Monday, August 12, 2013

Preferential Treatment for Bulletproof?

Highly controversial mining company, Gogebic Taconite, employed an out-of-state firm to provide security and otherwise intimidate people anywhere near the northern Wisconsin mining site. Apparently no Wisconsin security companies were adequate so Gogebic Taconite hired Bulletproof Securities of Scottsdale, Arizona. They made big news last month after photos surfaced showing them creeping around in camouflage and carrying high powered weapons.  It was quickly discovered that Bulletproof was providing these security services in Wisconsin without being licensed in the state.

It was recently reported that Bulletproof obtained their license from the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services last week.  To be exact that license was obtained on August 5th and doesn't expire until August 31, 2015.  Perhaps someone with more time should examine how fast the department typically licenses similar companies.  Was this out-of-state firm put on a fast track or did they have the same kind of wait that any other Wisconsin firm would experience?  Frankly, I don't have the time, capacity or resources to answer that question but it certainly should be pursued.

We should also remember that the issue is not only that the agency itself was not properly licensed in Wisconsin after already starting security work here but none of their employees were apparently licensed individually as required.  At least four of their employees were finally licensed on the same August 5th date as their agency.  How fast were they issued their individual licenses and how does it compare to the average Wisconsin security worker?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that complaints were filed with the Department of Safety and Professional Services regarding Bulletproof performing security services without having a license.  They went on to report the following
Under state law, providing security without a license can be punished with a fine of $100 to $500 and three to six months of incarceration. In addition, regulators can bar a firm from providing security services in the state for one year for failing to comply with the law.
Again, not only did the agency fail to obtain a license but their individual employees also failed to obtain individual licenses as required. However there is no indication that a proper hearing was conducted by the Department regarding these violations by Bulletproof.   So is it possible that they were fast tracked rather than being held accountable by the agency? Sadly it wouldn't be a huge surprise given the fact that Scott Walker has been busy in his first term stacking former civil service jobs with political appointees and loyalists.  It also wouldn't be surprising given the early notice that Walker got regarding the invading mercenary force from Arizona. 

Did Bulletproof get preferential treatment from the agency that should be regulating them and disciplining them for their violations? I don't know but take a look at how other firms were dealt with for violating similar rules and regulations. I realize that there could be components in these examples that I don't know about but it is at the very least interesting given the treatment that Bulletproof did/didn't receive.
  • An Oshkosh-based security firm was properly licensed but they apparently employed a person that did not have a proper individual license.  They were reprimanded and fined. 
  • A Milwaukee-based security firm was properly licensed but failed to simply notify the Department when certain employees stopped working for them. They were reprimanded and fined
  • An Illinois-based security firm which was properly licensed in Wisconsin had an employee working in Wisconsin after their individual security license had expired.  The company was reprimanded and fined. 
  • A properly licensed Iowa-based agency had a worker that didn't have an individual license.  It appears that the worker only performed those services for a single day.  Yet they were reprimanded and fined. (Note: they did have prior issues before this incident). 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Open Letter to Milwaukee County Dems

So I suppose I'm going to take heat from friends on both sides for this and maybe I'll even lose work (which I certainly can't afford). But could everyone please just try to take it down one notch?

I've been increasingly troubled by some of the over-the-top and toxic rhetoric flying back and forth between various friends and allies of mine.  I know exactly how divisive this highly controversial Milwaukee County legislation was but none of us are helped by making permanent mortal enemies out of longtime partners and friends.  I just don't see who wins in that scenario besides Republicans...and perhaps that was part of the plan in the first place.

I think I've been fairly clear that I've opposed the legislation to undermine the Milwaukee County Board and I've been vehemently opposed to the manner in which that goal was accomplished.  So I don't have a problem with engaging in an aggressive and sometimes angry battle and debate with friends but it has seemed to go well beyond that point.  Some of the rhetoric has been downright ridiculous and I was hoping it would pass eventually.  But it seems to be migrating from that issue to every other issue now.

The County Board does X and all sorts of personal and absurd allegations and name calling is launched by this group.  Abele, his admin and allies do Y and all manor of venom is cast in their direction.  Again, I'm not saying that we can't vehemently disagree on some very important issues but it seems to be going well past that point. The concern that I'm trying to express here is not really for the entities at the center of this but more for all the genuinely good people caught in between.

I'm certainly not asking everyone to join arms and sing Kumbaya after a heated battle but I'm hoping that we are not doing long-term or permanent damage right now.  There will be a time when many of us will have to team up again in some larger fight.   I'm hoping that we are still capable of doing that after all of this is said and done.  And that is exactly why I'm asking my friends, allies and fellow Milwaukee County Democrats to consider taking some of the rhetoric down one notch while at the same time vigorously standing up for what you believe. I think it really is possible to do both...or am I just being naive?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why isn't GMC registered with the Milwaukee County Clerk?

