Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Nicholson Shuffles Board’s Leadership

Chairwoman resets board's balance of power, and punishes a rival, with new committee assignments.

By - May 3rd, 2022 04:54 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Marcelia Nicholson was recently re-elected Chair of the Milwaukee County Board on an unanimous vote, and has announced a slate of committee chairs for the board’s new session that scrambles the old leadership.

Only one committee will have the same chair this term, that is the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee, headed by Sup. Sheldon Wasserman.

The committee is typically where the heavy lifting is done during the legislative process. It’s where supervisors hear informational reports from county officials and public testimony, and where most of the board’s substantive policy debate occurs.

Urban Milwaukee has learned that Sup. Tony Staskunas was considering a run for board chair, but didn’t ultimately pursue it. He was the only supervisor who didn’t attend the full meeting of the board on Monday, April 18 during which Nicholson was re-elected.

Still, even contemplating a run against Nicholson may have cost the West Allis supervisor. Staskunas is the most senior member of the board not to have a committee chair this term. A practicing attorney, Staskunas was chair of the Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee from 2018 to 2022. He no longer even has a seat on the committee.

Sup. Liz Sumner has been made chair of the Finance Committee, the most powerful committee on the board. As the county’s legislative body, one of the board’s primary responsibilities is financial oversight of county government. The Finance Committee is the body where contracts, fund transfers or spending requests go for final approval. It is also the committee that considers the county executive’s annual budget recommendation.

Board chairs often install supervisors they are closely allied with, or at least on whom they can rely, as chair of the powerful committee. Sumner’s ascent signals trust and a close relationship with the chair. Nicholson’s last finance chair was Jason Haas.

Sup. Ryan Clancy, the most vocal critic of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office on the board, was made chair of the Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee. The committee is often the site of policy debates that concern the sheriff’s office and the Milwaukee County Jail. Joining Clancy on the committee is new Sup. Juan Miguel Martinez, who expressed support for reducing the sheriff’s budget to pay for other county services during his campaign.

Nicholson’s decision to make Clancy chair of the judiciary committee came as a surprise to some, as county insiders have often remarked that there is no love lost between Clancy and the chairwoman. But the committee has also been loaded with a political counterweight to Clancy and Martinez in Sup. Willie Johnson, Jr., who opposed all of Clancy’s attempts to reduce the Sheriff’s budget, and conservative supervisors Deanna Alexander and Patti Logsdon, who may also take a dim view of cuts for law enforcement.

Clancy did lose his spot on the powerful finance committee, which is the committee that any proposal affecting the Sheriff’s budget needs to clear.

Sup. Sequanna Taylor, who was re-elected as first vice-chair of board, finds herself chair of a new committee this term, having previously chaired the Audit Committee. Now she’s at the head of the Intergovernmental Relations committee, which was chaired during the last session by Joe Czarnezki.

Sup. Felesia Martin is taking over as chair of Audit, and Sup. Shawn Rolland is taking her spot chairing the Health, Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning Committee.

Priscilla E. Coggs-Jones has been elevated to chair of the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee after serving on the committee during her first term. Coggs-Jones was elected to the board in a Spring 2021 special election to replace Supreme Moore Omokunde, who resigned his seat after being elected to the state Assembly.

Coggs-Jones may end up presiding over the most critical period in the history of Milwaukee transit as the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is faced with a looming massive budget shortfall in the near future, and will need to develop plans and policies to address it. The Amalgamated Transit Union local 998 will also soon begin negotiating a new three-year contract with MCTS. Under the past leadership of former Sup. John Weishan, Jr. the transit committee became a public battleground for labor negotiations, as he called MCTS leadership before the committee every month to update on negotiations which went on for nearly two years.

During the last session, former supervisor Russell Antonio Goodwin, Sr. took over as chair of the transit committee. Weishan was stripped of the chair after frequently criticizing the chairwoman at public board meetings over procedural issues and other disagreements. It became a sleepy committee under Goodwin, Sr. who showed more interest in freeways than buses, and even favored highway expansion.

Sup. Johnson, Jr. is the new chair of the Personnel Committee, replacing former supervisor Eddie Cullen. During the last session, Johnson Jr. found himself in the same predicament Staskunas currently faces, as a senior supervisor without a committee chairmanship. Johnson, Jr. is currently the most senior member of the board, a title he used to share with Weishan, who did not win re-election.

In an interview with Urban Milwaukee before committee assignments were released, Chairwoman Nicholson said she was planning to restructure the committee’s responsibilities, and even create a new committee, as she did during her first term.

The biggest change Nicholson is proposing would make the Economic and Community Development Committee into the Economic, Community and Environment Committee. The committee under its current configuration has not had much work since the state stripped the board of authority over land sales with legislation that was successfully championed by former county executive Chris Abele.

The new committee configuration, she said, would allow supervisors more space to focus on the county’s climate and green infrastructure goals. Sup. Steve Taylor has been made chair of this committee.

Taylor and Alexander (who defeated Goodwin) are both former board members who were elected again as supervisors in the April election.

For a full list of committee assignments see this document provided by the chairwoman.

Categories: MKE County, Politics, Weekly

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