Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Mess at Fire & Police Commission

Key city agency seems to be in very big trouble. Why?

By - Dec 17th, 2019 11:20 am
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FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete speaks before the Common Council. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete speaks before the Common Council. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

On Monday we learned that Fire & Police Commission Executive Director Griselda Aldrete offered a false description of her teaching position at Milwaukee Area Technical College on two different documents she provided when applying for the job: her resume and an additional teaching resume she provided.

That would be a minor issue except that it comes on the heels of some alarming stories showing problems at the commission, coupled with an attitude by Aldrete that seems unwilling to concede any errors were made on her watch. In fact the FPC seems to be in dreadful shape, so bad that Alderman Robert Bauman compared it to the once very sick Health Department. Among the problems plaguing the FPC: 

-14 out of 28 positions on the FPC staff are currently vacant. Since starting full time on September 10th, Aldrete has seen four employees resign and fired three others, as Urban Milwaukee reported.

-The FPC and Milwaukee Police Department have done little to implement far-reaching, court mandated reforms of stop-and-frisk practices.

-The FPC has taken no action on whether to reappoint Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales or Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing, though the contract for each expires in January

-The FPC has failed to institute a residency preference points proposal for promotion of police personnel — even after it voted to create the policy.

-Minutes of FPC meetings are incomplete or simply missing going back for some time.  

-The resignation of FPC Operations Manager Clifton Crump, a steady hand who was respected by many council members, raised concerns after he pointed the finger at Aldrete, saying he was made a scapegoat by the new management.

Many of these problems were inherited by Aldrete, who started in her position little more than three months ago, on September 10th. And she came to a department that has suffered from turnover and long periods without an executive director since Michael Tobin left in October 2014: she is the third person to serve in the job in less than a year and a half.   

But there’s little evidence things are getting better since she took over. The resignations of four staff in just three months is troubling. So is the bizarre way the FPC has handled the proposal to take city residency into account when police and fire are promoted, giving them additional points for residency. 

For anyone who cares about the city, I recommend reading my colleague Jeramey Jannene’s detailed accounting of three months of FPC meetings, which reveals a commission at sea and treading water in a strangely dysfunctional manner. It has voted to institute this new policy yet keeps encountering obstacles, with passive aggressive responses by the police department, which clearly opposed the policy and with FPC chair Steven M. DeVougas pushing to delay the proposal. Never once does Aldrete offer a clear statement advocating the proposal, which is a high priority for Mayor Tom Barrett, who appointed her to the job. 

Representatives of the fire and police departments clearly like Aldrete and rushed to her defense when the council grilled her about staff turnover in her department. Normally you might expect some tension between the FPC director and the fire and police departments she oversees. A key part of the FPC’s role is to be responsive to the community’s concerns, and balance them against the concerns of police and fire leaders. 

But there really wasn’t time for community groups to vet Aldrete before she was approved for the job, as Jannene reported. And the two aldermen who pushed the hardest to skip that process and hire Aldrete quickly were Bob Donovan and Mark Borkowski, who are closely allied with the police and fire unions.

“I think we would be very very hard-pressed to find another candidate as qualified as she is,” Borkowski declared at the meeting. And three months later, he rushed to defend Aldrete when the council questioned her about staff turnover. “Everything is getting dumped on our executive director and it’s not fair,” Borkowski complained. 

Yet the issue is not so clear-cut as that might suggest. For Borkowski and Donovan, in pushing for Aldrete’s quick approval, were allying themselves with Barrett (which almost never happens). And Donovan has in recent weeks begun to move away from Aldrete, with his latest press release noting her false claim on resumes that she taught criminal justice classes at MATC is “important because those classes were some of the only real-world experience Ms. Aldrete could claim” for “the position to which she was nominated.”

Bauman, who voted against Aldrete’s nomination for the job, is convinced she’s incompetent. “She fundamentally doesn’t know what she is doing,” he says. That’s pretty harsh, but it’s fair to say her first three months on a job that is tough and demanding have been rocky at best. 

Aldrete also seems too close to the police department to oversee the sweeping court-ordered reforms that police are likely to oppose. 

But perhaps most disturbing about Aldrete is her unwillingness to concede any errors. The resignations on her watch seemed to be no problem in her eyes. “I see it as an opportunity to build a department,” she said of the vacant positions. 

And in response to veteran reporter Gretchen Schuldt’s question, whether the errors on her resume might undermine her credibility, Aldrete offered this response: “Absolutely not,” she wrote. “What is hurting this Commission and the credibility of this office, and the many dedicated civil servants working here day-in and day-out, is the many attempts to unnecessarily discredit me, the FPC, or our employees.”

That has the sound of someone circling the wagons, to fire on any naysayers, even when they are armed with hard evidence of a problem. Just three months into her tenure, that sort of attitude is very worrisome, and suggests an unwillingness to learn and grow on the job. 

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One thought on “Murphy’s Law: The Mess at Fire & Police Commission”

  1. lccfccoop2 says:

    I don’t agree that serious falsification if a resume is ever “a minor issue”. It goes to honesty and integrity. Atty. Aldrets’s falsifications were serious and cannot be explained as a minor slip in recollection.

    Equally disturbing is the City’s failure to check the alleged work history on the resume. Is there anyone competent in this process?

    Atty. Aldrete needs to be fired and be replaced by someone with serious criminal justice experience who is not tethered to the police union or its most strident opponents.

    There has to be an honest and fair minded person out there who could serve.

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