Saturday, December 10th, 2016

There’s never a Sheriff Clarke around when you want one

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Can we talk bluntly about Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke for a moment? It’s time to stop falling for the David Clarke show. I know it’s great to have an African American Democrat* show up at Tea Party rallies and talk about personal responsibility. Somebody from the Democratic side needs to. And, let’s face it, when it comes to talk radio, Clarke gives good quote.

But look past the television appearances and the amusing playground press releases. Look past the questionable public service announcement that’s put Clarke on national television. Clarke isn’t just some Kardashian-like celebrity. He’s actually an elected official and we should be judging him accordingly.

The latest Clarke controversy surrounds his decision to attend seminar in California put on by the Department of Homeland Security, taking the sheriff away from his job for twelve weeks over an 18-month period.

By the way, shhh. The sheriff’s whereabouts were a secret. WISN-TV reported,

Sheriff David Clarke sparked a heated debate recently over his radio ad calling on residents to get firearms training. He appeared on national news shows all last week from California.

When asked, the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t tell WISN 12 News why he was there.

But loose lips sink ships.

Clarke told CNN he was attending a homeland security conference in California, but WISN 12 News has learned he is actually earning a master’s degree at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School there.

But it’s still a secret.

When WISN 12 News has asked why Clarke is in California, his spokeswoman responded, “I don’t give out the details of the sheriff’s schedule,” Fran McLaughlin wrote in an email.

Really? Under what standard does an elected official think that his disappearance for eight weeks (that we know of) in a calendar year is not the legitimate interest of the taxpayers?

But instead of explaining his absence to the public, Clarke made a completely unreasonable demand of the television station. According to WISN-TV, he wanted three to five minutes of unedited time. Setting aside that’s a lot of time on a typical television news program, even friendly talk radio show hosts will not allow a guest to just take 3-5 minutes of unedited air time. Clarke had to know that there is no way any news organization could acquiesce to such a request. It was just a “poison pill” to kill off any chance of an interview without actually saying no.

Clarke defended himself instead at the new conservative website RightWisconsin.com (subscribers only). He wrote to them in an e-mail,

Imagine, a law enforcement official who doesn’t think that he knows everything and continues to pursue his education in a Homeland Security program focusing on counter terrorism. It is a very competitive program at a prestigous military research grad school (Naval Post Graduate School, the grad school of the Naval Academy at Annapolis) paid in full by the federal government, not local tax payers. It is a distance learning program with several in residence sessions to do research at the Naval Post Grad school in Monterey CA. What an opportunity! The rest is on-line here in Milwaukee. Six hundred people from across applied for the program that required a writing exam to get in. Thirty-one people were chosen out of over 600 applicants. You have to work for a government agency and be in a homeland security responsibility to even apply.

Nobody questions that it’s desirable for law enforcement officers to further their education, and nobody is denying that it was an honor for Clarke to be selected. (Although Clarke makes it appear it was dependent on his essay-writing ability rather than his qualifications or government title. Perhaps he should have been working on his Masters in English Composition instead.)

But why would Clarke even apply for a program that would take him away from his official duties for twelve weeks over an eighteen month period? there was no way to increase his knowledge base right here in Milwaukee, allowing him to be here for his job? What would have Clarke said to one of his deputies had he or she been accepted to the same program? “Here is your layoff notice?”

Clarke also points out that no local taxpayer money is involved (except, of course, his salary and benefits while he was AWOL). Are we suddenly willing to accept that federal money spent is free money? Is that a Tea Party value? Or does a new standard only apply to Clarke?

An anonymous media critic at RightWisconsin.com thinks the controversy is a non-story.

Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a “scoop.” But given the epidemic of Clarke-hate among Milwaukee politicians and the media, Henry understood that Sheriff Clarke’s pursuit of a master’s degree in California was just another opportunity for his critics to take a shot at the sheriff.

We don’t know Henry’s motive, but when an elected official disappears to warmer climes and his spokesman tries to keep his schedule and location a secret, that’s a news story. Just ask Mark Sanford.

Clarke is right he wasn’t caught in a hot tub in Las Vegas. He’s even right that young black men should look up to other black men who are continuing their educations. But disappearing from his responsibilities and then arrogantly trying to put his disappearance beyond discussion is nothing to be admired or respected. It is conduct unbecoming of an elected official.

* Former Governor Scott McCallum fell for the David Clarke show, too.
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