Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Mayor, Council Play Musical Chairs

New appointments open door for Ald. Jim Bohl to leave his elected position for lobbyist job.

By - May 17th, 2018 01:56 pm
La Keisha Butler. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

La Keisha Butler. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

There is a complicated game of musical chairs afoot inside Milwaukee City Hall. Fire and Police Commission executive director MaryNell Regan is out. Head lobbyist La Keisha Butler is moving up. Lobbyist Kimberly Montgomery is moving up. And Alderman Jim Bohl might be moving over — out of his job to an appointed position.

Kicking the whole thing into motion was the retirement of police chief Edward A. Flynn and the firing of Regan. The chief resigned, and Regan oversaw the interim hiring of Alfonso Morales, and his hasty, botched hiring as permanent chief. As my colleague Bruce Murphy reported, Regan surprised her boss Mayor Tom Barrett in how Morales was hired, and that broke a cardinal rule. Coupled with that was a well-timed leak of a questionable investigation conducted by Flynn of a relationship between Regan and a police captain that may not have helped her cause.

Tuesday morning, the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee endorsed Barrett’s appointment of Butler on a 3-2 vote to serve as director of the Fire and Police Commission which oversees the city’s public safety departments. Butler, who formerly served as the city’s top lobbyist, has impeccable credentials, something that even those voting against her acknowledged.

Butler’s move creates a vacancy at the top of the city’s lobbying office that Barrett intends to fill with City Hall veteran Kimberly Montgomery. Her appointment is scheduled to be heard Monday morning by the council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee. Montgomery’s resume indicates she has worked for the city since at least 1996. She previously served as the mayor’s liason to the council.

Jim Bohl

Jim Bohl

The final musical chair is the most surprising.

Montgomery’s promotion would create another vacancy in the lobbying office, and it appears Ald. Jim Bohl would fill the post. Bohl, one of the most powerful members of the council, signaled his desire to stay in government, but not as an elected official, when he was revealed as a finalist for a chief of staff job in Madison city government in late 2017. Bohl ultimately didn’t get the post.

About the Madison job, he told Urban Milwaukee “I was not actively looking, but it was a unique opportunity that came my way.” He has not returned a request for comment on the potential appointment to the Barrett administration, a move first reported by the Journal Sentinel and confirmed by multiple Urban Milwaukee sources.

The alderman has represented a portion of the city’s northwest side since 2000 and didn’t even face an opponent in the last election.

Bohl would ultimately need to resign and a special election would need to be called, which sources say would happen as soon as the appointments are confirmed in special meeting of the Common Council expected to be held on May 24th. The special election, which would be held with the normal fall partisan election, would require any candidates to turn in the required signatures by June 4th, just 11 days later.

Who would run under such a quick deadline? Multiple sources indicate both County Supervisor Deanna Alexander and former state senator Nikiya Harris Dodd are considering running. The two would bring drastically different styles to City Hall, and Alexander would certainly shake up the dynamics within the council.

The Appointment of La Keisha Butler

Butler, a Vanderbilt law school graduate, has served the city as an assistant city attorney and lobbyist. “I believe I am qualified to take on what is admittedly a very difficult position in city government,” Butler told the Public Safety & Health Committee.

She laid out four key projects she intends to work on, starting with improving communication between the commission and city stakeholders. “The commission is an independent board, but it does not operate in a vacuum,” Butler told the committee. Other priorities: she intends to announce a new location for the commission’s physical office by November, fill the open positions in the 17-person office, including two investigators and a risk manager, and cultivate a better relationship with the predominantly Hispanic residents of the city’s south side.

Many of those goals are intertwined. Butler says her first hire will be for an investigator that is fluent in both English and Spanish, something that will help foster a better relationship with the city’s growing Hispanic population. Likewise, finding a home for the commission’s office outside of City Hall, a move strongly supported by Ald. Chantia Lewis, is intended to bring the independent commission closer to the community.

Ald. Jose G. Perez asked Butler what she would do in the case of conflicting opinions, something that became an issue with regard to the city’s vehicle pursuit policy. “When there are disagreements, my job is to give the commissioners the information they need,” said Butler. She went on to add, “I don’t try to hide the eight ball as it were… I have certain levels of personal integrity I’m not willing to compromise.”

In response to a question from committee chair Robert Donovan, Butler acknowledged that Barrett had offered her the job two months earlier, long before the mayor dumped Regan, and that she turned it down.

Butler took the unusual step of answering a question about why Regan was let go. “If I had to guess, it was something personnel related,” she said.

Regan, in her resignation statement, said the mayor wanted to take things in a “different direction.” Those words became a source of debate during the hearing. Butler said the mayor had never talked to her about what Donovan called a “new direction.” Ald. Mark Borkowski stated: “I find it amazing you don’t know what this ‘new direction’ is.”

Donovan and Borkowski voted against Butler’s confirmation, with Donovan stating: “I believe what’s going on here is an effort by the mayor to regain a little more control of this commission that for whatever reason he has lost. I believe he viewed MaryNell Regan as an obstacle to that effort. I have no intention whatsoever in playing any role in that advancing that agenda.”

Perez, Lewis and council president Ashanti Hamilton voted for the confirmation, with Perez noting his future support was conditioned upon a good community meeting in his district with Butler, which is scheduled for May 22nd.

If the rumored May 24th special meeting is not called, Butler’s appointment is scheduled to be heard by the full council on May 30th.

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