Monday, May 20th, 2019

Wards of the state


Somebody forgot to tell Milwaukee County Board Chairman Marina Dimitrijevic that county governments are the creations of the state, and are formed to do the state’s bidding. Maybe if the County Board could have demonstrated that they could be responsible, it might not have come to this.

A draft of a bill by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) obtained by the Journal Sentinel would require a binding referendum to be held in April that would cut the 18 supervisors’ pay to $15,000 a year and limit the County Board’s budget to 0.25% of the county’s total levy. That latter provision would require supervisors to fire almost all their staffs, according to County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic.

“It’s a slap in the face to local control,” Dimitrijevic said. “It’s not about the board or this board. It’s about the million people we represent and democracy.”

In a brief interview, Sanfelippo said that he was committed to introducing a bill to reform Milwaukee County government but stressed that he had not yet settled on what form the legislation would take.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. “I’m not even sure myself what it’s going to look like when it comes out.”

The version obtained by the Journal Sentinel – which is at least a fourth draft – would need to be on a fast track. The draft refers to needing to pass by Feb. 16 in order to get on the April 2 ballot. Proponents of the measure said they were optimistic they could pass it that quickly.

Sanfelippo, who has also backed trimming the size of the county board, said he tried for years to get the board to reform itself, but his ideas were met with resistance.

“It should come as no surprise to anybody,” Sanfelippo said of his effort. “They (on the board) had every opportunity to effectuate some change from within. They didn’t.”

The proposal would reduce supervisors’ pay from the current $50,679 to $15,000. The pay cut would be even greater for Dimitrijevic, who as chairwoman makes more than $71,000.

Unfortunately, the last two years have been a battle by the Board to protect and expand its turf, and not about making the changes necessary to save taxpayer money while providing services. If the county government is not going to effectively fulfill its mission, it’s time for a change.

Besides, we’re not talking aldermen. The Board will need to explain to the public why it’s so important for supervisors to be full-time given the amount of contact the typical supervisor usually receives from constituents.

Both Dimitrijevic and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson seem to forget why we have county government,

Though aimed at Milwaukee County, Dimitrijevic said the proposal has statewide implications. If lawmakers are willing to force a referendum on the pay of Milwaukee County supervisors, they could easily do the same for the pay of supervisors in other counties. Such a measure would distract lawmakers from their efforts to improve the economy, she said.

“I don’t want them to come into local control,” she said. “I believe locally we should be discussing what our local government is doing.”


Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), himself a former Milwaukee County Board member, said he needed to review the proposal but made clear he wasn’t likely to support it. He said he preferred letting local elected officials make those kinds of decisions.

“It just looks like they’re trying to subvert democracy and subvert local control,” Larson said of Republicans.

Kind of silly to be discussing “local control” when we’re talking about the unit of government that is supposed to be carrying out state functions at the local level.

As for Dimitrijevic, I wouldn’t mention other local county governments in a defense of her own. Milwaukee County has the only full-time government. The rest of the county governments have little in common, and I can’t imagine many of them would be sympathetic.

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