Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Committee Backs Johnson’s FPC Nominees

Council committee endorses two "immensely qualified" candidates to finally fill Fire & Police Commission.

By - Sep 9th, 2022 12:38 pm
Gerard Washington and Ruben Burgos. Photos submitted.

Gerard Washington and Ruben Burgos. Photos submitted.

The Fire & Police Commission (FPC) could soon have nine members, its authorized maximum, for the first time in its existence.

“I want to thank Mayor [Cavalier Johnson] in his leadership for taking this step,” said FPC Executive Director Leon W. Todd, III to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee Friday morning.

The commission, to which Todd and a team of staffers provide support, has oversight of the hiring, firing, discipline and policy setting for the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Fire Department. Todd said both of the nominees are “immensely qualified.” They’re also intimately familiar with the departments they are to be in charge of setting policy for.

Johnson is nominating retired MPD lieutenant Ruben Burgos and retired MFD Assistant Chief Gerard Washington to serve on the commission. Commissioners serve in a part-time capacity, earning $6,600 per year for participating in regularly-scheduled, evening meetings. They are appointed for a five-year term.

Both of the nominees are lifelong Milwaukee residents. “I know my city and I want to help [MPD] move forward,” Burgos said.

“I have a love for this city. I hear, I see, I have an understanding of the challenges,” Washington said.

And despite being formally retired from Milwaukee’s public safety departments (Burgos after 33 years and Washington 27) both are still remarkably active. Washington is now the fire chief in Menomonee Falls. Burgos is a lecturer at UW-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, board president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation, board member of the National Latino Peace Officers Association and head of security of Mexican Fiesta.

Alderman Scott Spiker, while praising Washington’s work, asked how he thought he could have enough time for the role.

“It is all about time management at this level,” said the fire chief, who retired with the rank of assistant chief in Milwaukee. “This isn’t something I haven’t been preparing for my entire professional career.” While detailing how he doesn’t believe in out-of-office messages and recently took a call about the FPC job while on vacation, Washington said the love and support of his family was paramount to his success. “I think if they saw me sitting still too long they would be concerned.”

Both candidates discussed the need for a discipline matrix to be used to guide public safety personnel.

“I have had to do disciplinary actions on people that work for me,” said Burgos. He said he also was subject to a number as a young officer. “I learned from that.”

Washington knows the fire department’s code of conduct and discipline matrix very well, having led their creation. In a letter retired Milwaukee chief Mark Rohlfing praised Washington’s work on the matrix and called Washington his “most trusted colleague.” The Menomonee Falls chief said that when it was created he received letters from firefighters that it wasn’t important, and he kept those to be presented if those individuals ultimately were disciplined.

The former MPD assistant chief also received a letter of recommendation from a vice president with GovHR. Washington said he works with the organization to help hire fire chiefs in other cities.

Ald. Mark Borkowski said he was happy to see nominees with experience as police officers and firefighters. He said it would help with making sure discipline was appropriate. “I’m not saying [officers and firefighters] didn’t get a fair shake before, but I’m feeling a lot more comfortable because you can empathize with them,” said the alderman.

Spiker said anyone that meets with Washington would leave impressed. He praised Burgos for being open about the potential for civilianizing certain law enforcement jobs and asked for an open line of communication to be maintained about different ideas.

The committee unanimously recommended the full council approve both nominees. The next council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 20.

Washington and Burgos are the second and third nominations Johnson has made to the commission. While serving as acting mayor, he successfully appointed Bree Spencer, who was confirmed in 2022. She replaced retired firefighter Everett Cocroft, who relocated to Las Vegas.

Only a single board member, Fred Crouther, remains from the botched demotion of police chief Alfonso Morales. The city paid approximately $600,000 in a legal settlement as a result. Crouther’s term expires in 2024.

The Wisconsin Legislature increased the maximum size of the commission to nine members about a decade ago, but Tom Barrett never appointed a full complement of members. The pace at which Barrett nominated people drew repeated criticism from Common Council members. Administration officials have said it is the most complicated part-time appointment the mayor makes because of the lengthy background check required and the difficulty of finding individuals with the willingness and skillset to serve.

In addition to Crouther and Spencer, a slate of 2021 appointees form what is currently a seven-member commission: Amanda AvalosLaNelle RameyJoan Kessler, chair Edward Fallone and Dana World-Patterson.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us