Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Crowley Reorganizes Budget Office

County Executive moves strategic planning into the budget office, seeking long-term improvements in racial equity.

By - Jan 28th, 2022 02:35 pm

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

County Executive David Crowley is once again reshuffling the deck of county government.

He recently appointed Joe Lamers, current director of the Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget, to direct the renamed Office of Strategy, Budget and Performance. PSB is becoming SBP, but the county executive has done more than re-arrange an acronym.

Crowley is moving an operation that has historically been housed within his own office into the core office for county budgetary planning. This will be the third reorganization Crowley has implemented since his administration began, having previously moved the Department of Aging and Milwaukee County Veterans Services to become part of the Department of Health and Human Services

In 2019, the county became the first in the nation to declare racism a public health crisis. In 2020, the county implemented the first ever strategic plan that serves as a framework for achieving racial equity and thereby improving public health in the county.

This plan has three “strategic focus areas” that are intended as guiding countywide policies for decision making. The first pushes the county government to reflect the county’s racial and ethnic diversity among the people that work within it, and increase the number of minority-owned contractors doing work for the county. The second seeks to make racial equity and health disparities a target for the delivery and administration of county resources. Thirdly, the county is trying to focus investments upstream from problems.

County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson has advanced the county’s plan to address racism and health inequality at the board level. She reorganized the board’s standing committees to create the Health, Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning Committee.

Lamers boiled down the reorganization during an interview, saying “Our strategy function is becoming jointly part of this budget.”

Isaac Rowlett, strategy director for Milwaukee County, will be moving to work within the SBP, which will work throughout the year on the county’s budget.

In an interview, Crowley called this an effort to create a “one stop shop when it comes to information related to both strategy and budget.” His administration believes the full integration of the strategic plan into the gears of county government will turn it into an institution capable of addressing racism and health inequality in Milwaukee County.

It is a goal, and an initiative, that Crowley said he wants to outlast his administration. That, he said, is a key reason for this reorganization. 

A county ordinance passed in 2019 does direct the government to work to achieve racial equity and create and administer a strategic plan. But Crowley is concerned that leaving the director of strategy within the county executive’s office unnecessarily opens up the mission to politicization. “When you think about the strategy, and it being within the county executive’s office, and that could technically change every time there’s a new county executive,” he said. 

“We shouldn’t see any hiccups,” Crowley said. “It shouldn’t matter what services we’re delivering and how we’re lifting this community up, based off of who is the county executive.”

Lamers appointment to run the new department, should he be confirmed by the board, will run for four years. Before joining the county in 2018, Lamers worked in several budget director and analyst positions for Mayor of New York City, the City of San Luis Obispo and the New York City Department of Social Services, serving as assistant deputy commissioner of the latter for two years.

“[Lamers] has spent the last three years in Milwaukee County serving as Director of the Office of Performance, Strategy, and Budget (Budget Director) where he collaboratively led Milwaukee County’s $1.3 billion annual budget process,” Crowley wrote in his appointment letter to the board. “Mr. Lamers was also instrumental in identifying long-term solutions to improve the County’s fiscal sustainability, including advancement of solutions identified by ‘Fair Deal of Milwaukee,’ advancing the County’s strategic plan and vision to achieve racial equity, and implementation and management of the Continuous Improvement Office.”

It’s part of a big agenda for Crowley, to not only improve racial equity on his watch, but to assure the approach is built into the structural bones of county government, so the change continues under the leadership of future county executives, long after he is gone. 

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Categories: MKE County

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