We already know that the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC) hired an army of lobbyists to help write and ram through AB 85. GMC President Julia Taylor and operative Brian Schupper also are registered with the state as lobbyists.  Given their active involvement in micromanaging Milwaukee County this is certainly no surprise.  What may be a surprise is that neither of those two GMC paid employees are registered as lobbyists with the Milwaukee County Clerk. Furthermore GMC is not even registered as a principal with the Milwaukee County Clerk.  In fact I see no evidence of any GMC registrations for the past several years even though they have been trying to micromanage Milwaukee County government for some time.

So what gives? How could an organization that has employed such a heavy hand to influence Milwaukee County government not even be registered as a principal and their paid operatives as lobbyists?

First take a look at some important definitions taken directly from Milwaukee County Ordinance Chapter 14 which regulates lobbying activities in the county.

What is "lobbying"?
"Lobbying means the practice of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action by oral or written communication with any county official..."
What is a "lobbyist"?
"Lobbyist means any person who is employed by a principal or who contracts for or receives economic consideration...and whose duties include lobbying on behalf of the principal."
There is the following exception to note here:
"If an individual's duties on behalf of a principal are not limited exclusively to lobbying, the individual is a lobbyist only if he or she makes lobbying communications on more than three (3) days within a reporting period."
What is the reporting period?
"Reporting period means any six-month period beginning with January 1 and ending on June 30 or beginning with July 1 and ending on December 31."
As far as I can tell, the only possible way that GMC and their paid operatives could be exempt from the county's ordinance is if those operatives didn't communicate more than 3 times with county officials during the above described reporting periods.  I find that very hard to believe given the way that they have been so heavily involved in trying to micromanage Milwaukee County government.

For example, just consider some of the following contacts by Julia Taylor and Brian Schupper with officials from the County Executive's office last year.   Keep in mind that this doesn't even include any contacts with County Supervisors or other county officials (You can find the below referenced communications in the files that I made public last week).

  • Apparently Julia Taylor sought an update from them regarding the LRLF Planning Committee on or around March 6, 2012.
  • On March 26, 2012, Brian Schupper emailed an administration official inviting him to a GMC event and mentioned the fact that they had also met earlier that same day. 
  • Chris Abele's calendar includes a meeting with Julia Taylor on April 5, 2012 regarding the comptroller issue.
  •  On May 7, 2012, Brian Schupper communicates multiple times with Abele administration officials asking them to write a supportive letter related to a grant that they are seeking. In these two emails he also references a conversation day(s) earlier.  
  • Chris Abele's calendar includes a meeting on June 25, 2012 with Julia Taylor.  The agenda states that they will discuss Madison's City Camp and doing something similar for the county.  They also were set to discuss "legislative strategy".  
  • On July 18, 2012 and July 23, 2012 Brian Schupper again emails Abele administration officials about getting a letter of support from the County Executive. 
  •  Chris Abele's calendar shows that he was set to go to the University Club for a GMC County Task Force meeting on July 18, 2012 
Again do these meetings and communications add up to more than 3 for a filing period? Perhaps it is close or maybe they don't by themselves but did these two paid GMC operatives communicate with any other county officials during that time?  For example, while the comptroller issue was being discussed and debated, I've heard that GMC was busy inviting county supervisors across the street to the Wisconsin Club to discuss it.

Since GMC wants to micromanage Milwaukee County so badly they should also make sure that they are in full compliance with basic Milwaukee County ordinances.  Perhaps there is a simple explanation for all of this that I am missing but I still think that the public should get a proper and full explanation. This is especially true given how heavily GMC has imposed itself on our county government.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Releasing Milwaukee County & AB 85 Related Records

In March I posted my first blog item on the proposed legislation to undermine the Milwaukee County Board.  At that time I said that the issue was important enough that it deserved a much closer and fully open examination.  Since that time I've been looking into many aspects of the proposed legislation.  I've tried to identify and document where it was really devised, who exactly is pushing it, how are they pushing it and why.  I'm not sure that I've adequately answered all of those questions to my own satisfaction but I do think that we know a lot more now than we knew then.

During this process I've compiled tens of thousands of pages of county, state and other publicly available documents and pieces of information.  I've also started compiling profile information on some of the key players and special interests that have been pushing this issue the most. So I've decided, in keeping with the spirit of my original blog posting, to fully release all of those documents to anyone and everyone that may be interested in them.  Individuals, organizations, activists, public officials, traditional media, bloggers and anyone else.  This is an important public policy issue with long-term ramifications and the public deserves to know as much as possible about its origin and its potential impact.

