Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee DNC Leaders Fired by Board

Liz Gilbert and Adam Alonso terminated as part of investigation into toxic work environment.

By - Feb 4th, 2020 11:40 pm
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Adam Alonso (LinkedIn) and Liz Gilbert (City of Milwaukee - Channel 25)

Adam Alonso (LinkedIn) and Liz Gilbert (City of Milwaukee – Channel 25)

The top two employees of Milwaukee’s Democratic National Convention host committee were fired Tuesday as part of an investigation into a toxic work environment at the organization.

The board terminated president Liz Gilbert and chief of staff Adam Alonso less than 48 hours after opening an investigation into a “toxic” and “unstable” work environment.

“Adam Alonso has consistently bullied and intimidated staff members, but of note is that this is primarily directed at the women on staff. Resulting in a culture that coddles male senior advisors and consultants who have no clear role or clear lines of management,” wrote an anonymous group of “senior women from the host committee” to the committee’s five-member board. The letter, dated Thursday, January 30th, said the concerns were brought to Gilbert’s attention in November, but she defended Alfonso and dismissed the issue.

A board-initiated, third-party investigation is ongoing, but the board terminated both employees Tuesday evening. It had previously placed Alonso on paid leave and told Gilbert to avoid contact with staff and stay out of the office.

“Every employee has a right to feel respected in their workplace. Based on the information we have learned to date, we believe the work environment did not meet the ideals and expectations of the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee Board of Directors,” said the board in a statement.

The non-partisan host committee’s primary task is raising $70 million to host the convention, but the organization is also recruiting 15,000 volunteers and directing a number of contracting and community engagement efforts. The convention itself will be led by a separate entity affiliated with the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Gilbert drew praise from Mayor Tom Barrett as recently as Thursday morning during a press conference announcing a volunteer portal. “Liz Gilbert works 28 hours a day,” said Barrett as Journal Sentinel watchdog columnist Daniel Bice, an unusual attendee at such an event, looked on. Bice would break the news of the toxic environment on Monday evening, noting that multiple employees have already left the organization because of the problems.

Barrett held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to address the investigation, telling the press he expected “quick resolution” and wasn’t prejudging the investigation. “My position is regardless of where people work, whether it be City Hall, a corporation, or a national convention, there should be a safe and healthy work environment,” said Barrett.

Barrett, noting he didn’t have any knowledge of the concerns before receiving written notice, said he didn’t receive the letter containing the allegations until the close of business on Friday. He then took the unusual step of forwarding the letter to Gilbert to share with her four colleagues on the board.

Veteran political operative Teresa Vilmain was selected to lead day-to-day operations during the investigation and will continue to do so during the transition.

“The work of the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee is critically important – but that work cannot be accomplished unless members of the staff can work collaboratively,” said the board in its statement. “The board is committed to an inclusive and supportive environment at the Host Committee, and will work to ensure that all employees live up to these ideals. For that reason the board will continue our impartial, third-party investigation and will take additional steps as needed to ensure the Host Committee’s office culture reflects respect and dignity for each and every employee.”

The DNC host committee board includes Gilbert, Godfrey & Kahn attorney Rebeca M. López, Arenberg Holdings founder John W. Miller, Dohmen Company general counsel Michael O’Neil and UW-Milwaukee vice chancellor of global inclusion and engagement Joan Prince. Barrett and U.S. Representative Gwen Moore chair the effort. Gilbert’s name was not included on Tuesday’s release.

Both Gilbert and Alonso are veterans of the New Jersey Democratic Party and were still getting paid as consultants while also working in Milwaukee. But Alonso lost his $15,000-per-month Garden State gig after the DNC news broke Monday evening. Gilbert’s work was reportedly finished by December, having been paid $5,000 over the last quarter of 2019.

Gilbert, a Florida native, was named president in May 2019. She graduated from UW-Madison and was an intern with the state Democratic Party. She was most recently executive director of New Jersey’s Democratic Party.

Alonso served as deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy until May 2018 and works as a strategist through his firm, The Cratos Group.

The convention will be held from July 13th through 16th.

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More about the Road to the DNC

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