Common Council Threatens City Shakeup
Votes to hold every Barrett cabinet appointment, wants systemic change in all city operations.
The Common Council wants to see more than just police reform resulting from the international protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“Right now is the time, we have the moment,” said Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II on Tuesday morning. “It’s not just about police reform. Let’s take this opportunity to reform the entire system.”
The body voted unanimously to hold all seven of Mayor Tom Barrett‘s cabinet-level appointees.
“I think many of us support many of the appointees and their past work,” said Ald. Ashanti Hamilton. “This is not about them individually.”
“We know that this is about more than much-needed police reform,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. “It is about the quality of life for black people.”
The appointees, six of which are re-appointments, will be sent back to the committee level for an additional hearing where they can discuss strategies for change.
“It will be interesting to see how each department sees their role in this incredibly important moment we are living in right now,” said Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic.
“I would like commitments for how we’re going to work together to remove the status quo,” said Stamper.
“This is a moment in time we should take advantage of,” said Hamilton.
Changes could cost money and Stamper wants the department heads to know reallocated money from the police department could be available. He said he is open to a bigger than 10 percent cut (approximately $30 million) from the Milwaukee Police Department. “Just a heads up,” he said.
The delay directly impacts Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske, City Engineer Samir Amin, Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Karen Dettmer, Department of Employee Relations Director Maria Monteagudo, Block Grant Director Steve Mahan, City Purchasing Director Rhonda Kelsey and newly-appointed Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg. Other pending appointments, including newly-appointed Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump, will need to go through the measure.
But despite the eventual unanimous support for the move, the council spent well over an hour discussing the measure. The Milwaukee Election Commission was the greatest source of debate.
According to City Clerk Jim Owczarski, the mayor satisfied his requirement to appoint people within 90 days and the council is required to act within 45 days. There is not a clear process for what happens if the council does not act, said the clerk. People being reappointed can continue to serve in their existing capacity, while newly-appointed individuals can not serve in an acting role. “It appears we have considerable leverage here, because at minimum there is a gray area,” said Ald. Robert Bauman.
At the election commission, long-time director Neil Albrecht, who plans to retire, is still in the role. Deputy director Theresa Gabriel, who drew praise from Ald. Mark Borkowski and others for her work, was also believed to be still serving.
But a text message from Woodall-Vogg to Owczarski revealed that Gabriel resigned as of Friday. If Albrecht were to retire early there would not be an official with capacity to execute a number of functions, despite Woodall-Vogg currently working for the commission in a lower role.
“To me it sounds like she was forced to resign because she wasn’t picked for the position,” said Ald. Nikiya Dodd.
The primary issue is an 11:30 p.m. emergency meeting that had to be called Thursday night to avoid missing a deadline in state law to declare early voting sites.
Bauman said the council was originally given guidance on Monday that there was no hard deadline, then had to rush after 9 p.m. to schedule a special meeting to meet the deadline.
“That is no way to run a railroad and I do think we need an explanation as to how that happened,” said Bauman, with a Wisconsin Central railroad coffee mug resting in front of him.
Ald. Chantia Lewis said she has concerns as well. “The explanation I received was effectively blaming it on the City Attorney,” she said. Lewis said she also has concerns with how poll workers are being treated.
“We could come out of today with no election commissioner candidate,” said Coggs, noting she was currently a no vote and that an up-or-down vote on Woodall-Vogg’s appointment could end in her rejection before she had an additional hearing.
“We will not be strong armed,” said Bauman.
The council voted unanimously to hold all seven appointments. Each appointee will be required to appear before the appropriate committee over the next three-week council meeting cycle.
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