Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Slaps Down Mayor’s Vetoes

Legislative body rejects all five vetoes by Mayor Tom Barrett.

By - Nov 27th, 2018 12:01 pm
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City Hall is visible in the background. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Hall is visible in the background. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Common Council has rejected five vetoes by Mayor Tom Barrett to the city’s $1.53 billion 2019 budget.

The mayor had vetoed a wide range of measures that would add to the city’s property tax levy or debt levels.

The council passed a blanket override to four of the vetoes, and an amendment to another is intended to represent a compromise between the mayor and council on the number of police officers, but gives Barrett less than a third of what he originally proposed.

Barrett’s 2019 budget proposal would have added 10 new officers to the police department through a recruiting class. The council, led by Alderman Nik Kovac, had amended the proposal on an 8-7 vote to instead add five positions to the Milwaukee Health Department and create a $425,000 health special purpose fund. The mayor had issued a partial veto, eliminating the special purpose fund in favor of six police recruits while maintaining the five new health positions.

The council failed to override the mayor’s veto on the matter, but did pass a veto-proof amendment intended as a compromise. The amendment creates a $239,625 special purpose fund for the health department and would allow for three additional officers, bringing the sworn strength to 1,864.

“Trying to add six officers to our police department isn’t going to have a material impact. This is not about policy, this is about optics,” said Kovac. Referencing the city’s looming pension liabilities, which are driven by police and fire fighters, he explained: “I guarantee that in a couple years the police officers that the mayor is creating will not be there.”

Kovac said the special purpose account would allow the health department to work on any number of pressing issues, including lead poisoning, sexually-transmitted infections and infant mortality. “There has been a lot of rhetoric from the mayor himself about how he’s hands-on managing the health department,” said Kovac. Only aldermen Robert Donovan, Mark Borkowski and Tony Zielinski voted against the amendment.

The council also overrode the mayor’s veto of a reallocation of $375,000 from the Milwaukee Police Department to the creation of four Community Oriented Policing (COP houses). “It is one small way to try to change conditions in our city in very specific neighborhoods,” said amendment sponsor Milele A. Coggs.

Referencing the police department’s nearly $300 million budget, Coggs said: “the $375,000 that we’re asking for to at least start these COP Houses for these neighborhoods that need them so much is merely a crumb.” The police department had proposed to spend the funds on a license plate recognition system. Coggs said the department could find the funds elsewhere in its budget.

Zielinski criticized the plan. “This is not a true COP House,” said the longtime COP House proponent. “We’re trying to reduce crime. We need to actually have cops in the COP Houses.” Coggs’ plan does not have officers permanently staged in the buildings. The council overrode the veto on a 10-5 vote, with Donovan, Borkowski, Michael Murphy, Terry Witkowski and Zielinski voting against the override.

Ald. Khalif Rainey‘s program to levy an additional $200,000 to create healthy food establishments was supported by 12 of his colleagues. “It’s amazing we believe that people can sustain themselves off of popcorn and chips from the corner store,” said Rainey. Council members Murphy and Witkowski voted against overriding the veto. Barrett in his veto message said support for healthy food initiatives could be found within existing programs.

The council also voted with Ald. Robert Bauman to override Barrett’s veto of an additional $1.5 million via borrowing for demolition or deconstruction of blighted properties. Bauman said the mayor used red herrings in his veto message, attacking the deconstruction ordinance when that’s not what the amendment is for. “Whoever writes these budget messages seems to be in somewhat of an alternative universe,” Bauman quipped.

Barrett’s proposal included only $1 million for borrowing, which Bauman argued under conventional demolition methods could only demolish 38 of the 56 properties that are under emergency or near emergency raze orders. The city has 495 properties under raze orders.

“You guys have to understand that I have 174 properties that have to be demolished,” said Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II about the 15th District. He said the council will fix the deconstruction ordinance. Murphy, Borkowski and Witkowski were the lone council members to vote against overriding the veto.

Without any floor debate, the council also overrode the mayor’s veto of funding for the council-controlled position of Inspector General on a 10-5 vote. Barrett had vetoed the position’s creation, and was widely expected to veto its funding. Council members Cavalier Johnson, Nikiya Dodd, Coggs, Murphy and Witkowski voted with the mayor.

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