Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

New Ordinance Could Remove Elected Officials

For undefined 'inefficiency' or 'neglect of duty.' Alders slam the proposal.

By - Jun 28th, 2021 05:03 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

“We agreed this past spring that we should be held accountable, like our city worker colleagues, to the city’s harassment policy,” said Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa at a Monday afternoon meeting of the Common Council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee.

Turns out that’s simple in theory, complicated in reality.

A proposal, sponsored by Zamarripa and Alderman Michael Murphy, would allow elected and appointed officials to be removed from office by a simple majority vote of council members for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct or malfeasance.” Officials currently can only be removed for malfeasance.

“What’s the motivation for this?” asked Alderman Robert Bauman. “I see tremendous potential for shenanigans in future councils.”

The harassment issue was triggered by an investigation into the conduct of City Attorney Tearman Spencer that ended when the Department of Employee Relations determined the City of Milwaukee’s anti-harassment policy didn’t apply to elected officials and Spencer did nothing illegal.

“Inefficiency. Neglect of duty. In the past we have had alderman who have had other employment, who basically attended their committee meetings, but otherwise weren’t at City Hall. Is that ‘neglect of duty?’ That should be left up to their constituents,” Bauman said.

“I am really baffled to say the least about this legislation,” said Ald. Nikiya Dodd.

“I can understand members’ concerns,” said Zamarripa. She said it was one of three council resolutions intended to address the issue and would be paired with an anti-harassment training policy for elected officials and an update to the anti-harassment policy.

Zamarripa and Murphy said the response was suggested by Department of Employee Relations director Makda Fessahaye.

“The provision of the code as Makda explained it to me is it simply mirrors what is in state law,” said Murphy. He noted Fessahaye had a conflict and couldn’t be there herself.

The legislation’s drafter, Legislative Reference Bureau employee Tea Norfolk, said the list of reasons for removal was being updated to match a state statute (17.12).

“Everything the state does isn’t always right, so trying to mirror them might not be the best case,” said Ald. Milele A. Coggs.

Bauman, Dodd, Chantia Lewis and Scott Spiker said they wanted to see definitions for the phrases.

But when Norfolk was asked for definitions she said she would need to go back to her desk for more research.

DER human resources compliance officer Katherine Holiday also said she couldn’t offer any definitions.

Coggs said she was expecting to see a change that would provide a tiered approach to discipline after an individual is convicted of an inappropriate action. “I was not expecting it would be a removal from office,” she said. “Part of the reason DER doesn’t have the ability to fire an elected official is because they’re not our boss. They didn’t hire us.”

“You don’t want to undo the will of voters,” said Spiker.

Murphy moved to hold the measure to a future meeting, allowing the questions to be addressed.

“I am a little disappointed in the preparation on this issue,” he said.

Bauman offered this quip to suggest the problem with the ordinance: “I just want to let folks know that eight votes on the council could remove the mayor.”

A separate ordinance requiring anti-harassment training for elected and appointed officials advanced unanimously.

UPDATE: An earlier version referred to Norfolk as the author, she is the drafter on behalf of the sponsor.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

2 thoughts on “City Hall: New Ordinance Could Remove Elected Officials”

  1. ILoveMKE says:

    Doesn’t the state statute requires 3/4 majority, not a simple majority?

  2. Jason Jahn says:

    Indeed – it’s not a very long statute section either, but I guess one can’t expect our fine alders to actually read that when they are busy grandstanding.

    (d) Votes required. Removals by the common council may be made only by an affirmative vote of three-fourths of all the members thereof

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