Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Buying a pot of gold


Bruce Murphy, who broke the original Milwaukee County pension scandal, comments on the latest scandal and asks, “Who’s to blame for this sleazy deal?” Murphy blames a culture of cronyism, former County Executives Dave Schulz and Tom Ament, and the pension board.

The county board seems to have clean hands on this entire scandal, other than supervisor Michael Mayo, who sat on the Pension Board and pushed for benefits he could collect. But all the decisions were made by the Pension Board without getting county board approval. (This also means the media isn’t culpable, as it was for failing to cover the far bigger pension sweetener passed by the county board.)

What screams out here is the make-up of the pension board: Three members are appointed by the county executive, two by the county board chair, three by employee participants and one by the retirees. What’s wrong with this picture? Every appointee is made by someone who can benefit from the pension system. There is no appointee whose sole concern is the impact for taxpayers.

But then Murphy also addresses the person currently at the top, Scott Walker.

On the latest pension scandal, the worst that can be said about current County Executive Scott Walker is that he moved slowly. Walker took office in Spring, 2002, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the pension board voted to put a sunset on the buyback program for seasonal or part-time work.

Walker always seems to drag his feet when it comes to cleaning up the county’s pension system.

Maybe moving slowly is the worst he can be accused of, but that’s still pretty damning considering how he came to office in the first place. It shouldn’t have taken Walker’s administration over three years to find this problem with the pension system. Worse, it appears Walker became aware that there might be a problem when his former parks director Susan Baldwin benefitted from the pension buyback program. Walker is now calling for an outside agency to audit the program to see if there are any more “surprises”. Shouldn’t this have been done three years ago?

Walker deserves credit for holding the line on taxes and spending since taking office, but this is one time he earned a few political bruises.

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