Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Change of Culture Needed at BHD

Today the Milwaukee Journal is reporting that there is a new proposed plan for the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. It suggests a shift to smaller, community-based facilities. Frankly, I'm not sure if this exact plan is the answer but I think that this kind of dialogue and sharing of constructive ideas is a good thing for what has been and is a very troubled facility. One ingredient that is a must, regardless of which option is ultimately chosen, is a major culture change among the administrators in the Behavioral Health Division.

I was greatly encouraged during the campaign to hear Milwaukee County Executive-elect Chris Abele talk about his vision for the Mental Health Complex in particular. I really think that he has the potential to bring fresh ideas that rely on a solutions-first approach. I remember hearing him on a WMCS radio program in the closing days of the campaign and he was talking about the importance of having a "change in culture". While he was talking about the county as a whole he specifically did mention the tragic dysfunction at the Mental Health Complex as a prime example. As someone that has a relative that receives services out there, I was greatly encouraged by his important words. It was no surprise to me that the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses endorsed him because they have a very direct interest in seeing dramatic change in how the Behavioral Health Division is "managed".

If there ever was an element of Milwaukee County government that needed a "change in culture" the Behavioral Health Division would definitely be it. Just about everyone in the state now knows about the repeated and unnecessary tragedies that took place at Milwaukee County's Mental Health Complex over years. Given the history of dysfunction, I have not been surprised to hear about the nasty internal politics and cronyism that exists among some of the key administrators and higher level staff.

Some of those rumors were confirmed for me last year when a number of BHD administrators signed a letter pledging their undying support for their incompetent administrator John Chianelli (see the full letter and signatories here). Even the Walker-coddling editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called for him and others at BHD to be fired. Later we even witnessed Scott Walker's administration finally demoting Chianelli. Word on the street is that some of the letter signers did so out of fear of losing their jobs. Others suggest that it was indicative of BHD's internal high pressure politics. One thing that was very clear about the letter was that many key administrators at BHD were (and are) totally tone deaf to reality. That is not a quality that is helpful to those that rely on the services that BHD is supposed to provide.

As our Milwaukee County elected officials continue to work on long lasting solutions for the problems at BHD, I hope that they remember the critical need for a major "culture change". Because no matter what formula you use for delivery of care, things wont sufficiently change if you continue with the same kind of "leadership" and the same kind of environment that has only served to exacerbate the terrible problems of the past.

To be continued...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Secret Legislation, Sidestepping Public Sounds Familiar

Late last week reports started surfacing about Scott Walker preparing to advance Michigan-style "financial marshall law" legislation in Wisconsin. Basically such legislation would allow Walker to apply a financial "stress test" to local municipalities, counties and school districts. If they fail such a test, he could then appoint god-knows-who to take control of that local government and render the local elected officials (and the voters that chose them) useless.

This morning while speaking to his admirers at Journal Communications Inc. Walker denied these rumors. He went on to say that this report was "absolutely false" because no one on his staff or in his administration was working on such a plan. It seems to me that the natural follow up question to his answer would be something like this: "But would you support such legislation if it were introduced in the legislature?" We can't expect these particular Walker admirers to ask such a question but hopefully others in the media will dig deeper than Walker's word.

Such an extreme policy like "financial marshall law" is sadly not out of the realm of possibility. Walker has proven that he is willing to support just about any radical notion as long as it advances his political ambitions and feeds the bottom lines of the money bags that pull his strings. Not to mention the fact that this kind of legislation passed in Michigan and is being currently enacted. There is also a new "organization" that seems to support this kind of extreme legislation at least as it applies to Milwaukee County. So is it really outside the realm to think that it could happen here and that Scott Walker would suddenly become its biggest cheerleader?

The original report claims that the law firm Foley & Lardner is writing the "financial marshall law" plan. This certainly wouldn't be a surprise to anyone that remembers other actions by this firm just a handful of years ago. When Milwaukee's big business elites couldn't convince the Milwaukee County Board to give up one of its biggest assets, General Mitchell International Airport, they brought in this same firm to write legislation to bypass the board. In fact the legislation that was being written in secret would have also allowed them to take this valuable asset from Milwaukee County without even a single vote from the board or from the public. With this secret legislation, special interests worked with their Milwaukee-area errand runner Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale).

