Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

FPC Fumbles Police Residency Points

Months of confused meetings fail to pass residency points for police promotions.

By - Dec 12th, 2019 06:04 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) won’t give preference to city residents for promotions to detectives, sergeant or lieutenants, even after members of the Fire & Police Commission (FPC) voted to require it.

In the wake of a series of bureaucratic missteps stretching over multiple months, the city’s independent public safety oversight body was advised by a deputy city attorney to not even debate the matter in a November meeting because of failing to provide proper public notice.

The residency preference points proposal is a response to a 2013 state law change that unilaterally stripped the city’s residency requirement, created through collective bargaining, which resulted in 45 percent of MPD employees, as of August, living outside the city.

The FPC proposal would have awarded extra points on promotional exams to city residents. Promotions are given from ranked eligibility lists ordered by results from a written exam, oral exam, career review and seniority. The last lists were established in 2015 and have been exhausted, causing MPD to have staffing issues including a shortage of over 40 detectives.

The missteps, including a failure to record detailed accounts of actions and provide adequate public notice and a delayed response from the City Attorney, come as new FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete, the commission’s secretary, has endured two public employee resignations critical of her management and fired three other employees. The 28-member department she runs had 14 vacancies as of December 5th.

Here is an account of the meetings discussing residency requirements, taken from videos of the meetings, as the Legistar file that should include minutes of the meetings is nearly bereft of any details.

September 12th

The commission first discussed the residency preference measure in detail on September 12th during a meeting of the Testing and Recruiting Committee as part of a broader debate on the exams.

MPD Assistant Chief Ray Banks was present to discuss the proposed changes to the scoring process from Chief Alfonso Morales, including requiring more years of experience in order to be promoted as a strategy to reduce lawsuits.

Everett Cocroft, a retired member of the Milwaukee Fire Department, was the first commissioner to speak on the residency measure.

Referencing a discussion from early 2019, Cocroft told Banks: “the other thing we discussed was the possibility of for every promotional exam we could [give] preference points for residency for everybody that lives in the city. That was my recommendation and it’s still my recommendation.”

“What do you think about that? Would that breed dissension? Would that be problematic?” asked Commissioner Angela McKenzie.

Banks’ response: “My personal opinion as it relates to that. I’m committed to this city, that’s why I didn’t move out when we had the opportunity to do so. The people that did decide to stay, I don’t see a problem with rewarding the people that invested in the city.” It would be the last time he spoke in favor of the proposal.

Commissioner Nelson Soler, the committee’s chair, said the commission gave prior direction to the police department to include the residency preference.

“It was not an intentional act of leaving that out,” said Banks.

Cocroft asked if there was a deadline to get the exams approved. “That has not been established yet,” said MPD human resources manager Arvis Williams.

After spending almost a half hour debating details of the exams, the committee moved to approve the proposal.

“I move that we accept the chief’s recommendations with the addition of the residency preference points,” said Cocroft. The motion, via a friendly amendment, was changed to “at least three.”

“For clarity, we need a number,” said Banks.

“So let’s clarify,” said Soler. The board settled on four and passed the measure on a 3-0 vote.

But that action doesn’t appear in the FPC minutes, just that the measure was referred to the full body.

September 19th

The commission was scheduled to vote on the proposal, but instead sent the measure back to committee.

“FPC 191335 will be held, will go back to committee to have the City Attorney opine and do some more research into how those changes would affect other issues,” said FPC chair Steven M. DeVougas in a brief statement.

McKenzie said that discussion had taken place and there was a legal basis to make that determination.

The minutes list the file as due back to the full commission on October 10th.

October 31st

The Testing and Recruiting Committee met again on October 31st to review the proposal.

Milwaukee Police Supervisors’ Organization president Carmelo Patti appeared to oppose the measure. “We obviously have members who are both for and against residency points,” said Patti. He added that his union had concerns over the policy, including that it could be gamed.

Seargent Kieran Sawyer also spoke against the change. “Many of us moved out for different reasons, it wasn’t just to get away from the city.”

