Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Overrides Most of Mayor’s Vetoes

Bauman accuses Barrett of false promises, Stamper calls mayor "disingenuous."

By - Nov 28th, 2017 12:27 pm
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Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

Mayor Tom Barrett. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

With impressive speed and near unanimous support, the Common Council overrode all but one of the budget vetoes issued by Mayor Tom Barrett. Then a lengthy floor debate started after the council failed to sustain a previously approved 50 percent pay cut to the head of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. They eventually approved slashing the position’s pay to $35,000 annually, a 30 percent cut.

The council failed to sustain the 50 percent or $25,000 cut, but only after Alderman Michael Murphy changed his vote at the end of the roll call from supporting the override to sustaining the mayor’s veto. His late switch, coupled with an earlier one by Ald. Cavalier Johnson, caused the override to fail on a nine to six vote. Ten votes are required to override a mayoral veto. Council members Nik Kovac, Johnson, Jim Bohl, Mark Borkowski, Terry Witkowski and Murphy voted against the cut.

The cut, introduced on the council floor by Ald. Robert Bauman during the budget adoption process on November 10th, was originally approved by the council on a 10-5 vote with Johnson voting for it. The mayor, as I predicted in my budget approval column, vetoed the measure and promised to study the measure.

The council had previously considered the cut four years ago when Bohl introduced an amendment designed to swap the salaries of the board secretary, a full-time city employee, and the appointed board chair. That measure failed with the mayor’s administration promising to study the measure.

That study never happened, with Bauman characterizing it as “a classic example, which has happened before, of let’s promise the council something so they go away and forget about and then never revisit the subject.”

Bauman says the zoning appeals board has “run amok” — ignoring the city’s comprehensive plans, constituent concerns, aldermanic feedback and the opinions of the Department of City Development. He told the council “the chair maybe puts in 10 to 15 hours a month… On an hourly basis this is the highest paid position in city government.” The job is currently held by Catherine Doyle.

Bauman’s attack was backed by Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II, who took a shot at Barrett, who wasn’t in the chamber. “We are going to take the lead, you are going to stop lying to us,” Stamper said.

Bohl agreed with the pay characterization, but said “there’s absolutely a better way” to handle the salary change. He told the council he had a conversation yesterday with the mayor’s staff and that they promised the study would be completed by the end of January.

After the vote to preserve the cut had failed, Bauman instructed his colleagues to vote against an amendment from the mayor to restore the full funding. Bohl derided this approach, which would thereby leave the job entirely unfunded, as akin to saying “we lost the game, let’s up the blow up the stadium so we don’t have to play there again. That’s silliness. We’re above that.”

After voting to hold the mayor’s budget amendment, the council approved a quickly drafted amendment that was introduced by Bauman to reduce the pay of the position from $52,945 to $35,000, while still including fringe benefits.

That amendment passed on a 11-4 vote, with council members Johnson, Borkowski, Murphy and Witkowski voting in opposition.

The cut will not immediately go into effect. The Common Council will need to approve a change to the job classification for the position held by Doyle. Doyle’s appointed term expired in January. She holds the position until Barrett reappoints her or appoints a replacement.

Vetoes Overriden

Before the lengthy BOZA salary debate, Stamper was the only member of the council to speak on overriding a mayoral veto that altered three amendments that would add five recruits to a police recruiting class and contribute $165,000 to a Neighborhood Investment Beautification Program targeted at non-Downtown neighborhoods.

Stamper, who admitted “I have to do more research and homework before I present something,” found support among his colleagues to override the mayor’s veto. He implored them “we have to stick together. That’s the only way Milwaukee will change for the better. This council has to take the lead.”

The mayor had proposed the cuts and the restoration of $350,373 from $572,650 in proposed salary reductions. He indicated that cutting the personnel funding would impact the city’s ability to give a two percent raise to non-public safety (police and fire) employees. Stamper said that was not his intent and said the mayor’s message was “disingenuous, misleading and quite frankly a low blow.”

The council overrode the mayor’s veto on a 10-5 vote, with council members Johnson, Bohl, Murphy, Borkowski and Witkowski in opposition.

The proposed disparity study would not have been impacted by the mayor’s now defeated veto.

Bauman found support from his colleagues to override the mayor’s objection to the contribution of $150,000 to the Housing Infrastructure Preservation Fund and $350,000 to the Strong Home Loans Program via increased borrowing. Bauman characterized the former as an “a significant job creator,” noting that a city report found that it has created 43,000 hours of work, with 28,000 of those being completed by previously unemployed or underemployed city residents. The latter he says is an extremely popular program that helps preserve declining or stagnant city neighborhoods.

The council agreed with Bauman, supporting the preservation fund contribution with a 14-1 vote with Witkowski in opposition. The loan program veto override was supported with a 13-2 vote with Johnson and Witkowski in opposition.

Barrett’s Response

In a statement, the mayor said “I am pleased the Council adopted over 95% of the budget I submitted. That’s good for City taxpayers and for the City’s fiscal stability.” He also said “I vetoed items that were financed with increased borrowing and funds from the salary and wage accounts. These actions should serve as an alert to City taxpayers that there are members of the Common Council who would rather satisfy their own agendas by adding to the debt and disrupting the delivery of City services than addressing the long term fiscal issues the City is facing.”

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