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.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Don't Forget to Vote Today

I'm voting for the following:

  1. Ed Fallone for Supreme Court
  2. Tony Evers for DPI Superintendent 
  3. Janet Protasiewicz for Milwaukee County Judge
  4. "Yes" on the same-day voter registration referendum

Sunday, March 31, 2013

AB 85: Who WAS in the room and who was NOT

Most observers already know that the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC) has been plotting and planning for some time to undermine the Milwaukee County Board. Frankly the newly introduced AB 85 is another attempt to micromanage Milwaukee County from Madison via special interest legislation.  GMC has retained the services of a high profile PR firm, created a front group and hired a small army of lobbyists to push this special interest legislation through the state legislature.  But now thanks to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dan Bice, we now know that those same GMC lobbyists were not just busy pushing this legislation but they were in fact literally in the room helping write it.

This isn't the first time that some of these same interests tried to do an end-run around local control and local government to get what they want.  Remember in 2006 when some of the same special interests paid for secret draft legislation to swipe control of Milwaukee County's successful airport?  During that effort they wanted to make Mitchell a regionally controlled airport rather than a Milwaukee County asset. Even worse they wanted to specifically and totally bypass Milwaukee County officials and even local voters. In 2006 they even used the same law/lobby firm to do the job that GMC is using now. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/18/06]

In 2006 while many of the same special interests were busy drafting the legislation they found the perfect guy that would introduce it in the state legislature.  In 2006 that role was played by Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) but today it is being played by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis).

The fact that GMC's paid lobbyists were so deeply involved in writing this current bill tells us everything that we really needed to know about it.  But perhaps we can actually learn more based on who WAS NOT involved in the drafting of this special interest legislation.  As they furiously spin in the media and through their highly paid spokespeople they pretend that the beneficiary of this legislation is the public.  But they didn't involve the public in writing this legislation. They didn't include key members of the community or other direct stake holders. In keeping with the pattern they had their well paid lobbyists helping write it behind closed doors.

If you had any doubt about what this legislation is really all about  it should be totally cleared at this point. It was written by these special interests and for these special interests.  Right now they are simply trying to force the rest of us to come along for the ride.  Their highly paid PR firm and their phony front group will continue to spin that they really did it all for us. But the point remains, when it was time to actually draw up this legislation WE were not invited into the room.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trying to Pull a "Gableman" on Fallone

Remember the well documented lies and sleazy tactics that Michael Gableman used against incumbent Justice Louis Butler in 2008?  Apparently some right wingers are trying once again to pull a "Gableman" but this time they are doing it to Supreme Court candidate Ed Fallone.

They tried to make Justice Butler, the state's first African American on the high court, own all of the horrible crimes of a former African American client. Apparently they are now trying to use the misdeeds of the former leader of the Latino Community Center against Fallone. Incidentally Fallone would be the state's first Latino justice on the high court if he is elected next month.

So it is a different race, with different circumstances but it appears that some of the same sleazy tactics are being employed now that were used back then.

The story in short: A former gang leader emerged from prison and by all early accounts tried to reform both himself and his community on Milwaukee's near south side.  In 1999 he created an LLC which eventually became the Latino Community Center.  It was initially so effective at reaching out to the youth of the area that he gained a very impressive amount of community support.  He also gained a very prominent list of board members including Ed Fallone.  Unfortunately the founder of that community center eventually lost his way and acted recklessly in many ways and with tragic consequences.

Apparently the right wing special interests in Wisconsin have been running a sleazy radio ad trying to make Ed Fallone own the tragic decisions of this former community center founder.  If you were to believe their opportunistic attacks you would think that Fallone himself was a criminal gang leader and perhaps that is the real point of the ad in the first place. However, at the time everyone knew about the background of the center's founder but they also believed in and thought that they were witnessing an amazing story in redemption. Who could possibly blame them or be against that?

So I'm assuming that the sleazy attacks stem from the misinformed idea that Fallone should have somehow earlier divined the founder's horrible personal decisions that came about in 2001.  But to think that you have to totally ignore the actual timeline of events along with a bit of reality.

From all accounts it wasn't until 2001 that the founder started going back in the wrong direction in his personal life.  One of those bad decisions included him developing an inappropriate personal relationship with a worker at the center. That worker ended up pregnant with twins and things went very quickly and tragically downhill from there.  On October 29, 2001 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story detailing all of these horrible things and two days later the Latino Community Center board accepted the founders resignation.

So apparently critics are suggesting that 2 days was too long to fire the founder or they are upset that Fallone and the other board members failed to properly employ ESP or some other unconventional method to learn about his personal life and private activities. Even if they believe the latter it should be noted that most of the downhill slide of this situation happened very quickly over the course of months.  However I find both of the above options ridiculous and that is why I am convinced that the motivation isn't really so complicated.

