Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

FPC Members, City Attorney Blew Off Inspector General Interview Requests

Fallout and confusion from the Morales fiasco gets worse.

By - Feb 15th, 2021 04:27 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It seemed simple. The Common Council scheduled a single-item committee meeting for today to discuss an Inspector General’s report on a disagreement between the City Attorney and board of the Fire & Police Commission regarding the August demotion of then-Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the timing of related legal advice.

But the council and independently-elected City Attorney couldn’t agree on whether to conduct the hearing in private, for fear of it being used in legal action against the city.

Morales has already sued the city and won a judgment to be reinstated. City Attorney Tearman Spencer‘s filing in the case said that Morales was denied his due process rights by the commission.

Council President Cavalier Johnson said he expected to hear Inspector General Ronda Kohlheim‘s report in public and that he hadn’t received a response from Spencer on whether that was appropriate.

“This should be discussed in closed session,” said Spencer. The attorney in turn criticized Johnson’s office for what he said was publishing the report before consulting him. Spencer was critical of Johnson’s office in a letter obtained by Urban Milwaukee on Friday.

Kohlheim’s report, covered last week by Urban Milwaukee, said the City Attorney provided advice to the commission on the proper procedure to demote Morales. The commission did not follow that advice, but at least one commissioner has publicly said the City Attorney’s Office approved of what they did. Kohlheim concludes that isn’t the case.

But should the city be discussing the report publicly given the possibility of a settlement with Morales?

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs moved for the body to go into closed session to protect itself against future litigation.

Alderman Robert Bauman dissented. “I am not sure where the litigation angle comes in here,” he said. The alderman, who like Coggs was also trained as an attorney, said he wanted more advice as to whether the discussion should be in closed session, but wasn’t sure he could get it from the City Attorney. He noted that the report was already public.

Spencer said anything involving a legal strategy should be in closed session, a much more narrow assertion than his original statement.

“I think we want to be as transparent to the public as possible,” said Alderman Michael Murphy. He pushed for the part of the discussion not involving legal questions to be public.

Coggs said she knew she had legal questions that involved strategy. “It doesn’t take a sighted man to see this is going to get into legal territory,” said Coggs.

But Johnson said he would ask Kohlheim to deliver her report in public, then the committee would go into closed session to discuss it.

And while Kohlheim largely recited the report, she also added more detail both on her own and in response to questions from Murphy.

Her report notes she attempted to interview eight individuals, but only two agreed. The names are redacted in the report.

She said that was sufficient in the report, and on Monday she explained why: the city’s IT department gave her access to the emails involving the seven commissioners.

“Some parties that I spoke with indicated that they had not received documentation,” said Kohlheim. “Being able to pull those [documents] it showed otherwise.” She said emails showed the receipt of legal opinions from the City Attorney’s Office.

She also praised new commission Executive Director Leon W. Todd, III and indirectly outted him as one of the people interviewed. In separate answers, she said only one active city employee was interviewed and that Todd directly answered her questions.

“He was very helpful in trying to retrieve documentation that was not otherwise easily accessible,” said Kohlheim.

Todd started in January, replacing former executive director Griselda Aldrete who Kohlheim was critical of in both the report and a prior FPC audit. The full-time FPC director leads the commission staff on behalf of the part-time commissioners.

Kohlheim said none of the commissioners responded to her interview requests. At the time of her report’s initiation, there were only six, with Raymond Robakowski having resigned.

Who also wasn’t helpful? The City Attorney.

“I reached out to the City Attorney’s Office on more than one occasion and didn’t get a response,” said the inspector. Murphy asked if that meant Spencer directly as well. Yes, said Kohlheim.

The Inspector General said she didn’t need to use her subpoena powers because the electronic records were conclusive.

But there is one thing she brought up and declined to discuss further in open session. Spencer reportedly told the commission “to do what needs to be done,” according to someone Kohlheim interviewed.

But Spencer told Urban Milwaukee in an interview Friday that this comment was something he would say to a client and that it means to follow his advice.

The committee went into closed session shortly after 2 p.m. and came out shortly at 3:38 p.m. Coggs spoke briefly, saying she hoped Kohlheim’s recommendations would be implemented and the meeting was adjourned.

A supermajority of the Common Council was present for the start of the meeting. As were Todd, Spencer and commissioners Nelson Soler, Everett Cocroft and Amanda Avalos. The latter is a bystander in the matter, having been appointed to replace Robakowski.

Whether the commissioners spoke, or even stuck around for the closed session, is unknown. Because the meeting was held virtually, the public is unable to get a full accounting of who participated. In a pre-COVID-19 era, the participants would have to enter the committee room at City Hall.

Morales, who retired after being demoted, is reportedly working on a settlement with the city. The City Attorney’s Office is retaining Cade Law Group as outside counsel to support its efforts. Spencer declined to discuss a prospective settlement or Cade’s role on Friday.

You can read Kohlheim’s report in its entirety on Urban Milwaukee.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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