Ban Contractors From Carrying Guns?
Proposal causes fierce Common Council debate. Plus: Bauman slams city attorneys.
Following a social media uproar over a photo of a city contractor brandishing a gun at a job site near the intersection of N. 19th St. and W. Meinecke Ave., members of the Common Council intend to introduce legislation that would prevent city contractors from carrying weapons.
The legislation will be introduced by Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II, and is likely to be sponsored by council members Robert Bauman and Milele A. Coggs. It would place contractors in line with city employees who aren’t allowed to carry firearms on the job.
The council’s Public Works Committee spent more than 80 minutes on a far-ranging debate about the photo, which in addition to the open firearm, shows two workers with holstered firearms on their waist.
Department of Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban presented the facts on this matter to the committee. It turns out those workers pictured are not employees of Poblocki Paving, like their vests show, but are in fact concrete finishers for contract holder Hartford-based American Sewer Services. The person who took the photo is an employee of Milwaukee-based vendor Sonag Ready Mix.
The photo was first posted on the American Concrete Mixer Drivers Facebook group by Brian Oliver on November 30th with the caption “This is how you finish Concrete in milwaukee.” Oliver lists himself as a teamster driver at Sonag on his Facebook profile and a resident of Beechwood, Wisconsin, some 49 miles from downtown Milwaukee. The closed Phillis Wheatley Public School is visible in the background of the photo.
According to the commissioner, the weapon was not brandished because of a threat. Korban did say the employees involved in the matter had received disciplinary action from their employer.
Korban told the committee that American Sewer will implement a policy by Friday that bans workers from carrying firearms on city job sites. American Sewer has a number of contracts with the city and has historically met city contracting requirements, including employing unemployed or underemployed city residents, according to Korban.
Assistant City Attorney Katherine Block and Korban both don’t believe the city has the right to terminate the contract over the photo. However, in response to a question from committee member Ald. Michael Murphy, Korban noted that the matter still may be referred to the Milwaukee Police Department or District Attorney for possible charges, including carrying a firearm near a school.
But once the facts of the matter were established, the debate started twisting and turning.
Ald. Coggs, who brought the matter to the attention of Korban on Saturday, said “one point that has not been mentioned, whether it’s on social media or with our dialogue, the funny thing is 19th and Meinecke is actually a nice neighborhood.” Coggs ticked off all of the good things happening nearby including The Juice Kitchen, Fondy Market, Jake’s Deli and Walnut Way Conservation Corp. “I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s definitely not an area that I think warrants people to feel like they have to defend their life to do their work,” she said.
That drew a response from Ald. Robert Donovan, who said “It’s mind boggling to me that I would venture to say our predecessors on this council 20 years ago ever would have figured we would be discussing this.” That comment landed like a match on a fire, drawing a quick rebuke from committee chair Bauman and Ald. Nik Kovac who both noted the crime rate is substantially down in the past 20 years.
Donovan asked Korban if he is aware that city employees carry guns while on the job. Korban said he was not, but Donovan assured him that he personally knows of city employees that are.
The south side alderman then continued to stoke the fire, stating “I am simply saying, we are more and more going to have to deal with this situation because the elephant in the room is the safety issue.” Giving the example of suburban friends who think his south side neighborhood is a “war zone,” Donovan asked what to tell people who won’t even take a job in the city of Milwaukee. “Very simple, find other employment” Bauman quickly responded. Stamper jumped in, stating that there are plenty of people willing to do the work in Milwaukee.
Kovac later chided Donovan when discussing the perception of the city, stating “Those perceptions are frankly fueled by misrepresentation by ourselves.”
Stamper will be working on a resolution that would compel the city to put a no-firearms provision in every city contract.
Bauman vs the City Attorney
The Donovan back-and-forth was far from the most intense point of the lengthy debate. Attorney Block declined to offer her personal viewpoint on the matter, which forth this salvo from Bauman: “I want lawyers representing me who have passion, who believe in the cause.” He then added: “I believe the electorate is entitled to know what the elected City Attorney [Grant Langley] and their employees feel about an issue.” Block responded: “And I believe that what is important is I give you correct legal advice in any circumstance.”
The debate on Block’s personal viewpoint went round and round, getting louder and louder, until Bauman admitted he had no authority to compel her to provide her viewpoint. He ended the matter stating “whatever, fine, that’s part of the problem with the City Attorney’s office, we don’t know where they stand on issues and they advance their own agenda, their own politics, and they hide under the guise of legal advice and a lot of council members are kind of cowed by that, and that’s unfortunate because a lot of that legal advice isn’t accurate. It’s not accurate in a lot of instances because we don’t have a good record in federal court lately of winning cases, we don’t have a record in a lot of courts of winning cases. So a lot of the advice we’re getting is not particularly accurate.”
Bauman, an attorney, has increasingly found himself at odds with the City Attorney’s office. In recent months he has opposed a settlement over a downtown strip club, found a proposal for an escrow deal around the Goll Mansion shot down, and saw an inclusive housing ordinance he authored be sent back to the drawing board after the office rendered an opinion.
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