The right wing is simply trying to misuse another horrible tragedy to pull a "Gableman" but this time they are trying to pull it on Ed Fallone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sorry But City of Milwaukee Residents Do Matter

During the current Madison-based effort to undermine the Milwaukee County Board, I've repeatedly heard supporters using many of the exact same talking points.  One of the talking points that has repeatedly gotten under my skin is the touting of referendums in 10 suburbs. Supporters have used those votes to strongly suggest if not outright state that Milwaukee County voters support their agenda in a big way.  That particular use of the referendum results are totally disingenuous in my opinion. 

Let me be perfectly clear that the views of the voters in those 10 suburbs most certainly do matter.  But let me also be perfectly clear that the largest constituency in Milwaukee County (speaking strictly numerically) matters much more.  And that group of people would be City of Milwaukee residents. Yet you wouldn't know it based on some of the declarations that we hear from the professional spin machine that has been retained to push this special interest agenda.

Today the latest MU Law Poll was released.  In it they reported that folks in the City of Milwaukee favored a full-time County Board 54-37%.  That double digit level of support in what is obviously the most population dense portion of the county most certainly does matter.  It would be nice if supporters of the special interest legislation would acknowledge that simple fact before declaring victory. But perhaps they are cynically banking on the assumption that City of Milwaukee residents wont be engaged enough.

A few parting points:

  • I'd expect that the numbers in those referendums would have been much different if they included all of the broad and sweeping measures found in AB 85. However the supporters of AB 85 wont let Milwaukee County voters have a real say on the entirety of the bill before it is actually forced upon us. 
  • If you would have had a similar referendum in those same 10 suburbs asking about reducing just about any elected officials pay to a part-time level I suspect that you would have found support for it.  So to pretend that this is some damning piece of data against Milwaukee County supervisors in particular is again disingenuous at best. 
  • Not only has the 10 referendum talking point been repeatedly used but even extremely weak items like a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online poll has been circulated by supporters of AB 85. Here is an example from Sen. Lena Taylor's records. I suspect that it was sent to her from the GMC front group Smart Government Inc.  Please don't tell me that anyone is making a decision about this legislation based on such weak and worthless info.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why is my senator talking to Michael Grebe?

Last week I wrote about the fact that we need more light to shine down on this carefully coordinated effort to undercut and otherwise weaken the Milwaukee County Board.  In that blog posting I mentioned that I filed a number of open records requests with public officials that are pushing and supporting that agenda.  I noted that the only person that I had not heard from regarding those requests was my own state Senator Lena Taylor.  Within 24 hours of that blog posting I received notice second hand via Twitter that her office was sending the records that were responsive to my request.  I did in fact receive those records last Thursday and some of them are now prompting me to ask a few additional questions.

One of the records that I requested from Senator Taylor was her official calendar.  In that calendar there were a number of things that stood out including in the last days of January.  I've included a copy of that page HERE.

You will notice that on January 29th from 2:30-3:00 p.m. Senator Taylor was scheduled to participate in a conference call with Michael Greebe [sic].

Most readers probably know about Michael Grebe already but here is just a small amount of background:
  • Campaign co-chair for Scott Walker
  •  Past Chairman and current board member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee (the business group that is pushing the Milwaukee County legislation in Madison).
  • President and CEO of the mega right wing funding Bradley Foundation
  • Former Chairman and CEO of Foley & Lardner (GMC front group "Smart Government" currently employs lobbyists from this firm)
  • Former General Counsel to the Republican National Committee
  • Former Chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin
Our friends at One Wisconsin Now describe Grebe as the "Money Badger" in part because in his capacity at the Bradley Foundation he has helped to bankroll nearly every right wing outfit that exists in Wisconsin and across the nation.  Consider just some of the following:
  • Americans for Prosperity
  • The MacIver Institute
  • American Majority & Media Trackers
  • Helped fund the Einhorn Family Foundation (which purchased the voter suppression billboards that were erected all over Senator Taylor's district) 
  • Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
  • True the Vote
  • Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity 
Given this history, I as a constituent would like to know why on earth Senator Taylor would be on a conference call with Michael Grebe?  Secondly I would like to know more about her call with Governor Walker two days later.  Maybe there is a logical explanation but I certainly can't think of one on my own.
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Shine More Light on Milwaukee County Legislation

Newly elected Representative Joe Sanfelippo had barely found his new state office and he was already announcing a list of fully formed legislative proposals to turn everything upside down on his former colleagues in Milwaukee County government.  Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his various operatives rushed as if on cue to support the new Republican state legislator.  And surprising exactly no one it was quickly revealed that the elite business interests running the Greater Milwaukee Committee already had a small army of lobbyists, a front group and a spin machine in place.