He said awarded points for residency would undermine the test. “ZIP code can’t measure someone’s management or leadership capability,” said Sawyer. “Could it breed dissension among the ranks? I definitely think it could.”

Banks, speaking  for the MPD administration, now spoke against the proposal: “We’re not driving this and we certainly don’t want to tell you what to do.”

He suggested it would have a big impact on the lists, possibly sending someone from 50th in line for a promotion to 15th. “It’s going to give a very big advantage for people that live in the city,” said Banks.

The Assistant Chief also said there was nothing to stop people from being promoted and moving out of the city.

”I agree,” said Cocroft. “When I brought it up there was a caveat that they would have to remain in the city.” He said details could come from places like New York City that have similar residency incentives.

Heading off a question from MPD office of management, planning and analysis head Regina Howard, Cocroft said his intention was to have it apply to both fire and police.

“I know that the Chief doesn’t want any preference points,” said DeVougas. He asked what an acceptable number might be. “Certainly two is more palatable than five,” responded Banks.

Banks said he would bring data to demonstrate how close the lists can be.

“I thought that when we made the resolution everyone was on board,” said McKenzie. “I’m kind of shocked.”

“That was my understanding,” said Cocroft.

DeVougas started making a motion to have the department do as the commission asked, but withdrew it.

“I think there was a misunderstanding because we clearly stated and it was approved,” said Soler. “It was in our minutes that we made a recommendation to approve. This meeting will be to talk about them instead of totally disregarding them as they are in the document in front of us.”

Williams, the HR administrator for MPD, said she thought the commission had approved the Chief’s August recommendations which didn’t include residency.

“If it would have been approved it would have been on the full board,” said Soler. He said the committee voted to add the residency points.

Soler said a solution could be found before the next scheduled FPC meeting.

“I’m not opposed to having an emergency meeting to handle just that piece,” said Soler. “It’s very well documented in the minutes, last time we ignored it because we didn’t want to get into an argument basically.”

DeVougas proposed bifurcating the issue, approving Morales’ plan and later addressing residency. Banks suggested the points could be added later.

But that move failed on a two-two vote. McKenzie and Soler opposed the split, while Cocroft and DeVougas endorsed it.

The matter was ultimately held.

“I give my commitment to Ms. Williams that we will try to expedite this as soon as possible,” said Soler.

November 14th

The committee met again on November 14th. The file was one of two items on the agenda.

“What is happening with preference points, are we getting a presentation?” asked Soler as the item came up on the agenda.

But before that presentation could start, deputy city attorney Miriam Horowitz interceded to question whether adequate public notice had been given that this topic would be addressed.

“When you go to this file there is nothing at all in there that provides notice that this subject matter would come up,” said Horowitz, who worked on the city’s unsuccessful fight to block the residency requirement’s removal.

“I don’t know what the problem is with the notice,” said Soler. “We can discuss it and have it as a communication, because we have not made any proposals. We are talking about it because there are a lot of questions that have not been answered.”

“I apologize if it is unexpected to hear from me on this area,” responded Horowitz. “I have a much greater background on the residency issue then assistant city attorney [Elleny Christopoulos] has, and I see that there are some issues that should be reviewed legally before there is a consideration of the use of residency in connection with promotional exams.”

Aldrete said that she forwarded the presentation to the commission the day prior and notified them of the notice issue.

“At this point, chair, I move that we still have the discussion,” said McKenzie.

“It would be against my advice,” said Horowitz. “Inserting a whole new topic is not in the spirit of open meetings.”

“It says resolution to approve requirement changes for the Police Lieutenant, Police Sergeant and Detective Exams that embodies preference points, does it not?” asked McKenzie.

“It does not, the only thing in your file here is an August 29th letter,” said Horowitz, referencing the chief’s proposal without a residency bonus.

“I disagree, I don’t believe that it’s not related,” said McKenzie.

DeVougas asked Banks how the department would like the commission to proceed.

“We were against the preference points to begin with so we would ask that we be able to give the test and maybe give the preference points the next time around… which would give you all time to confer with everybody that needs to be conferred with,” said Banks, who in September had spoken in favor of the proposal.

