Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Walker Rhetoric, the House of Shameless

Yesterday Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker gave his "state of the county" speech. Once again, it was more about his own short-term political future than it was about Milwaukee County's long-term stability. Some have already given us differing and interesting takes on Walker's comments yesterday. I would offer Xoff, Capper, and Supervisor Lipscomb as must-see reading regarding the event.

One thing that stood out to me, based on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel summary of the event, was Walker's choice of things that he tried to tout as his accomplishments. Specifically, he bragged about sending 20% of Milwaukee County workers to the unemployment line, his pension bond scheme, and the Sheriff's Office taking over responsibility of the House of Correction. While all three claims are worthy of rebuke, the last one is the most remarkably shameless in my view.

Scott Walker had very little to do with the Sheriff taking over the House of Correction. In fact the only real role that Walker played in that entire episode was that his administration mismanaged the House of Correction so badly that there were no options but to take it away from him. Let's just quickly walk down memory lane, a route that Walker willfully chose to take a detour from yesterday.

  • Walker repeatedly failed to staff positions at the House of Correction that were already fully funded by the County Board. Where that money actually went? I have no idea.
  • Because of that kind of Walker-trademarked short-term thinking, overtime costs skyrocketed at the House of Correction in 2007 and 2008. As a result of mostly mandatory and never ending overtime, corrections officers began to burnout and suffer from deep morale issues.
  • It was around this time that escapes and even an unnecessary inmate death occurred.
  • A federal audit was done on Milwaukee County lock-ups and highlighted all of the mismanagement, safety and security issues and overall dysfunction at the House of Correction.

It was only after this terribly long chain of events that the County Board voted to take responsibility away from Scott Walker and give it to the Milwaukee County Sheriff. The Walker administration's only real role in this process was grossly mismanaging the facility in the first place, and then not standing in the way when it was taken away from him. Even his frequent ally on the County Board, Mark Borkowski, called out Walker's mismanagement during the height of his incompetence. Here are just two quotes from Borkowski while Walker's incompetence at the House of Correction was on display:

"the elephant in the room is the staffing and for them not to even acknowledge that is very disconcerting to me."

"Walker and Malone have not shown any sense of urgency in correcting problems at the House of Correction."

Walker's House of Correction disaster can really serve as a microcosm for his entire tenure as county executive. Short-term politically motivated thinking leading to eventual disaster and increased long-term costs for Milwaukee County taxpayers. It also provides a classic Walker example of shamelessly trying to take credit for others coming in and cleaning up his mess. I think that I might coin this specific situation and his rhetoric yesterday as "Walker's House of Shameless".

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