Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

More Insider Dealing By County Officials?

County Treasurer’s son handed the communications manager job. He was only candidate.

By - May 29th, 2024 05:25 pm
George Christenson and Eddie Cullen. Photos from Milwaukee County.

George Christenson and Eddie Cullen. Photos from Milwaukee County.

In November 2021 Brian Rothgery resigned his job as communications manager for the county board. He was not replaced until May 2022, when the job was handed to former Milwaukee County Supervisor Eddie Cullen, who had just stepped down from the position that spring. No one else was considered or interviewed for the job of communications manager.

Cullen is the son of longtime Milwaukee County Treasurer Dave Cullen, and was hired by County Clerk George Christenson. Dave Cullen and Christiansen worked together earlier this year to lobby the county board to award them and the Register of Deeds a 36% raise in pay.

Did Dave Cullen lobby Christenson to hire Eddie Cullen? “Absolutely not!” Christenson told Urban Milwaukee. “Everything was done absolutely by the book.”

So how many candidates were there for the job?

“My typical hiring process, we will interview from three to five candidates,” he told me.

When asked how the candidates were ranked, Christenson replied that I would have to make a public records request. Christenson referred my request to the Department of Human Resources, which eventually sent an answer: the job notice was only posted internally, for county employees, and there was only one candidate for the job.

Why didn’t you just tell me that rather than insisting I do a public records request? I asked Christenson in a followup interview.

“Because I didn’t recall that. It was two years ago,” he said.

And why was the job only posted internally?

“I think because we thought we’d have enough people applying internally. I think the thought was if we didn’t have enough candidates internally then we’d go outside of Milwaukee County.”

So why didn’t they go outside after getting only one candidate?

Because he was very impressed with Eddie Cullen as a candidate, Christenson said. Cullen had worked as a teacher at Milwaukee College Prep. “I hold teachers in high regard,” Christenson said. “Teachers are very good writers. He was also a county supervisor so he was familiar with the system.”

But there was another potential internal candidate. Rob Hullum had been effectively operating as interim communications person for nearly six months, since Rothgery had left. All told Hullum had worked as a communications person for the county board for 16 months. Prior to that he had worked as a journalist for the Shepherd Express for three years, typically the kind of experience valued for a communications job that is heavily involved with handling the media.

When asked about that, Christenson said he wasn’t aware that Hullum had been a journalist. “You’ve really been doing your research. I’d have to take a look at that.”

Moreover the county, to save money, had decided to combine the communications job for both the county board and county clerk, which would seem to put an even greater premium on communication skills.

But Hullum didn’t apply for the position, Christenson pointed out.

However, two county board observers told Urban Milwaukee that Hullum was interested in the job, but assumed Cullen was going to get the job. It was Christenson who told Hullum this, according to one of the sources.

“That’s a lie,” said Christenson, who said he never informed Hullum that Cullen would be hired.

But someone would have to have informed Hullum, who would now be working for Cullen, who reports to Christenson. Hullum, in fact, continued in his job working under Cullen for nearly a year. In April 2023 Hullum left to take a job in communications at Northwestern Mutual.

Does a hiring where only one candidate is considered constitute an ethics violation by Christenson? Attorney Adam Gilmore, the executive director of the county’s Ethics Board, told Urban Milwaukee this might be more a question for the county human relations department.

But what if Christenson was doing this as a favor to a fellow county official, Dave Cullen? “If this was an issue brought to the ethics board as to whether an individual used his position to get someone else a position at the county, that would be something the ethics board would look at,” Gilmore said.

Dave Cullen did not respond to Urban Milwaukee’s requests for comment, nor did his son Eddie.

Dave Cullen is the consummate insider, having worked as a politician for more than 40 years. He served on the Milwaukee School Board from 1983 to 1990, as a state legislator from 1990 to 2012 and then as a county board member for two years, before winning election as county treasurer in 2014, where he has served ever since. In 2015, when Eddie ran for Cullen’s old 15th District county board seat, the father was very involved in his son’s campaign.

In fact, Eddie’s use of his father’s old county supervisor campaign signs, with “Eddie” in red taped over “Dave” generated some controversy, with Eddie’s opponent Nick Hunt claiming it was a campaign violation. The failure to disclose the value of the old signs on his campaign finance reports “was an oversight by my campaign committee,” Eddie Cullen admitted.

But Eddie won the race and served for more than seven years as a part-time county supervisor while also working as a teacher for Milwaukee College Prep. He now earns $65,664 as the communications manager and has held the position for two years. But in April he was not very communicative when the controversy erupted over the 36% pay raise his father was seeking. He did not respond to repeated requests by Urban Milwaukee asking when the county board would hold a special meeting to consider the issue.

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.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: More Insider Dealing By County Officials?”

  1. TosaGramps1315 says:

    Let;’s see if father Dave can get son Eddie a 36% raise.

  2. mkwagner says:

    On paper everything was by the book. Christenson made sure that the only other candidate knew who was going to get the job. And this is how corruption works.

  3. CraigR says:

    I assume we still have these elected do nothing positions like county treasurer and county clerk because of state laws. Since the state legislature seems to want to run Milwaukee, why haven’t they moved to eliminate them? I guess it’s part of the “stick it to Milwaukee” mentality. And why the county board still gave these guys a raise this year is unfathomable.

  4. kb9vrg says:

    Something smells here, and it ain’t Jones Island.

  5. Colin says:

    Terrific investigation Murphy.
    Wow the cronyism is bad!

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