Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Overrides Mayoral Veto, Wants Power To Fire Police Chief

Council wants Legislature to give it firing power. Mayor's veto of this fails.

By - Jan 19th, 2021 03:10 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Many members of the Common Council undoubtedly had a sense of deja vu Tuesday morning.

Last month they passed, for the second time, a lobbying request to have state law changed to grant them the authority to fire the police and fire chiefs, and Mayor Tom Barrett, once again, vetoed the requests. Completing the repeat cycle of what happened back in 2017, the council overrode the mayoral vetoes Tuesday.

Whether the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature grants the council its wish remains to be seen. Some council members object to the request, saying the city needs to be careful of asking the Legislature to tinker with city government.

The current structure gives the authority of the hiring and firing to the appointed, part-time members of the Fire & Police Commission.

In 2017, faced with an unresponsive police chief in Edward A. Flynn, the council passed this lobbying request for the first time, and Barrett’s veto was overridden on a 10-5 vote.

“Two thirds of us said we wanted the power to fire him and he was gone, I think, the next month,” said Alderman Nik Kovac when the new request was discussed in December. The council approved the request in November 2017 and Flynn retired in February 2018.

On Tuesday, the council again overrode the veto, this time on an 11-4 vote. Council members JoCasta Zamarripa, Scott Spiker, Marina Dimitrijevic and Cavalier Johnson voted to support Barrett’s veto.

Dimitrijevic explained her opposition in December, noting as a county supervisor she lost a substantial amount of authority at the hands of the Legislature. “No thank you, we don’t want the state in our business, no,” said the alderwoman. “I don’t need the state meddling in any more Milwaukee business.” Kovac, too, was concerned about this.

The council would like the chiefs to be treated like other cabinet members: the mayor appoints them, the council confirms them. “They know we have the ultimate power,” said Bauman in December. “The Fire & Police Commission and the chiefs know we have no power.” He said the general public doesn’t understand this and blames the council for the faults of the commission or chiefs.

Barrett and the council do agree on one thing — they want the mayor to have the authority to hire the chiefs. In December the council passed that request with a separate vote. Barrett didn’t veto that legislation.

The mayor scored a win Tuesday when the council fell a vote short of overriding another veto by him.  The council is seeking to reverse a 1988 change to state law that gave newly-elected John Norquist the power to appoint the Fire & Police Commission’s full-time executive director. The council approved a lobbying request requesting that the Legislature strip this power from the mayor and return to the old, pre-1988 law, under which the FPC commissioners would hire their own director.

The council voted 9-6 to override the veto, but needed 10 votes to successfully pass the measure. Voting with the mayor were council members Milele A. Coggs, Khalif Rainey, Zamarripa, Michael Murphy, Dimitrijevic and Russell W. Stamper, II.

The council, in December, originally passed the request on a 10-4 vote. The no votes then were Coggs, Chantia Lewis, Murphy and Dimitrijevic. Zamarripa, then a sitting member of the Assembly, abstained.

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