Monday, November 13, 2006

Public Policy Forum forgets the important things.

What the hell has Tom Barrett and the city done to be so completely trashed by the Public Policy Forum in its economic development report? First the Forum wrote up a hatchet job, then the JS and reporter John Schmid took the bloody weapon and took a few of its own swings at the mayor in a Sunday story that made Barrett and Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux look like a couple of dolts.

Lots of "he said, he said" between Rocky and Brian Reilly, a former DCD staffer, and a few jabs at Barrett for interviewing what apparently, in writer John Schmid's view, was in insufficient number of people for the DCD commissioner's job.

The Forum's report is "ready! shoot! aim!" and maybe it hit a bullseye, but on the workforce development issue, shot the entirely wrong target. Was it a total set-up? An e-mail exchange between the city and the PPF does suggest that the Forum did not behave particularly well. More about that later.

This particular report, while it may contain some valuable ideas, spends too much time spanking the city for not being involved in workforce development efforts, which have not been a traditional municipal activity.

Some examples from the report:

In placing this bet, the city has largely neglected expenditures for business and workforce development that aim to bolster personal incomes, create jobs, and grow a skilled labor pool.

City leaders also would be right to question whether a continued emphasis on community and real estate development over job and workforce development will deliver desired results in the long term.

Only 1% of expenditures go toward workforce development. Although workforce issues are also the responsibility of other governments such as the Milwaukee Area Technical College and Milwaukee Public Schools, the city could play a much bigger role in ensuring a quality workforce, borrowing from a variety of city workforce development models nationwide...With a shrinking city labor force and the simultaneous “skills mismatch” between good paying
jobs and unskilled available workers, it may be time for the city to revisit its 1%
commitment to workforce development.

The Public Policy Forum seems to think property tax dollars should be diverted from police and libraries and fire departments and street repairs and invested in workforce development efforts instead. There's nothing wrong with that, except workforce development is what the Private Industry Council and the State Department of Workforce Development are supposed to do. The Forum's entire examination of the job the PIC does consists of this:

The city of Milwaukee should use its leadership position to partner with local employers,MATC, MPS, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Milwaukee County Private Industry Council, and other workforce development leaders to gain consensus on how the city could use its resource capacity to train workers for careers in local industries.

It probably would be very, very worthwhile for the Forum or the JS to poke around the PIC for a while. Are employers any happier with that agency than they are with the city? Key aldermen have stated publicly that they would like to turn some of the PIC's work over to the city because the city can do it better. Why do they believe that? Why didn't the Public Policy Forum ask?

Amazingly, the Public Policy Forum's omission of other agencies' workforce and economic development efforts was deliberate, according to the report: Only spending that filtered through the city of Milwaukee was included in the study. Grants or incentives from state or federal sources given directly to Milwaukee businesses and non-profits were not included.

Guess that's why the State Department of Workforce Development -- yes, an entire department devoted to what the Forum wants the city to take up with its spare change -- doesn't even rate a mention.

Excluding a large part of the known world sure makes the report writer's job easier. The city can be blamed for everything! Let's take transit. Under the Forum's study criteria, the county doesn't exist and transit is important to the city, so the declining transit system is the city's fault and the city should pay to fix it! Same with courts, parks, and on and on and on.

And so did the Public Policy Forum play fair with city officials in all of this? The following is an exchange that took place between city officials and the report's main author, Ryan Horton.

Deputy DCD Commissioner Martha Brown emailed Horton on Oct. 11:

Hi, Ryan -- I note that the latest PPF newsletter has a "tease" on the ED study. I believe you were going to share the draft with us -- sounds like it may be time to set that up. Please let me know when you'd like to get together.


Horton responded the next day:

Absolutely. We are still working on the initial draft. Does the last week in October or first week in November work for you?

The dialogue continued:

From: Brown, Martha
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2006 12:16 PM
To: Ryan Horton
Subject: RE: ED study

Hi, Ryan -- I'll be out of the office on Friday, November 3, and Monday, Nov. 6 is already packed with meetings. But other than those two days, I'm sure we can get something on the calendar. Ideally, we'd get the draft in advance and I'd be able to circulate it and gather a few folks around the table to talk with you about anything they read that they feel needs discussion.

Our best course would be to decide on a time so I can get it on calendars -- would some time the afternoon of Thursday, November 9th work for you?


