Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council to Review Fire & Police Commission

Sudden review comes after FPC cancels meeting and troubles at commission reported.

By - Dec 4th, 2019 10:21 am
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It’s been quite the week for the Fire & Police Commission, Milwaukee’s independent oversight body for its public safety departments.

Monday morning veteran investigator Cheryl Patane announced her resignation with a public letter to city officials and the nine commissioners. By the end of the day at least one commissioner, Nelson Soler, had weighed in publicly by replying to everyone Patane had emailed and stating he was “deeply concerned” with the future of the commission’s oversight role.

Tuesday provided another wave of twists and turns. Without explanation, a notice was sent that the commission’s regularly scheduled public meeting planned for Thursday evening had been canceled. Shortly thereafter the Common Council’s powerful Steering & Rules Committee, led by council president Ashanti Hamilton, had a new agenda item: “Communication from the Fire and Police Commission relating to an update on recent restructuring and policy changes.”

Patane said Executive Director Griselda Aldrete, who has led the department since August, has demonstrated a “frightening ignorance” of how the commission functions. “This workplace changed from a collaborative, knowledgeable and seasoned team of public servants to a hostile, toxic, and retaliatory place guided by inexperience, ignorance and indifference,” wrote Patane in a four-page letter. Patane’s resignation was the second such public one following operations manager Clifton Crump in early September. Patane said eight of the commission’s 13 employees have taken medical leave, resigned or been terminated since Aldrete was appointed by Mayor Tom Barrett and confirmed by the council.

In his email Soler praised Patane as an “asset” and “great resource.” Soler, vice chairman of the commission, is the president and founder of the Latino Chamber of Commerce and head of the Multicultural Entrepreneurial Institute. “I am saddened to hear this and deeply concerned with the future of FPC oversight function. Too many perturbing changes to just include in an email,” wrote Soler in response to Patane. Soler did not respond to a call for comment by the time of publication.

The problems at the FPC were reported by Urban Milwaukee in our Monday story, “Trouble at Fire & Police Commission”. The next day the commission canceled its meeting without public explanation, and the Common Council amended its Steering & Rules Committee agenda to include the communication file from the commission. The file was moved from where it was scheduled, the Thursday morning meeting of the Public Safety & Health Committee, to the afternoon Steering & Rules Meeting. The steering committee is made up of all the chairs of the council’s standing committees. But neither the public, nor the press, will get to hear much, if anything, about what they discuss. The committee is publicly noticed to enter into closed session. The standard language is offered “for the purpose of conferring with the City Attorney who will render oral or written advice with respect to litigation in which the city is or is likely to become involved and then will go into open session for the regular agenda.”

Is someone about to sue the city regarding the commission? Patane’s letter does allege that Aldrete is “taking a hands-off approach to her statutory obligations.” She also wrote that the “management team” is failing to implement the requirements of the settlement with the complicated American Civil Liberties Union settlement.

Aldrete did not respond to a request for comment.

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