CLICK HERE to gain full access to nearly all of my files on this topic.

Since my own research is not yet complete, I will continue to update this public file when I obtain new and relevant information.  When I do update it I might not blog about it but I will try to at least tweet it @cjliebmann.

If you have documents, information or other items that might substantively add to this collection of records, you can contact me at the email address in the column to the right.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Open Records Concerns in Milwaukee County

As part of my job I've filed quite a few open records requests to a variety of public officials over the years.  I've not yet perfected the art but I believe that I have a fairly good understanding of the major parameters.  That is why I was concerned to read that the Milwaukee County Executive's office was requesting a $1,000 fee to simply search for records requested by the Milwaukee-based newspaper the Shepherd Express.  As I thought about this issue, I recalled seeing an internal Milwaukee County email that equally concerned me in the area of open records.

In a March 2012 email chain various Chris Abele Administration officials are discussing a draft response to Supervisor Jursik on an issue.  In a March 2, 2012 reply to that email chain Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Kimberly Walker makes the following comment (scroll to bottom of doc to see it):
"Please see the following below... my two-cents worth.  FYI - trying to play this forward in my mind.  With the exception of my email, this email string will not be exempt from open records requests.  Should you wish to preclude its disclosure, please send additional comments, revisions etc., only to me with the names of others who should see it, and I can forward. Just a thought."
This comment struck me as being odd and it almost seemed like she was suggesting a way to conduct public business in a way that would get around open records requirements.  I don't know if the administration ever implemented this policy or how many open records requests weren't truly fulfilled because of it.  But it is my understanding that communications to the corp counsel are not covered by attorney client privilege simply because they are sent to or from her inbox.

I'm not an attorney and I certainly could have been misunderstanding something so I sent an email seeking clarification from the Corp Counsel on exactly what she meant by her emailed statement.  Unfortunately her response didn't really clear up anything at all.  Here is the primary portion of her response to my inquiry:
"Specifically, I was addressing a question related to the privilege of communications directed from or to Corp Counsel, in contrast to group communications between clients that merely include Corp Counsel, or group communications between clients."   
I didn't understand that answer and it didn't really tell me anything about the real meaning of her March 2012 guidance.  So I contacted Bill Lueders, President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.  He confirmed that the Corp Counsel's initial comments also caused him some concern.  He further observed that her follow-up comments were "more confusing than enlightening."  He went on to make the following statement:
"I am troubled by her response. Communications to and from corp counsel are not automatically protected. The public is entitled to know what her office does and to whom it communicates as much as for any other office. Attorney client privilege pertains to those communications in which the office is providing or being asked to provide legal advice, not anything that comes its way or whenever it feels like. I don't see that she is making those distinctions in these communications; I do hope her office is making them in practice."
It seems to me that if both Bill and I are concerned about these potential open records policies, then perhaps someone with the ability and the influence should closely examine the matter.  If the methods described in the March 2012 email are/were in fact being used, the Milwaukee County Corp Counsel should provide a complete and thorough explanation and justification for it.  If she can't then perhaps she should seek some specific guidance from the Attorney General's office on this subject. The idea of open government and open records is far too important to do anything less.  The public has the right to know that their county government is being fully and totally transparent with them.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scorched Earth Politics is a Long-Term Loser

Just like many other faithful Democrats, I worked hard to help get Chris Abele elected in 2011.  For my part, I did it because I believed that we really needed a Democrat to clean up the mess that Scott Walker left behind in Milwaukee County.  I knew that Chris Abele would be more conservative than I am in some respects but that is not a deal breaker for me.  In fact I appreciate a practical approach to policy but in my view that is not what Abele and his allies used in their formulation and pushing of AB 85.

If Chris Abele wanted to make such dramatic changes to the very structure of county government, then he really should have clearly and specifically campaigned on it.  However only a few years before he first ran for county executive a poll found that county residents didn't support radical changes to county governmental structure. In fact Chris Abele's Argosy Foundation funded that poll. [Public Policy Forum, August, 2008]

Here is what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported about the poll results at the time:
"Despite a series of budget cuts and other lingering effects of the county pension scandal, most Milwaukee County residents say the county does a good job overall and oppose a radical government restructuring, according to survey results released today". [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/19/2008]
Very late in 2012 was the first time (that I have found) where Abele made a specific public statement regarding his desire to change the actual structure of county government.  The problem is that he planned these actions months (or more) before he ever uttered a word about it publicly.  In fact these plans were already in the works long before the author of the bill, Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, was even elected. To make matters worse, it appears that most of this planning was done behind closed doors either at the elite University Club or in one-on-one meetings with people like GMC President Julia Taylor.

