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County Board Is Busy Fixing Problems

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on January 29, 2009

Late last week, Scott Walker found a way to take the heat off of himself, for a little while anyway. He did this by leaking the story of Supervisor Coggs’ and Supervisor Clark’s poorly thought out decision to use tax payer dollars to go see President Obama’s inauguration. I’m still waiting for the so-called liberal media to call Walker out on his misdeeds. Good thing I’m not holding my breath while I wait.

The County Board has been taking a lot of flak from that story, especially from the right wing squawkers, like Sykes and Wagner, the sensationalistic local TV news, and the Posse Comatose.

However, there has been a barrage of good news coming from the County Board today, although something tells me that the above-named usual suspects won’t be giving these stories quite the same level of attention that they did before.

First off the bat is that Supervisor Elizabeth Coggs has already made good on her promise to reimburse the County for her trip to D.C. Unfortunately for Coggs, I don’t know if that will do a lot to relieve the desperate outrage from the Walker-backers.

Secondly, Supervisor Chris Larson announced that he is working on drafting legislation that would tighten the reins on this kind of spending. Some of the requirements could include prior approval of the spending by the Board’s Finance and Audit Committee.

I have two suggestions for Mr. Larson on his plan. One is do not have the F & A Committee do the reviews. I suggest this for a couple of reasons that are interlinked. The Chair of this committee is currently Supervisor Coggs. If this trip had been approved by her, the uproar would have much more severe. Secondly, it is never a good idea to have an entity police itself. Look, where it got the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare.

My second suggestion is that this plan also encompass the County Executive’s Office. Walker has repeatedly displayed a willingness to abuse County resources for his own political gain. He needs a check on his abuse of power as much as anyone.

The third and most uplifting story coming out of the Courthouse today is that the Health and Human Needs Committee voted overwhelmingly to not approve Walker’s inane plan to privatize the call center. I have repeatedly pointed out that Walker’s mentality of “Screw the Poor” was a bad idea.

The call center will be of increasing importance as more and more people are being laid off from their jobs. They will need assistance with getting heat for their homes, food on their tables and health care for their children. Walker’s intentional neglect of fulfilling his duties by filling these positions is a pure and simple dereliction of duty and in direct violation of the oath he took last year when he was re-elected.

Walker’s willful negligence is also having other ramifications. He issued an emergency order to transfer a number of workers to the call center (still not filling it) which has left other area in the economic support department short-handed, delaying those services. He has also ordered mandatory overtime for all economic support workers to help make up for the gigantic backlog. To add to the fun, the paper also reports this:

The county has additional motivation to make sure people who qualify for benefits get them, county Corporation Counsel William Domina said. A federal lawsuit claiming 13 people were unfairly denied benefits because of county service backlogs has been granted class-action status, meaning the case was vastly broadened in scope to include anyone with the problem.

“We have to figure out a way to serve them, not just because it’s the right thing to do, which is your concern as supervisors, but also because it’s the legal thing to do,” Domina said.

In other words, Walker, in an effort to garner political and financial favors for his perpetual run for governor, has delayed services to more and more people, has stuck the county with a large overtime bill, and has opened the county for what could easily end up being a multimillion dollar lawsuit. To add insult to injury, his privatization plan would not have saved the taxpayers one dime in taxes.

To show you how fuzzy his logic really is, look at what Cory Hoze, the director of DHHS, who had the unenviable job of trying to sell this pile of odorous dreck, had to say:

Hoze said the privatization plan would mean about 25,000 calls a month could be answered – more than double the number now answered. A study last year found only about one in 10 calls got answered.

Walker added his two cents:

Walker has argued that with his privatization plan, more employees – most of them getting paid less than county workers – could be assigned to the call center. About two dozen employees from Impact, a local social service agency, would answer call center phones and 13 UWM workers would confirm benefit eligibility.

Now, I attended the budget hearing in November. I know that Walker’s plan would have cost the same as having 30 county workers, who could answer the phone AND work the computers. Walker’s plan would have allowed more phone calls to be answered, but less questions to be answered and less services to be actually provided. In plain speak, he would have charged us the same, but given us less than half of the service. If he was in the private sector, and he tried to pull a stunt like that, he would have ended up being one of the people trying to call the public assistance center.

The Health and Human Needs committee not only rejected Walker’s foolishness, but also put the pressure on him by issuing a plea to Walker to take emergency steps to add more workers to the call center. (I like Supervisor Dimitrijevic’s chutzpah by wanting to issue an County Board order to fill the spots and do what Walker should have done over a year ago. Too bad they don’t have the authority. The County would be much, much better off if we had that kind of leadership, instead of what we got now.)

Now the ball is in Walker’s court. He can do the right thing, finally, and fill those spots to ensure that the people that need these services are getting them, instead of a busy signal, or a glorified receptionist taking their name and number and telling them that someone will call them back someday.

Or he can keep on doing what he has been doing, and continue to abdicate his responsibilities and ignore the oath he took, like he did with his passive aggressive posturing with the federal stimulus money (which just was passed by the House of Representatives today).

In that case, I only have one question: Is it April yet?


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