Given the early and well coordinated effort it was no surprise that supporters began pushing all of the same talking points and reading from the exact same (sometimes very disingenuous) script. I don't personally have a problem with a real and actual discussion about policy in Milwaukee County but I don't like the outside meddling that seems to be built into the DNA of this latest effort.

Sorry but I'm just not a fan of the elaborate behind-the-scenes plotting and planning by big dollar benefactors and big business special interests. I'm not a fan of fully formed front groups being hatched out of nowhere and slick PR firms being retained to "educate the public" long before most of us even know exactly what is being proposed or the possible consequences.

So if we in Milwaukee County are going to be forced by Big (state) Government and others into having this discussion then it should at least be a full and an open one. We should not simply have to settle for carefully formulated talking points and the well funded efforts of a few elite special interests and individuals.

For my part, I want to understand more about what exactly may have brought us to this point.  What has been going on behind the scenes and who has been involved in all of this careful and expensive planning? What does that information tell us about the possible motives at the root of the effort itself?

To hopefully find some of these answers I've filed a number of open records requests with a variety of public officials that have publicly forced this issue in the first place.  Most of the officials have at least initially responded to my records requests and some with a notable and welcome amount of speed.  Time will tell, as I work with them to obtain various public records, exactly how open each elected official will be to such scrutiny.

After three full weeks only one public official has failed to even acknowledge receipt of my open records request and sadly that is my own state Senator Lena Taylor (See UPDATE Below). It is still a mystery to me as to why she was so quick to sign on to this legislation.  There certainly is no groundswell within her district for this legislation, so I am very interested in reviewing the public records that I've requested from her.  Some have already speculated about her quick support of this legislation but I am withholding judgement at this point.  However doing things like ignoring open records requests into the matter will only feed those kinds of theories.

Those that are pushing this Milwaukee County legislation the hardest should be the first to allow the sun to shine on all aspects of it.  Only then can we have the full and substantive discussion that Milwaukee County residents actually deserve.

UPDATE: I just was informed second hand via Twitter that Senator Taylor is putting the records responsive to my request in the mail today.  If this is true I appreciate it very much and look forward to getting them.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Micromanaging Milwaukee from Madison

The primary reason given for undercutting the Milwaukee County Board has been the oft repeated allegation about micromanagement.  I find it remarkable that Republicans and their allies complain about alleged micromanagement within the same local level of government while at the same time actively trying to micromanage the City and County of Milwaukee from Madison. 

Gone are the days of local control conservatives.  The crowd running things in the Capitol and their sugar daddies in big business have been very busy trying to micromanage local governments, especially and almost exclusively in Milwaukee. You can really take your pick of any number of examples:
  • Before Scott Walker even took office he threw away millions of dollars in investment made by the City of Milwaukee to develop the former Tower Automotive site. He did that when he essentially chased the anchor tenant of the development, Talgo, out of the state along with future jobs.  And NOW Scott Walker lectures about economic development in the city? He who was an absolutely horrible steward of Milwaukee County's biggest economic development prospects? 
  • Scott Walker, his allies and appointees have been trying their best to overrule and otherwise derail the City of Milwaukee's streetcar project.  There is no groundswell of real opposition to this project within the City of Milwaukee and the vast majority of Milwaukee's elected officials and many business leaders support it.  But these "local control" conservatives apparently think that they know better judging from their high seat in state government. At this point it appears that they will ironically try to use state government bureaucracy to kill it. If that fails don't be surprised to see more tailored legislative action that trumps local control in Milwaukee. 
  • Now they want to target policy involving the single largest item in the City of Milwaukee's budget - police and fire. Yes, those two things alone represent 60 percent of the city's expenses but apparently the state government doesn't trust the principle of "local control" enough to allow the city to decide its own policy on residency.  Scott Walker has political favors to continue to bestow for services rendered, so he and his allies have no interest in the long abandoned traditional tenants of their Republican faith. Apparently they don't mind replacing it with "the ends justifies the means."
  • Regarding the Madison-based decision to remove power from the Milwaukee County Board, the real intentions were made clear very early.  The micro-managers from Madison were originally planning to quickly ram through legislation to accomplish their goals and that of their special interest beneficiaries. Although they have since bobbed and weaved, there wasn't and there still isn't any real interest in an actual substantive local debate about this local issue.  They intend to force us to live with their big plans no matter how much money they have to spend on "educating the public" or dispatching armies of lobbyists.
So please kindly spare us your phony concern about alleged micromanagement and disputes within a local unit of government while you simultaneously attempt to micromanage nearly every major issue in both the City and County of Milwaukee.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

When John Doe Ends, Will Civil Remedies Begin?

