Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Grilling, But Advancing Mayoral Appointees

Most being confirmed unanimously after long meetings.

By - Jul 2nd, 2020 10:37 am
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Common Council continues to review Mayor Tom Barrett‘s many cabinet appointments after sending the first batch back for further review after the George Floyd protest movement began.

“We know that this is about more than much-needed police reform,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs on June 16th in moving to send all of the cabinet appointments back for further review. “It is about the quality of life for black people.”

The council’s various committees have now spent several hours, often over an hour per appointee, discussing the functions of their departments and areas for improvement. All but two of the candidates have been reappointments, many serving the city for several years.

Barrett must make a number of four-year appointments to run concurrently with his term for leadership positions including commissioners and a number of directors.

Slowing the process has already resulted in one candidate pulling out, Claire Woodall-Vogg withdrew her name from consideration after being nominated to serve as the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Election Commission and quickly found another job. She sent an email to members of the Common Council the night of June 25th saying she was out, citing that she wouldn’t tolerate “the worst and most challenging year of my life” and a suggestion from an unnamed mentor to be less honest to be confirmed. West Allis city records show Mayor Dan Devine had moved to appoint her the suburb’s City Clerk on June 24th.

Neil Albrecht, the city’s current election czar, is currently staying on in the position but has plans to retire. He, like other prior appointees, can continue to serve until a new appointeee is confirmed. But he’s now without a deputy as Theresa Gabriel resigned June 12th. Woodall-Vogg was still in her role as the commission’s business system’s administer as of Monday. She appeared before the Judiciary & Legislation Committee alongside Albrecht to discuss early voting and the emergency 11:30 p.m. council meeting. Albrecht said he takes full responsibility for the emergency meeting, but council members Robert Bauman and Scott Spiker focused many of their questions towards newly-elected City Attorney Tearman Spencer.

Griselda Aldrete, the executive director of the Fire & Police Commission, was subject to a nearly four-hour hearing and is the only candidate for which a committee member cast a vote in objection.

Aside from Aldrete and Woodall-Vogg, who never actually had a second hearing, the appointment hearings have all been lengthy, though most candidates have recieved unanimous votes in support.

Sharon Robinson, longtime head of the Department of Administration, received unanimous approval Wednesday. She noted, relative to the Election Commission, that she’s previously pulled double duty in her current position and a stint reforming the Election Commission before Albrecht was given the job in 2005.

“As usual, we will do our work to make sure that the city runs through the election,” she told the Finance & Personnel Committee Wednesday morning.

Is she preparing to assume that role? “There actually hasn’t any talk of that,” said Robinson. She said she hasn’t been involved in any recent discussions to step in. “I am committed to making sure we help.”

Purchasing Director Rhonda Kelsey and Chief Information Officer David Henke, who was first appointed in February to fill the remainder of longtime CIO Nancy Olson‘s term, also received unanimous approval at the meeting after substantial discussions about their roles.

Henke said he is proud that the city’s information technology department is staffed by over 50 percent women and minorities, a rate he said is unheard of in the private sector.

Kelsey, in a lighter moment in the proceedings, appeared via video conference and was joined briefly, in a surprise appearance, by her young daughter who said “yay, mom” into the camera before darting off. It was the second hearing for Kelsey, the first of which focused on a council request to reject the Milwaukee Police Department‘s request to purchase tear gas and other supplies for the Democratic National Convention. In response to a question submitted by a community member, Kelsey said she has not advanced any police contracts for facial recognition software, but was presented with a request. Could the department have gone around her to acquire any software? “Not that I’m aware of,” she told the committee.

Lafayette Crump received unanimous backing to serve as Commissioner of the Department of City Development on Tuesday and spent two hours discussing his vision for the high-profile position, including a plan to focus on racial equity and economic growth beyond Downtown.

After Crump’s hearing the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee spent another hour questioning Erica Lewandowski about her reappointment as the city’s Commissioner of Building Inspection and head of the Department of Neighborhood Services. She’s held the role for eight months after a recent stint in the private sector and long career with the department. Lewandowski detailed the need to continually be hiring and developing staff, noting that it’s easier to hire inspectors when the construction industry has a downturn.

As part of a discussion on illegal dumping, Ald. Nik Kovac asked about the proposed tire bounty, a plan to pay a small fee for people to pick up tires around the city. Lewandowski said the alderman’s idea could be a good idea if structured correctly. Bauman, Kovac and Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II have spent over a year attempting to get the Department of Public Works to implement their vision.

It was the first hearing for both Crump and Lewandowski.

City Block Grant Director Steve Mahan also spent over an hour in a second hearing discussing the various ways the city can build capacity through grants and contracting.

All of the appointments will be reviewed by the full Common Council on July 7th.

Second appointment hearings are still pending for Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske, City Engineer Samir Amin, Milwaukee Water Works Superintendent Karen Dettmer and Department of Employee Relations Director Maria Monteagudo. A host of other candidates, including port director Adam Schlicht and legislative liaison director Kimberly Montgomery, await a first hearing.

Barrett does not appoint the police or fire chiefs. They are appointed by the Fire & Police Commission. Barrett does, however, appoint the commission members pending confirmation by the council.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Council Grilling, But Advancing Mayoral Appointees”

  1. Paul Nannis says:

    This is a horrible, unnecessary abuse of Council power…this should have been worked out before any of these folks appeared…very sad state of affairs for the Common Council….and very unfair to the appointees…some of whom are well known to Council members for years
    Just politics for some reason??? Career advancement?? A statement to a few constituents about how “strong” they are???
    Or just plain foolishness???

  2. Mingus says:

    Political theater while working on the real issues of the city are set aside.

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