PEOPLE-Local 645

  • Quality of Life Alliance

Walker Sticks It To County With Campaign Maneuvers

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on April 17, 2009

In the last two budgets, the Milwaukee County Board has authorized and fully funded 30 positions for the Income Maintenance Program’s call center. Despite having these positions fully funded, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker willfully broke the law, and his oath of office, by refusing to fill even a third of them, in an effort to sabotage the program and force the Board to privatize it. Walker did this to further promote himself as he geared up for the next phase in his perpetual gubernatorial campaign.

As a result of this severe self-imposed staffing shortage, Walker opened the County and the State of Wisconsin to a federal lawsuit that could have potentially cost tax payers millions of dollars. In response to Walker’s malicious neglect, and an arrogant challenge to the State, the State came in and took over the administration of the program from the County. But the State double crossed Walker and did the take over in an unprecedented way, in which the state would put its own supervisors in place, but leave the front line workers as county employees.

In a last ditch effort, Walker finally capitulated, partially, and filled 20 of the 30 positions, but he did so by taking them out of other areas and creating a lot of overtime for the workers. I haven’t heard on how much the county has paid out to cover this maneuver of Walker’s. Whatever the cost was, it was not enough to keep the State from taking over the program.

This morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker’s campaign maneuvering is going to have a bigger cost to the tax payers than originally thought. The state legislature, in the process of cobbling together the legislation needed to implement the takeover, will be charging Milwaukee County tax payers at least another half a million dollars than they originally told the board.

The County Board is understandably upset, because they are the ones that will catch hell from the tax payers for Walker’s folly. But they are also partially to blame. They failed to take the initiative and force Walker to follow County policy in filling those positions, like they were ready to do regarding the stimulus funds.

Also worth noting is that when Walker finally filled two thirds of the positions, there was a marked improvement in services:

The county’s poor performance in fielding calls to its public assistance call center was one of the key reasons given for the state takeover. For example, fewer than 10% of the calls to the center were answered during 2008 – a problem officials blamed on too few staff.

The center now responds to 60% of calls, and the wait time for a call to be answered has dropped from more than 90 minutes to 36 minutes, a county report said.

That underscores the county’s ability to fix the programs on its own, said Supervisor Peggy West, chairwoman of the county health panel.

They should also have been aware that Karen Timberlake couldn’t really make any guarantees as to what the state legislature would do.

But obviously the bulk of the blame falls on Walker as he followed his tunnel vision in his ill-fated pursuit of the governor’s mansion.

As bad as the news is with the extra cost to the tax payers, it could have been much, much worse. The State accomplished its goal of reaching a settlement in the class action lawsuit, which would have made that half a million dollars look like chump change. The actual settlement is available, via the paper, in this pdf.

I would expect that the State will have all of the positions filled, and that along with their own resources and guidelines should hopefully be enough to get both the state and the county from out of the lawsuit, and eventually put everything back under the county’s purview.

One thing that is painfully obvious in its absence in both of these articles is Walker’s response to these latest developments. In fact, there is no mention of him at all. One would think that in a story of this impact, Walker, being the publicity hound that he is, would have been chomping at the bit to try to spin this into an attack on Governor Jim Doyle.

But, as noted above, there is no mention of him whatsoever. Not even a line that he was unavailable for comment or that he had not comment, much less the apology he owes to the citizens of Milwaukee County.

So, where is Walker? Is he out campaigning? Was he too busy attending tea parties? (Wouldn’t that be just too ironic?)

Dan Bice, in a column that I will admit made my jaw drop to my keyboard, might have given us a clue. In his column, Bice informs us that Walker has been cobbling together a fund raising letter trying to spin his ever-morphing position on stimulus dollars. He was probably tied up for days on end, making sure that the letter had the right “sediment.”

Most of the column is a rehash of Walker’s lies and hypocrisies regarding the stimulus fund, but one of the things I found very interesting was this (emphasis mine):

So has he sought stimulus funds or not?

Walker spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin declined to discuss a campaign-related issue, referring questions to Walker’s election headquarters. The phone there was disconnected.

I find this very curious indeed, considering Walker has raised several hundred thousands of dollars in the past few months and that he is expected to announce his campaign in the next two weeks, leading up to the state GOP convention. Is his campaign in deeper trouble than we are aware of?

Or could it have something to do with his conspiring with CRG/WIN to make a foolish attempt at usurping the governor’s seat, a plan so painfully obvious and ill-advised that even James Wigderson has called them out on it?

Either way, two of the County Board Supervisors, John Weishan and Patricia Jursik, as well as Mr. Bice, seem to have Walker’s game plan down pat, as evidenced by the ending of Bice’s column:

Supervisor John Weishan Jr., a frequent Walker critic, said the campaign piece exposes why Walker has been so opposed to the stimulus funding. The county executive, Weishan said, wanted to use the issue to raise campaign cash.

“It highlights his hypocrisy,” Weishan said.

Jursik, the other County Board member, was even less forgiving.

While saying he opposed government handouts, she said, Walker sought federal dollars for bus rapid transit. He is also sending out this letter critical of stimulus dollars even while his department heads are seeking them, something Jursik said they should be doing.

“He’s played politics on this throughout,” she said. “He’s a non-issue. He’s abdicated his leadership position on this.”

But it doesn’t mean Walker can’t use the issue to stimulate his own fund-raising efforts.

POST SCRIPT: Rob Henken, head of the Public Policy Forum, responds to the morning’s news about the call center takeover and calls for the various levels of government to stop acting contrarily and to start acting cooperatively.

I think that the Board and the State would be able to work together. Unfortunately, any efforts to do so would be sabotaged by Walker and Doyle as they use the poor as pawns in their chess game for control of the state.

If Walker wants to run for governor, that’s fine. But he really needs to step down or be removed from his current office while he does so. We, the citizens and tax payers of Milwaukee County, can’t afford to keep paying for his campaign, his arrogance and his hypocrisies.

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