I don't personally have enough information to verify that this "financial martial law" legislation is actually in process but that isn't my basic point here. I am simply saying that it wouldn't be a surprise, even with Walker's carefully crafted denial today. It wouldn't be the first time that secret legislation was being written by special interests, it wouldn't be the first time that they tried to sidestep local officials and the people that elected them. And it certainly wouldn't be the first time that special interests made a play for valuable public assets that they have already coveted for a very long time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The (big) state government & local (damage) control

For as long as I can remember Republicans and other self-described conservatives have praised the idea of local control. It is the idea that the most local form of government knows how to best manage services because they deal most directly with their constituents. It seems that Wisconsin Republicans have all but abandoned that idea now that they have taken control of the entire state government.

Scott Walker and his rubber stamp legislature have taken extreme actions to greatly empower the role of the state and weaken the control of local municipalities. The first example was when they inserted (big) state government in between local municipalities and their own employees. Although many municipalities have had good relationships with their workers and with the unions that represent them, the (big) state government has ordered a one-size-fits-all approach that is both unprecedented and extreme. Not only is the state creating strife where none previously existed but it is also requiring local governments to play favorites. If you are a public works employee you are now second class but if you work in the police and fire departments you get every advantage.

The Republican plan to dramatically cut shared revenue to local governments also puts them into an increasingly smaller box. The (big) state government claims that their killing of public employee unions will make up for this dramatic loss in shared revenue. In fact a recent study showed that for at least 36 municipalities across the state, Walker's anti-union plans only covers 61% of the cuts that are coming to the shared revenue program. One mayor commented that "Simply shifting the state budget deficit to local budgets doesn't help the taxpayers of Wisconsin."

Here are a few more examples where Walker and his rubber stamps in the legislature are showing their new found love for the power of the (big) state government:

In all of these ways we can see that our local municipalities and counties will be left to handle state induced problems but with much less money and very little support. It is becoming increasingly clear that this new band of extreme Republicans don't really believe in "local control". Perhaps they only believe in local (damage) control when someone has t0 clean up the ideologically driven mess that they will leave behind.

UPDATE: Maybe these extreme Republicans don't even believe in local (damage) control. There are rumors that the next group of proposals from this extreme bunch involves a Michigan-style ability for the (big) state government to takeover municipalities and other districts. There already appears to be a shadowy group formed to advance the agenda. If the (big) state government decides that your local municipality/school district isn't up to snuff, then you get taken over by god-knows-who but it probably wouldn't be anyone that you voted for in the last local election.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Scott Walker Quote of the Day: Vote Counting

“As long as the rules are clear, as long as there aren’t ballots somehow found out of the blue that weren’t counted before, things of that nature, as long as everything’s above board, I think that’s fair."
Scott Walker, 4/6/11

Monday, April 04, 2011

Scott Jensen's Behind-the-Scenes Support

When former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen wasn't working on getting a new trial, he was busy working behind-the-scenes to prop up the Republican Party and it's infrastructure. On this blog we highlighted at least one example involving the start of the MacIver Institute. Now, even after working out a sweetheart deal with Republican prosecutors, it seems that Jensen still prefers to work behind-the-scenes.

Scott Jensen is still listed as a "senior advisor" for American Federation for Children which is a radical right wing organization that seeks to undermine public schools among other things. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign it is a spin-off of the Michigan-based group All Children Matter (ACM). Perhaps they needed a spin-off group because ACM was not getting the best publicity after being fined for violating campaign finance rules all over the country.

The American Federation for Children lists a Washington D.C. address in a recent filing with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board. What you can also find in that filing is a listing of their recent activity in Wisconsin. The records show that on March 17th this radical group paid for robo-calls to support all 8 of the Walker rubber stamps that are subject to recall in the state Senate. As a reminder, those include the following:

  • Robert Cowles

  • Alberta Darling

  • Glenn Grothman

  • Shelia Harsdorf

  • Randy Hopper

  • Dan Kapanke

  • Mary Lazich

  • Luther Olson

According to their GAB filing, Scott Jensen's D.C.-based group spent a total of $8,102 for these robo-calls. I'm sure that this is only the beginning so before the rest of the money starts rolling in I think that the Republican Senators should encourage Scott Jensen to come out of the shadows. For example, if he is going to do more robo-calls then maybe he should actually be the voice that voters hear on the other end. Perhaps he should join them on the campaign trail, appear in campaign literature or maybe even do a cameo in the TV ads. If voters needed any other motivation to dump the Republican 8, Scott Jensen's public support could certainly help to serve that noble purpose.