The John Doe investigation has already produced criminal charges and convictions against multiple Scott Walker operatives and close associates. In addition the investigation has produced a rather high level of Republican operatives that have been granted immunity. Where will this end? I would be lying if I pretended to know to any degree of certainty.  But after the prosecutors finish their work, I certainly hope that they fully disclose what they perhaps couldn't during the course of the investigation itself.

For example, the various criminal complaints and other filings make it clear that there were multiple levels of open record obstruction within Scott Walker's Milwaukee County administration.  We know that there were things like secret routers and the frequent use of private emails for official business.  We know that these practices were "...never disclosed to county employees outside a closely held group within the Walker administration."

These shady practices weren't even disclosed to the acting director of the Information Management Services Division.  That county official was personally responsible for gathering emails that were responsive to open records requests.  She also served on an open records committee with Kelly Rindfleisch and Tim Russell, yet they apparently never took the opportunity to advise her of the secret router and email network.    

It seems very clear that John Doe prosecutors have identified open records requests that were successfully thwarted based on this shady setup inside the Walker administration. Take for example the following comment from Kelly Rindfleisch's criminal complaint.
"In fact, even though the secret e-mail system was used for business purposes which could have and which did include communications within the scope of Open Records requests, the existence of the system was never disclosed to Laurie Panella, the Acting Director of the Information Management Services Division."
If this statement means what it appears to mean, then the DA knows of specific records requests that were obstructed at least in part.  To the extent that prosecutors have positively identified specific requesters that were thwarted, they should be specifically notified of that fact.  This is especially true if criminal charges are not going to be filed regarding this specific issue. To the extent that the law allows, those obstructed record requesters should be made aware and thus be afforded the opportunity to seek civil remedies if they so choose.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opposition Research AND Open Records Oversight?

On Tuesday longtime Walker crony, Tim Russell is scheduled for a sentencing hearing.  Last week, in preparation for the hearing, the prosecution filed a sentencing memo.  One part of the memo that stood out to me is that Russell was working for Walker's Milwaukee County administration while at the same time working in a formal capacity to benefit Scott Walker's campaign for governor.  Jake and Capper have both highlighted this point already but I have a few very specific questions about it.

The sentencing memo specifically says that Tim Russell started an entity named Strategic Outsourcing and Research Center Inc. (Source).  It also specifically states that this Russell operation was doing opposition research to benefit Friends of Scott Walker.  It goes on to list three people that Russell brought on to help him conduct this research.

I have many questions about this but I'll just focus on one thread for now:
  • Did any of  Tim Russell's research include the filing of open records requests with Scott Walker's county office? 
  • If Russell and/or his operatives did file such a request(s) was it done under their own names?
  • Tim Russell was on a committee to oversee open records requests sent to Walker's office. Did that committee ever take up a request sent from Russell and/or his research operation? 
  • If so did he disclose that potential conflict to the open records committee? (Mostly rhetorical since he apparently didn't disclose the secret router or the private email usage to the committee)

Tim Russell's criminal complaint listed domain names that he apparently purchased.  Several of those listed are related to an infamous Walker shill blog. The blog was eventually deleted after Darlene Wink was first caught doing campaign work on county time. Given that Tim Russell apparently paid for the domains, it is perfectly reasonable to ask how far his involvement might have gone with the blog.  Was he personally writing for it? Were his hired researchers writing for it?

As I've pointed out in the past, someone from that blog submitted what was essentially an anonymous open records request to Scott Walker's office. The request was turned around for free and with lightning fast speed.  But that was not the only request because at least one author at that blog later touted other open records requests.  For example this item (scroll down to "Neumann slithering around for dirt") shows us one such later example.  It is even more relevant given that Tim Russell's operation mostly focused on Mark Neumann research.  

On the Scott Walker shill blog, they took a shot at me for past open records requests that I've made.  Admittedly I've filed some open records requests in the past that were fairly broad but then again I wasn't being paid by a campaign to file them WHILE being paid by the taxpayers to respond to them.   Was this the normal dynamic in Scott Walker's Milwaukee County administration?  The fact that I could reasonably ask that question is an absolute disgrace.  Then again that seems to be a theme of Scott Walker's ethically/legally challenged Milwaukee County administration.

Afterthought: I suppose I could better tolerate a county employee having a side political job that sometimes intersected directly with their official duties. But in this case it seemed to be a practice to infuse official duties and those that were strictly political. In addition, it is not as if we are starting with a blank slate here where everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. We have actual criminal complaints detailing alleged open record game playing among other things.