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What A Tangled Web Walker Weaves

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on June 8, 2009

JSOnline is reporting that Scott Walker has announced that he is shortening the hours that county buildings are going to be open.

Most Milwaukee County government offices will open half an hour later and close half an hour earlier, starting June 29, as county agencies adopt a 35-hour work week to comply with County Executive Scott Walker’s orders to cut spending, Walker’s office announced Monday.

New hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the Courthouse, the Safety Building and the Criminal Justice Facility downtown; the Marcia Coggs Center, 1220 W. Vliet St.; the City Campus office complex, 2711 W. Wells St.; the Department on Aging office in the Reuss Federal Plaza; and the Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center and the Parks Department headquarters in Wauwatosa. All of those facilities are now open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Access to the courts will be unaffected, according to Chief Judge Jeff Kremers. People will still be able to enter the Courthouse, Safety Building and Juvenile Justice Center for court-related matters as early as 8 a.m. and leave as late as 5 p.m. The Criminal Justice Facility and Juvenile Justice Center also will continue to be open for limited hours on weekends.

There are a lot of misstatements in their short article. First, all of those offices are open way past five p.m. The Coggs building is open until 7 p.m. Children’s Court is never closed at five, as that they cannot close until all the cases are heard, especially the emergency detentions. And I bet the small business owners and landlords will just love the idea of having their cases delayed further due to the inability to cover as many cases in the shortened day.

And as for the Courthouse Complex’ hours, that isn’t what was said in Walker’s original press release. Someone must have cued Walker in to how impossible that would be from the time of the release to the updated story from the local paper. But as pointed out before, it may still be unenforceable, due to emergency hearings and the such.

But shortening the availability of the county’s offices to the general public is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Walker’s political posturing.

As I mentioned last month, Scott Walker is planning on giving all county employees, with a few exceptions, a five hour a week furlough. As I pointed out in that post, this does raise a lot of unanswered questions. The union is currently challenging that since he wants to make the furlough open-ended and indefinite, which is in direct conflict with a 2003 arbitration ruling. The union is not arguing his right to order the furlough, or even its necessity, but are only asking for Walker to put some parameters on it.

To add to this, Walker again couldn’t resist but to try to keep up with Doyle by announcing that he wants to also freeze our pay. The odd thing about that is that, to the best of my knowledge, the only pay freezes that he is empowered to enforce would be for cost of living raises. But since county workers currently don’t have a contract, there were no cost of living raises, unless, by some no small miracle, a new contract was hammered out and ratified. And that does not look very likely at this point.

I learned today that, despite the fact that he is supposed to be  negotiating a contract with them, Walker has issued the unions an ultimatum. He said that he wanted the unions to accept the indefinite furlough, and still accept some layoffs at the end of the year, and to agree to surrender our rights to legal recourse on any present or future actions regarding this whole mess. In return, the unions would get nothing.

To put the cherry on this crappy sundae, he gave the union until the end of the workday Tuesday to capitulate to his demands, or he would immediately begin issuing lay off notices for some 300 workers, but only if they were members of AFSCME District Council 48. The problem is that this would be a collateral agreement, which would require a vote of the entire union, and that could not be done by Tuesday evening, even if it was something worth voting on, which this is not.

From what I understand, the hardest hit area would be the parks and highway workers. It makes you wonder, given that the county just opened their grand, new water park, who will be cleaning it and who will be providing lifeguard services, as well as what condition the rest of Milwaukee County parks will be like.

The next hardest hit area will be the Department of Health and Human Services (the one that I work in – it is not clear yet whether I will be directly affected by the lay off). This is also the probable reason for Walker’s manipulations. DHHS could lose up to 130 workers, most of whom will be in the Income Maintenance program, which the state had to take over due to Walker’s incompetence. This is obviously a political stunt by Walker, who is trying to stick it to Governor Doyle, by nailing the state tax payers with the bill of running and staffing the county-based program.

If this indeed happens, I wonder how Walker thinks it will sell with those upstate. I can almost see it now – “Hi, I’m Scott Walker. I made you pay for my county’s programs. Please vote for me.”

I also wonder how the County Board, who have publicly stated that they want every chance to show that the county can handle this program, will feel about Walker sabotaging their efforts to turn things around.

But outside of that, this will only hurt the people who need these services, which include food stamps, medical insurance, energy assistance, and child care. This need is only growing as more and more people lose their jobs. And this need is expanding, especially in the suburbs.

It will also probably delay the implementation of Family Care, thereby leaving 3,000 disabled adults, some of who have been on waiting lists for more than a decade, to wait that much longer before receiving services.

Other people that will be losing out our the senior citizens who count on the senior centers, and the poor people in the near north and near south sides, as I am sure this will also affect the community centers.

Heck, I’ve been told that even some department heads were contacting union presidents asking them to do what was necessary, because they know that their departments will not be able to function with the layoffs that Walker is proposing. They are concerned about the consequences and ramifications of this system wide failure could mean.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not writing to snivel about the possibility of losing my job. I have faced that possibility every year, and this threat has only grown since Walker took office. But I do have some concerns about this whole thing.

Why is Walker using the citizens of Milwaukee County and tax payers statewide as political pawns for an alleged proposed deficit? If the budget is so dire, how does Walker justify not cutting the hours or at least the exorbitant pay increases he gave to people like his former campaign manager? And why hasn’t he cancelled his tax payer funded campaign bike ride, scheduled for the end of this month? And how can he afford to just give away county land that is worth a lot of money? And seeing how most of the county services are reimbursed by state and/or federal funding, how can he justify actually cutting revenue, not to mention putting the county at risk for fines, penalties and class action lawsuits?

There are only two rational explanations for the dissonance in Walker’s management style. Either he is completely incompetent and is not qualified to be county executive, much less governor, or he is completely dishonest, and doesn’t care who he hurts to get a chance to run for governor.


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