Aldrete Will Lead Police-Fire Commission
Attorney, third FPC leader in three years, brings diverse background to challenging job.
The Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission has a new executive director for the third time in as many years.
Mayor Tom Barrett‘s appointment of attorney Griselda Aldrete to lead the public safety oversight board was confirmed by the Common Council on Tuesday morning. She’ll replace La Keisha Butler who took the job in May 2018, but has spent recent months on maternity leave before ultimately leaving the job to follow her husband to Huntsville, AL where he now works as a minister.
Aldrete, 38, has led the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee since 2012. She earned a law degree from Marquette University in 2017 and before that, a master’s in criminal justice from the University of Nebraska – Omaha and a dual major bachelor’s degree in criminology and law studies and Spanish from Marquette. According to her resume, she previously worked at the Cream City Foundation and United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS).
“My passion in life centers around three basic tenets: advancing education, supporting equality, and embracing diversity. I was born in Milwaukee, raised in Mexico to a Mexican father and an El Salvadoran mother, and returned to this country at a young age,” said Aldrete to the Public Safety & Health Committee in a four-page prepared statement on Monday. “The common thread in my career is giving voice to people who have felt unheard, misunderstood, or oppressed.”
The nomination drew praise from Barrett allies and critics alike, including council members Mark Borkowski and Robert Donovan. “I think we would be very very hard-pressed to find another candidate as qualified as she is,” said Borkowski.
Said Donovan: “I think it’s fair to say that over the years I have been critical of the mayor, and I don’t believe it’s warranted in this case.”
The full-time executive director and 20-member FPC staff works with the part-time commissioners to craft Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Fire Department policies as well as oversee operations. The independent body is often cited as one of the most powerful such commissions in the country. Attorney Steven DeVougas was recently chosen by his fellow commissioners to serve as chairman.
But concerns were raised over the timing of the nomination. “We are being asked by the community, by these organizations, to slow down this process. ‘Give us an opportunity and let us get feedback’,” said Alderman Robert Bauman. “We owe it to them to give them a full and fair opportunity.” Aldrete was first nominated for the post on Friday, July 5th and has taken part in two town hall meetings.
“I have no issue with the candidate other than timing,” said Bauman. “I don’t see any harm in delaying this for a relatively short period of time.” Immigration rights group Voces de la Frontera and others have asked for more time to meet with Aldrete.
Bauman said the fact that city officials have known Butler was leaving for months and the appointment came only three weeks ago was no reason to rush. “I am sure there is a backup of work because this process should have started four months ago when we originally learned there was a vacancy,” said the alderman. Borkowski said further delay would make it difficult for Aldrete to have an influence on the mayor’s budget proposal, due in late September.
After an initial statement from council president Ashanti Hamilton that Barrett had not met the 90-day timeline, it was clarified that Barrett was not in breach. What would happen if the council delayed, asked Ald. Cavalier Johnson?
“There is still no clarification of the repercussions,” said Hamilton. “One violation does not negate the obligation of the other body to follow through on state statute.”
The council, currently down a member after the resignation of Terry Witkowski, failed to support Bauman’s move to hold the matter through its August recess until September 4th.
Bauman was joined in voting for the hold by council members Milele A. Coggs, Khalif Rainey, Tony Zielinski and Russell W. Stamper, II. “My vote is simply a statement of supporting transparency and inclusivity,” said Coggs who praised Aldrete’s qualifications. Chantia Lewis and Nikiya Dodd abstained from voting. The move to hold failed on a 5-7-2 vote.
Following the failure to hold, Aldrete was then up for confirmation, having been recommended by the Public Safety & Health Committee. The council confirmed her appointment on a 10-1-3 vote, with Bauman voting no and Coggs, Rainey and Lewis voting to abstain.
Aldrete’s resume and voting records list a West Milwaukee residence, but the mayor’s office confirmed that she is expected to move to Milwaukee as part of the appointment. Aldrete told Urban Milwaukee she would move to the city within six months.
The new director, who follows MaryNell Regan and Butler, will have her hands full once she’s sworn in. The commission is charged with overseeing the implementation of a complicated settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union regarding discriminatory practices by the police, refreshing the three-year-old hiring and promotional lists for police lieutenants and other positions and rebuilding community trust and transparency in the police department.
She’ll also need to work with Barrett and the council to find new commissioners. The council has rejected two of the last three mayoral appointments to the commission.
The position is budgeted to pay $140,000 in 2019. Commissioners earn $6,600 annually.
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