Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

When the incumbent is the reformer

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 26, 2010; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

When the incumbent is the reformer

Trawicki’s handling of local law enforcement saves money

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

It’s always easy to talk about saving money in government, but finding those savings is often really difficult. When someone does find a possible savings for the taxpayer, there is often an institutional backlash hoping to prevent it.

We’re confronted with one such situation here in Waukesha County. We’re accustomed to thinking of challengers to incumbents as the reformers, but in this case the reformer is the current office holder, Sheriff Dan Trawicki.

The main issue in the sheriff’s race is the substitution of the county sheriff’s department for local law enforcement in a number of Waukesha County communities. Local communities such as the town of Waukesha and Sussex find it cheaper to have the sheriff’s department as their law enforcement agency instead of having their own.

One candidate, Tom Alioto, alleges that somehow Trawicki is coming into these towns like Clint Eastwood and forcing these local communities to chase their police officers out of town so the sheriffs can move in.

Trawicki, on the other hand, points out that he does not even make a presentation to any community that doesn’t ask him first. Of course, local communities often have a good reason to ask him to pay a visit.

The City of Pewaukee was looking at a $2 million budget shortfall when the sheriff came into town. By letting the sheriff’s department take over policing duty, the city estimated it would save $1 million. The alternative of keeping the police department but instituting furloughs and not filling vacancies would still have fallen $370,000 short on the projected savings. The City of Pewaukee understandably went with the sheriff’s department.

There were a few malcontents that were ready to try to recall local officials for daring to save money. They failed, the local officials had their bravery rewarded, and City of Pewaukee is better off.

Recently, when City of Pewaukee was in one of its endless merger discussions with the village, the city briefly considered ending the contract with the sheriff’s department to possibly consider contracting police service with the village. However, officials were happy with the sheriff’s department, so they stuck with the contract. Perhaps someday the village will consider using the sheriff’s department, too.

It is brave for local officials to consider contracting with the sheriff’s department. In Washington County, Jackson’s board saw a couple of members recalled because they just considered contracting with the sheriff’s department, not actually doing it.

But allowing local communities to contract with the county sheriff’s department makes sense when you take an objective view of the situation. The sheriff’s department already operates countywide. It already has an infrastructure to accommodate the needs of policing.

When the local communities contract with the sheriff’s department, it allows both entities to take advantage of economies of scale. It does not cost county taxpayers any more, and the local community is spared the overhead costs. As a result, there’s a net savings in the process.

The Kettl Commission predicted years ago that local government units cooperating like this would save money. Guess what: It works.

Alioto would undo the good work by pledging not to force any community into a contract. Since no other community was “forced” into a contract, a reasonable person would assume he means that he won’t seek other opportunities to help save money.

Alioto’s reluctance to absorb the policing duties of other small communities is understandable considering his background. He had just become the top cop in the town of Lisbon when town leaders decided they had had enough and contracted with the sheriff’s department, too.

The town made the decision after Alioto spent over a year collecting workman’s compensation for stress resulting from a “hostile work environment.” The town of Lisbon ended up spending $100,000 to defend itself from lawsuits resulting from disputes involving Alioto and his supervisor at the time.

That’s a little too much drama for any small community to get from its police department.

Taxpayers should take note. Given Trawicki’s track record in saving taxpayers money, going with a challenger in this race this year is all risk and little promise of reward.

JAMES WIGDERSON

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