From: Ryan Horton
Sent: Monday, November 06, 2006 5:33 PM
To: Brown, Martha
Subject: RE: ED study

Hi Martha, I just want to confirm our Thursday meeting at 3pm. I assume we will be meeting at the same location - 2nd floor, DCD. Myself, Jeff Browne and our communications director, Jerry Slaske will all be in attendance. Whom can we expect from the city? We have a phone call into Pat Curley inviting a representative from the Mayors office. The official release for the report will be next Monday (Nov. 13th). I will hand out draft copies of the report at our meeting on Thursday. See you then - Ryan


From: Brown, Martha
Sent: Monday, November 06, 2006 6:08 PM
To: Ryan Horton

Cc: Patrick Curley;

Subject: RE: ED study

Ryan -- We'll be meeting in the Commissioner's Conference Room, 2nd floor, 809 N. Broadway (same room in which we met the last time). If you are intending to release a report on Nov. 13th, it would be very helpful to get a copy in advance of the meeting Nov. 9. As I mentioned earlier, it's my hope to be able to circulate the draft in advance of the meeting, because if there are errors or misinterpretations in the draft, we'd like to be helpful in catching those before you go to print.

The following DCD folks are confirmed to attend: Jim Scherer, Dave Latona (Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.), Joel Brennan, myself. Unfortunately, Rocky isn't able to be there. I've also invited Pat Walsh, but haven't yet heard from him.




From: Ryan Horton
To: Brown, Martha
Sent: Tue Nov 07 11:49:36 2006
Subject: RE: ED study

Martha, I spoke with Jeff about your request to see the document in advance of our Thursday meeting. Because the report is still in draft form, we do not feel comfortable sharing it prior to Thursday. Changes in language are still being made. As always, we need to retain our independence when we release any Forum report. At the end of the day, if there are errors or misinterpretations, it's our fault. That said, we look forward to reviewing the findings and policy options with you and your staff on Thursday. Thank you again for all your cooperation over the past year. Ryan

What Horton meant to say is that the report could not be shared with the city -- the Forum was fine with handing it over to the JS. Patrick Curley, Barrett's chief of staff, was not a happy camper when he found out what was going on.

From: Patrick Curley
Sent: Wednesday, November 08, 2006 1:42 PM
Cc: Brown, Martha; Eileen Force

Subject: ED Study and Press

This email you sent to Martha would have a whole more credibility if John Schmid hadn't called and asked for comment. Specifically, he asked, "What's your reaction to the Public Policy Forum's Economic Development Study?" I replied, "don't have it, haven't seen it." Obviously, he has had it, he's seen it. So, despite the fact that Martha Brown and DCD have cooperated with you over the past year, you and Jeff have no qualms about sandbagging us.

Cooperative endeavors must mean something different to you and yours than to us.

Horton then does what comes naturally -- he blames the reporter. This e-mail is sent on Nov. 8, at 6:43 p.m.

Pat, I understand your frustration and I apologize. We will take up the issue with John.


Attached is a copy of the report which is embargoed until Sunday, Nov. 12th. This report is not to be forwarded to any other media outlet or those not on this email until after Nov. 12th.

Ryan Horton
Public Policy Forum

There is just not much in the study, the JS story, or the e-mails that indicates a good-faith effort to study the city's economic development efforts. It all smacks of an effort to get a report's findings into the newspaper, with the report, its findings, and the way they were handled were all means to that end.

Whatever good is in the report's recommendations -- yup, the city should have an economic development plan -- is mostly lost in the muck the Forum itself has dumped on itself and its effort.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I take some issue with your focus on the vetting proces, rather than the fundamental point of the article, which is: Milwaukee has no Economic Development plan. I am fed up with taxpayer's subsidizing the Selig's, Atanasio's, Grunau's, Kohl's, and real estate developers. Why did the City have to let Northridge and Capitol Court remain blighted and abandoned for so long? Why isn't 'Rocky' (another one of one-term Tommy's brilliant appointments) savvy enough to at least pretend to care? Why don't you engage the same journalistic acumen to hold Barrett accountable for his miserable lack of leadership as you did (justifiably) with Reynolds?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I also wondered at the drive-by reference to other cities receiving funding that, in this city, goes instead to the Private Industry Council. Isn't that (UW Regent, Doyle foe, conservative squawk tv guest) Gerard Randall's agency? Why didn't the JS talk to him or someone at the PIC?

Oh, sorry, I forgot -- that might have made for a balanced story, one that actually would better inform the readers.