Soler expressed disbelief at the whole situation and made his frustration clear.

“I still cannot get over the fact that we put this file on hold because of preference points,” said the commissioner. “We requested a document on preference points be written, Chief Banks came and talked to us about preference points, the union came and talked about preference points and we’re continuing the same discussion and now it’s illegal to talk about something we’ve been talking about for two meetings. Why didn’t we get this advice before?”

“I personally am upset with the process that you continue to do on us every time,” said Soler. “I am just going to say it and keep saying it. It’s not the first time we have got egg on our face because your office does not respond to us timely.”

“Why bring it on the last minute when you know they’re pressured so we have no choice to approve their file,” said Soler of MPD’s staffing issues. “It has nothing to do with you,” he added, pointing at Banks.

Banks had told the commission the department was now down 48 detectives and needed to move on the exams in December to address staffing issues.

DeVougas moved to approve the file, without the residency preference points for this planned two-year cycle.

But the commission wasn’t done discussing the matter.

“I still don’t understand why now?” said McKenzie.

“I don’t think it’s advisable for the commission to go into territory that has ramifications that haven’t been explored,” said Horowitz. “Ms. Christopoulos is very good, she has a lot of experience, but she does not have my basis of experience on the basis of residency.”

“So you mean for three months, for a quarter, we have been violating open records law and the city attorney never told us we were?” asked Soler.

“No, I don’t think that you were,” responded Horowitz. “To the extent that it’s happened, it doesn’t mean that it should happen again.”

The committee voted 4-0 to confirm the new promotion strategy, without residency preference.

“That aye didn’t sound very convincing,” said Soler to McKenzie after she voted.

“I wanted it noted that I said aye because I understand that the chief needs to move forward,” said McKenzie. “I am not happy, but I understand.” A paraphrased version of that statement is one of the few things that appears in Legistar, the city’s file tracking system, in its recap of these meetings.

What’s Next?

The minutes show that the proposal was sent back to the full commission for the body’s November 20th meeting, but it was not included on the agenda. Approval of bulletins announcing the positions were approved.

The November 14th minutes reference a letter from Morales dated October 31st, but that file does not appear in Legistar.

Aldrete told the council, which has limited oversight authority over the commission and its staff, that files would be made accessible via Legistar. “I cannot do it alone,” she said of the note-taking requirements. Aldrete said that only one staff member was trained in how to manage Legistar.

Aldrete did not respond to a request for comment on the topic.

What does Mayor Tom Barrett, who appointed Aldrete and actively opposed the state residency change, think about the FPC residency issue? “The Mayor wants residency to be a factor in every hiring decision,” said his office in a statement.

Barrett has been criticized by mayoral challenger Lena Taylor and members of the Common Council for the challenges facing the commission.

The Common Council approved a plan to give a three percent raise only to employees that live in the city. The policy does not apply to public safety employees who are exempt from Act 10 and subject to their own collective bargaining agreements, a number of which will be renegotiated in the next year.

The six-member FPC board has a pending nomination for a seventh commissioner, Raymond Robakowski, who could prove a tie-breaker in a pending decision on whether to renew Chief Morales’ contract.

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Related Legislation: FPC19335

Categories: City Hall, Politics

One thought on “City Hall: FPC Fumbles Police Residency Points”

  1. Paul Mozina says:

    Thanks for this story Jeramey!

    In regards to the Nov. 14th meeting of the FPC’s Testing and Recruiting Committee when the Commissioners got the rug pulled out from under them, you wrote: “Aldrete says she forwarded the presentation to the commission the day prior and notified them of the notice issue” .

    This is evidence of either corruption or incompetence. If she had a presentation talking about residency preference points and gave it to the members a day prior, and she knew about the open meetings issue a day prior, she could have also put the presentation into the file the day prior. Then the open meetings law would have been fine.

    None of the commissioners acknowledged receipt of this presentation and they were clearly caught completely by surprise when Deputy City Attorney Miriam Horwitz called this out.

    I spoke to the Fire and Police Commission about this at their November 20th regular meeting beginning around the 4:40 mark in this video:

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