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March Madness: Walker Style

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on March 13, 2009

Yesterday, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker found out that the 1,423rd time is not the charm.

Even though he has repeatedly brought forth the motion of moving the mental health complex from the county grounds in Wauwatosa to the dilapidated St. Michael’s Hospital on the north side, having that bone-headed idea shot down each time, he thought he’d try it again.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the story in the section called “Regional Briefs” in their dead-tree version, but their online site hasn’t been updated for a few days now, at least as of the time of this writing.

There is much that MJS doesn’t tell us in that little blurb. They only mention that Walker’s budget director, Steve Kreklow, came up with a fourth set of numbers trying to make it look more appealing to the County Board’s Finance and Audit Committee. The only thing that I noticed that was really new was that Team Walker is finally admitting that the St. Mike’s is not the best idea, when Kreklow is quoted as saying that the St. Mike’s renovation “perhaps is not ideal in a perfect world, but it is functional.”

Well, a cardboard box is functional, too, and might last longer than the old hospital site and would most likely last longer than the developer’s involvement in the hospital. The developer, WEAS Development, made the grand promise of doing all the maintenance and housekeeping for the next 25 years. But developers aren’t in the business of building management or being a landlord. Odds are strong that they would have sold off the contract within five years, and the County would have been stuck with this new and unknown factor. That does not mention the fact that after the contract expires, whoever holds the other end of the contract, would have the County over a barrel. The County would be needing housing for several hundred patients, no building and no land to build a new facility on. They would be at the mercy of the landlords.

But I have talked about this before. In fact, it feels like I’ve been talking about this forever.

I have been told that during the hearing yesterday, Walker’s new Deputy Chief of Staff, Tim Russell, a political appointee due to his working on previous Walker campaigns, told the committee that there was no way Walker would agree to a new building. He was then overheard telling John Chianelli, the head of Behavioral Health Division, to plan on having revisions done to the current building.

If Walker was a real leader, with any kind of vision and creative thinking, would realize that there is a win-win scenario available. Unfortunately for us taxpayers, Walker’s limited vision and experience doesn’t allow him to see beyond his single plank platform of tax freezes. His avarice and aspirations don’t allow him to see past selling off land to curry political favor and campaign contributions.

If Walker had real leadership skills, he would be able to look at the big picture. The State and the Dept. of Transportation is hellbent on doing reconstruction on the zoo interchange. From what I have heard and seen, at least one, if not more, county-owned buildings, including the Zoofari building and maybe one or two buildings at the former Children and Adolescent Treatment Center would be razed.

If the state did raze these buildings, they would owe the county recompense for them. They could use this money towards building a new facility on the county grounds.

And Walker would still be able to work out negotiations with Children’s Hospital, Froedtert, the Medical College, and whoever else wants part of that parcel of land where the current facility is. The money from this sale and/or lease could be added to the money from the state towards the new, state of the art building.

Not only that, but a good and wise executive could also parlay the deal into having these land vultures agree to having their contractors build the new hospital. Given all of their expansion lately, they are very familiar with how to work with these contractors, and it would probably save both the private agencies and the county if the same contractor(s) are used for both constructions.

The monies from these two sources, plus some stimulus dollars that Board Chairman Lee Holloway applied for while Walker was busy posturing, would cover most, if not all, of the cost to build the new facility, which the County would then own, and not have to worry about new landlords or what would happen at the end of any leases. All without raising the tax levy.

Those with mental health needs, or the providers of these services, would have a brand new, state of the art, functional mental health facility which was close to medical hospitals. The taxpayers for very little, if any, tax dollars, would have a great investment. The private agencies would have access to the county grounds that they’ve been coveting. And Walker would still be able to curry his political favor and campaign contributions.

Unfortunately, our current county executive is neither good nor wise. Instead, he will pursue the more expensive route of hiring a contractor to do the renovations needed to fix all the disrepair he allowed to happen over the past several years, at the taxpayers’ expense, and the county-owned property across the street will still sit underutilized.

This is just another example why I keep hearing a growing rumble for Walker’s recall.


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