Fire & Police Commission Director Wins Committee Support For Reappointment
Griselda Aldrete gets committee support, but needs to pick up five votes from the full council to keep her job.
The executive director of Milwaukee’s powerful public safety oversight body, the Fire & Police Commission, received narrow support Thursday from a Common Council committee after an over three-hour hearing.
Aldrete has clashed with the council on multiple occasions over her almost 11-month tenure and sought to reshape the department she inherited. The commission is responsible for oversight of the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Fire Department including hiring, discipline, policies and citizen complaints.
Aldrete received testimony in support from one of the seven commissioners she represents, criticism from another and support from a former commission. A current subordinate of Aldrete submitted a letter objecting to her reappointment, as did FPC watchdog Paul Mozina.
“In the short time I’ve been a commissioner I’ve learned a great deal,” said retired police officer Raymond Robakowski who became a commissioner in November 2019. “I’m in total support of her.”
Retired firefighter and 2018 appointee Everett Cocroft said the situation where Robakowski was sworn in and later that day provided the second vote needed to call a special meeting to appoint Police Chief Alfonso Morales to a full four-year term was “shady.” Cocroft said he had to wait to go through open meetings training before being allowed to take action.
Aldrete said she received guidance from the City Clerk that Robakowski had full powers once sworn in and had 13 months to complete any training.
Corcroft had a list of other issues.
“Since she’s been there we have been cut off from the staff totally,” he said. “We can’t even go into the office.” Multiple commissioners have expressed frustration with a policy where they needed to be escorted through the office. “Don’t call me honorable commissioner and treat me dishonorably.”
He also expressed frustration with a failure by Aldrete to record a committee vote to add residency preference points to an evaluation rubric, a decision which Mozina said was born out of “incompetence.”
“Then when it’s not noticed property we have to wait and reschedule and reschedule and it just takes forever,” said Cocroft. “She serves the board, the board doesn’t serve her… she does whatever she wants.”
Former commissioner and current State Representative Marisabel Cabrera said continuity is important. “I served on the FPC for six years and in those six years we had four different directors,” she said. Cabrera, whose mayoral reappointment became a political issue, said much goes on behind the scenes. “The Mayor is always putting his thumb on the scale.”
Cabrera said if the city wants to see reforms it needs to stay the course.
Staffing services manager Arvis Williams was hired away from a human resources job at the police department by Aldrete in March. But now she doesn’t want to see her boss stay.
“I joined the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) Team on March 9, 2020. During my short time with the Fire and Police Commission I have been subjected to an extremely difficult work environment. An environment that I would define as being a toxic/hostile work environment, an environment where I am demoralized professionally, hindered from effectively performing the essential functions of my job, and being stripped from my decision-making ability as the Staffing Services Manager over the Testing and Recruiting Unit,” wrote Williams in a two-page letter asking for the appointment to be held until her staffing complaint filed with the city can be resolved.
“My greatest concern is the internal staffing issues within your department,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. Other council members expressed similar concerns.
“With any new leadership comes change. Change is hard,” said Aldrete. “There are some things from my vantage point that needed to change.”
Coggs pointed out that multiple former employees, some that resigned, others that were terminated have come forward.
“I am demanding ethics. I am demanding accountability,” said Aldrete, noting that she can’t discuss individual personnel matters in a public meeting. “I take full accountability for all of my decisions.”
“The consistent message I keep hearing is toxicity,” said Ald. Chantia Lewis. “This is not a personal attack. I don’t know if it’s your personality or not.”
The Executive Director addressed an issue with her resume. A resume submitted in 2019 misstated both when she taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College and what courses she taught. “I know that there have been questions and allegations of me puffing my resume,” said Aldrete. “I made a mistake in my resume of dates.” The original resume said she taught a criminal justice course from 2009-2012, the one submitted for her reappointment says she taught “Computer Basics, Career Exploration and Basic Communication” from 2004-2005. Aldrete did teach introduction to criminal justice courses at Marquette University, Concordia University and Bryant & Stratton College.
Aldrete has a lot on her plate, with or without staffing issues. The commission must administer the police department’s compliance with a complex settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.
She said the department is currently reviewing 101 total complaints, eight of which relate to the “6th and McKinley incident.” It’s also working through 25 open records requests and 13 active disciplinary issues.
“It has not been an easy one,” said Aldrete of the journey.
Aldrete was supported by Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing. “We have trust again in not only the executive director, but her staff,” he said. No active members of the police department spoke.
She also found support from her long-time backer Ald. Mark Borkowski. “I have been a huge supporter of Ms. Aldrete from the get-go and nothing has changed,” he said. Borkowski said everyone has room for improvement.
The five-member committee ultimately voted three-to-two to recommend her reappointment to the full council. Borkowski, Dimitrijevic and Spiker voted in favor while Khalif Rainey and Lewis dissented.
“I have done a lot of research. I’ve had just two months on the job,” said Dimitrijevic. “There is certainly room for improvement. There is a lot of room for conversation from now until the council meeting.”
The committee represents only a third of the council and includes her biggest advocate in Borkowski. When the appointment goes before the full council on July 7th she’ll need to pick up five additional votes to keep her job.
Based on comments Thursday she has at least one vote coming from Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd. “It definitely takes time to learn the political language and how this world works. You’ve done a significant job of doing the work and putting in the long hours,” she said.
Two issues came up that Aldrete addressed, but many council members acknowledged weren’t directly at issue with her reappointment, the investigation into a video leak while Morales was up for reappointment and a disciplinary investigation into officer Michael Mattioli.
Aldrete said an investigation into a leak of a sexual assault investigation interview video from within the Milwaukee Police Department was concluded on Monday. “We will be looking to publicly discuss this investigation and the findings in an upcoming week or two,” she said.
“The Chief intentionally used the leak of that video to attempt to compromise his civilian oversight,” said Ald. Nik Kovac of Morales’ public criticism of commission chair Steven DeVougas.
She said she also hopes an investigation into Mattioli, who faces homicide charges for choking Joel Acevedo, is resolved by July. “Part of the hold up is legal issues, part of it is understanding legal complexities,” she said. “Part of the hold up has been officer Mattioli [not] wanting to comply with certain interview requirements.”
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