Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Confirms Avalos, Adds Tie-Breaking Vote to Fire & Police Commission

But a potential issue awaits with looming rejection of Ann Wilson's reappointment.

By - Jan 19th, 2021 11:39 am
Amanda Avalos. Photo provided.

Amanda Avalos. Photo provided.

The Common Council approved Amanda Avalosappointment to the Fire & Police Commission (FPC) Tuesday, adding a tie-breaking vote to the commission to help solve its contentious search for a new police chief. But that’s not likely to quickly solve the commission’s issues.

After deadlocking multiple times, last week FPC Chair Nelson Soler said the commission would not vote again until receiving written legal advice from the City Attorney’s office regarding the court-ordered reinstatement of demoted Chief Alfonso Morales.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer announced Friday he had issued a confidential opinion to the FPC, then blasted what he said is a “culture of political finger-pointing, shifting blame, and promulgating unfounded, politically-charged statements” within the city. A court filing from Spencer previously said that Morales was denied his due process rights.

With Avalos aboard and an opinion in hand, the FPC could still find itself back where it started. The council is considering rejecting the reappointment of Commissioner Ann Wilson.

The council, awaiting an Inspector General’s report on what advice the City Attorney may have rendered prior to the August demotion of the chief, held a vote on Wilson’s reappointment Tuesday.

After spending over an hour in closed session two weeks ago, the Public Safety & Health Committee is recommending the council reject Mayor Tom Barrett‘s reappointment of Wilson.

But Wilson, 73, can continue serving even if the council votes to reject her reappointment. Wilson has already served with an expired term since 2018, including living in Glendale for part of the time, and can continue to serve until replaced by a new mayoral nominee or choosing to resign.

The central issue in her reappointment is the Morales lawsuit.

Wilson, in public session before the committee, said the commission received advice from the City Attorney before demoting Morales. In closed session, the City Attorney is saying otherwise. The city, either way, stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of Morales’ lawsuit.

“In that closed session there was a lot of he said, she said,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. “I truly want to see what the Inspector General’s report says.” The report, requested by Council President Cavalier Johnson, would cover the broader issue and not just Wilson.

“In my eyes, someone is not being honest,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski.

Ald. Robert Bauman was the lone council member to vote against holding off on a decision on Wilson. He said reviewing the report in committee amounted to retracing steps.

Will Barrett ask Wilson to resign if her reappointment is rejected? On Friday he told Urban Milwaukee his office was focused on getting her reappointed and hadn’t discussed resignation.

City Clerk Jim Owczarski said there is no formal City Attorney’s opinion on how long someone can serve with an expired term, but past City Attorney Grant Langley had raised the issue that someone may not be able to do so indefinitely.

Amidst the tie votes on a new chief, Jeffrey Norman is now serving as acting chief. Norman was the lone internal finalist for chief, but eliminated when the field was narrowed to three. Multiple council members have called for his time as chief to serve as an on-the-job audition and for the FPC search to be paused.

About Amanda Avalos

A native of Chicago and first-generation Mexican-American, Avalos said she was exposed to the Fire & Police Commission after graduating from Marquette University and starting a job at Public Allies. She said she developed a habit of attending the commission meetings and ultimately applied to be a commissioner.

Avalos, 30, now serves as senior civic engagement director for Leaders Igniting Transformation.

LIT seeks to organize young people of color to build political power for social, racial and economic justice. The organization was a leading proponent of an unsuccessful bid to get the Common Council to cut and reallocate 25% (approximately $75 million) from the Milwaukee Police Department budget. It was successful in getting Milwaukee Public Schools to end a contract with the police department.

Avalos has not publicly said which candidate she is backing. In multiple votes, the commission has deadlocked in selecting either FBI supervisory special agent Hoyt Mahaley or Dallas police major Malik Aziz. Wilson is backing Mahaley.

All commissioners are appointed to five-year terms on the police and fire oversight board. The commission is responsible for hiring, firing, discipline and policies for the police and fire departments.

The council voted 11-4 to confirm Avalos. Council members Bauman, Borkowski, Michael Murphy and Scott Spiker voted against her confirmation without any debate.

Avalos was on track to be confirmed in December, before Wilson’s reappointment was rejected, but the wrong background check was ordered. The proper background check, as required by ordinance. was completed by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office on January 7th.

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