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Supervisors Take Their Bickering Public

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on December 23, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

While struggling with the untenable fiscal situation that the last two countyexecutives have put Milwaukee County in, the County Board is looking at all options to determine the best, and the most realistic, solution to the issues facing them.

One of the biggest targets for reform is the pension system.  At the beginning of the year, the Public Policy Forum issued a report identifying legacy costs as being one of the biggest threats to the county’s fiscal future.  The legacy costs identified were there pension and health care costs.

Nothing of real significance can be done to reign in health care costs, so that leaves the Board to focus on the pension.

This has been the subject of study by the Strategic Planning Committee, headed by Supervisor Patricia Jursik.  One of the options that the committee is considering is converting the system from his current defined benefit structure to one of a defined contribution, such as a 401k style system.  Other options include having employees contribute a higher amount towards their own pensions and rolling the current system into the state’s pension system.

Last week, however, Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo, apparently positioning himself for a stab at the upcoming election for county executive, decided to take a page out of Scott Walker’s play book and did a little bit of grandstanding himself.  Sanfelippo introduced his own resolution to convert the pension system to a 401k.

Jursik felt insulted by Sanfelippo’s grab at the spotlight:

Supervisor Patricia Jursik said Sanfelippo’s effort to push his pension change idea now, rather than leaving it to a long-range planning panel that Jursik heads, was disrespectful.

The committee voted to defer the review of this option to two review groups, as well as to the county’s lawyers and labor negotiators.

There, issue resolved, right?  Not quite.

Sanfelippo and Jursik take their petty bickering to the public this morning when each of themwrote a letter to the editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Sanfelippo’s letter is printed first, in which he again does his grandstanding performance.  The end of his letter ends up with these two paragraphs:

An actuarial report issued to the board in July 2010 indicated this change could save the county more than $267 million over 10 years. This is the type of meaningful reform that will provide the kind of long-term solutions required to eliminate our structural deficit and return the county back to financial solvency. Furthermore, this move will protect county jobs by making them more affordable and allowing us the ability to fill vacant positions and put an end to furloughs, layoffs and outsourcing.

Modernizing our pension system in this fashion is a big step, but I remain cautiously optimistic that as this idea is explored in more detail over the next few months, the board will come together and agree that opportunities to realize savings of this magnitude are rare. This is important. Failing to take advantage of this opportunity now would be disastrous for the future of Milwaukee County government.

To think that Sanfelippo’s concern is really about the county workers, their furloughs or keeping the jobs in the public sector (even though that is the more fiscally responsible thing to do) is laughable.  Sanfelippo is as friendly to the county workers and the unions as Scott Walker is.

Likewise, Jursik isn’t done with putting her two cents in.  Apparently feeling that the paper didn’t adequately cover the point that she wanted to make, she repeats her comments from last week’s article:

The Journal Sentinel’s Dec. 13 article on Milwaukee County pensions completely missed the import of comments attributed to me. First, I also am chair of the Personnel Committee, which is the committee in which Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo’s resolution was introduced.

Simply asking to have the Strategic Planning Committee, which I also chair, to review this matter does not establish a “turf” war. As chair of Personnel, I could have easily refused to schedule the resolution, which would have resulted in no discussion. I did not choose to exercise that option.

What then is disrespectful? It is the refusal of certain members of the County Board to involve themselves in any meaningful dialogue during budget deliberations that move toward deficit reductions. Following the adoption of the budget establishing new concessions from our non-represented employees that resulted in requiring management staff to begin paying 50% of their pension costs, these non-participating supervisors only now seek to develop “new” plans.

The fact of the matter is that the Strategic Planning Committee already had been discussing the option of moving to a defined contribution plan, and we will continue to study this option. The resolution in question was an attempt to grandstand on this issue. That is disrespectful to the 13 supervisors who worked hard during the budget to find achievable solutions to the county’s structural deficit.

While it is undeniable that our elected leaders take some sort of action to restoring fiscal viability to the county, it is difficult to see how this will be accomplished with supervisors who put politics ahead of public policy and supervisors who complain about things they allowed to happen in an apparent passive-aggressive power struggle.

Maybe if they actually got down to doing the people’s work instead of this petty types of bickering and political posturing, they wouldn’t be so often the object of scorn and derision from the public.

 

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