the matter will likely linger until September because of the August recess.
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