Consider for example the following chain of events which are based on Abele administration records that were obtained via open records request:

  • On Monday June 25, 2012 Abele meets with Julia Taylor to discuss topics including "legislative strategy." 
  • In an email less than a month later he makes what appears to be his first recorded comments about changing the current government structure.  He talks about various actions by the board that he doesn't like and says that it provides "lots of new material for the narrative re board and the need for change."
  • The very next day Abele was scheduled to attend a GMC County Task Force Meeting at the elite University Club. 

There is no indication that any other stakeholders were invited into these private planning sessions about public policy.  Apparently you had to be a GMC member, ally or consultant to give input on the plans that they were devising for the rest of us.  That theme was reinforced when we found out that GMC lobbyists were literally in the room with legislators as they drafted AB 85.  

I don't imagine that this legislation would have gone over well with many people if they would have worked on it in the open but at least you could have had some input and perhaps buy-in from some major stakeholders.  Instead they chose to use a large wallet, a GMC front group, a professional spin machine and an army of lobbyists to ram this legislation through.  Perhaps that is why they could only get 1 solitary Democrat to sign on to the legislation.  Perhaps that is why most Milwaukee-area legislators have aggressively fought it.  Perhaps that is why the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County voted unanimously to oppose this legislation.  It really didn't have to be this way. While you surely wouldn't have brought everyone over to your way of thinking, you could have at least made an effort to convince some. Maybe you could have actually considered other ideas and compromised in some way. But instead of doing any of that, the choice was made to blindside everyone that was not invited to the University Club.

Further evidence of the scorched earth tactics were demonstrated in other ways. For example, when our Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chris Larson put out a newsletter that was critical of the legislation, Chris Abele had his county communications director send out talking points attacking and undermining him.  Those talking points were sent to Sen. Lena Taylor's Chief of Staff and to a GMC operative who was all too happy to circulate them regardless of the cost to Democrats.  Was that really necessary?

The bottom line is that the tactics that have been used to spring this legislation on Milwaukee County and then to ram it through by brute force has turned many former and potential allies into enemies.  In some cases Chris Abele has burned bridges and I really don't believe that it was ever necessary.  While Abele and GMC might win the fight to ram this legislation through, their scorched earth politics might prove to be a long-term loser.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Lobbyists Wrote AB 85 & I'm Waiting for the MJS Editorial

Earlier this week we found out that the Greater Milwaukee Committee's lobbyists were literally in the room helping write Rep. Joe Sanfelippo's legislation to undermine the Milwaukee County Board (AB 85).  Most people that were paying attention expected as much but Dan Bice's column verified those strong suspicions and provided us with actual documents to prove it.

When I reacted to the news that GMC's lobbyists were in the room helping write the legislation, I compared it to a very similar incident that blew up in 2006.  That was the time that some of the very same players and interests were busy writing secret legislation to by-pass county officials and even county voters.  That legislation involved lifting a very successful Milwaukee County asset and suddenly making it a regional entity. They were plotting and planning for years behind the scenes to accomplish their goal without input from local/county leaders, any real stake holders or even the public.

Fortunately when this secret legislation was made public in 2006 it quickly blew up on the special interests that were behind it.  Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, who (naturally) supported the actual idea, chastised the special interests for their secretive tactics and anti-democratic methods.  Here is a sample of what the MJS Editorial Board said at the time (all emphasis below is mine):
If a college political science class is looking for a classic case of how not to accomplish something worthwhile, the proposal to create a regional airport authority fits the bill to a T. People that should have known better, namely private business interests and state lawmakers, missed the runway by a mile. In drafting the proposal to create the authority, they needlessly burned political bridges and, in effect, thumbed their noses at local democratic representation.
The MJS Editorial Board then agreed with a the statement that the 2006 move was "the most anti-democratic proposal that has come through here in a long time."  They go on to state they they are puzzled at why this legislation would be forged behind the scenes. They then chide the special interests saying that going behind local elected officials backs is a lousy way to try to achieve their goal. They conclude the editorial by saying that although they believe that the idea is worthy of pursuit, they say that next time it should be done, "openly and with all stakeholders represented."

Now that we know that some of the same players and special interests are involved now with planning and writing AB 85, where is the strong editorial from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board? If they were willing to take these same special interests to task over the single issue of a regional airport (one that they actually agreed with) then how can they not comment on the same tactics being used for a much bigger and all encompassing piece of legislation?  AB 85 doesn't just threaten one Milwaukee County asset, it seeks  to overturn our entire system of county government.  Someone besides GMC and their lobbyists should have been invited into the room on a bill with such sweeping ramifications.  And the MJS Editorial Board should show some intestinal fortitude and take the same stand for local democracy that they took back in 2006.

I'll be waiting and I hope it is not in vain.