Thursday, January 31, 2008

City mired in its own misconduct

Some East side residents are hot, hot, hot because the Historic Preservation Commission on Monday did not really re-open discussion about the Downer Ave. parking garage.

How does this get fixed when the city has done almost everything possible to ensure that people don't trust it?

But since most of city staff's wrong-doing came after the Common Council and mayor approved the project, it's not clear how much the Historic Preservation Commission can do at this point. It might be able to undo the amendments it probably had absolutely no authority to make to an already-approved plan in the first place, but would that be better or worse for the neighbors? This is not to blame the Commission for this mess. It is pretty clear that a persistent Peter Kovac wore the mayor's office down, and that city staffers sought to intervene in the project to help him out and to just make him go away. Who insisted on cheating to to get things done still isn't clear.

HPC member Sandra McSweeney, in a resolution that didn't pass, said that DCD staff called the illegally (probably) closed meetings of the subcommittee that considered the garage and that DCD even called Monday's HPC meeting. McSweeney sought to make a very public statement that this mess, indeed, ain't of HPC's making.

Meanwhile, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has gone on record stating its unhappiness with the city's processes in this matter. The National Trust is the country's largest non-profit preservation organization. From Royce Yeater, the Trust's Midwest Director:

The National Trust also must enter into the record its dissatisfaction with the actions of the City surrounding the review and approval of this development. The case of McCarthy et al v. City of Milwaukee and DAPL, LLC has highlighted the deficiencies of the process and casts doubt about whether or not the City is attempting to undermine the power and authority of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The City did not negotiate with the Wisconsin Historical Society and violated Wisconsin law by failing to do so. There also are serious questions about whether all of the transactions and the Historic Preservation Commission’s work concerning the development were in violation of the Open Meetings law. The Special Meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission on January 28th and the actions taken as a result offer an opportunity for corrective actions to be taken.

As a quasi-judicial body, there needs to be full and open disclosure of all actions of the Historic Preservation Commission and any Subcommittees appointed by the Commission. The process must be transparent and allow all property owners the due process guaranteed to them by the Constitution. The public must be allowed to be present, the voice of historic preservation advocates as well as the petitioners’ actively sought, and all meetings fully recorded.

In addition, we strongly encourage continued conversations between the City, Historic Preservation Commission, developer and Wisconsin Historical Society to reach an accommodation that can be supported by all. Chip Brown, III indicated in his January 16th letter to Judge Elsa Lamelas that he remains willing to negotiate the parking lot development plan with the City. Mr. Brown also mentioned that the developer indicated in his testimony on Friday, January 11th that he is willing to negotiate a smaller structure if his parking needs can be met elsewhere in the neighborhood.

The National Trust supports the Historic Preservation Commission in its mission to safeguard the city’s historic and cultural heritage. We all want the same thing for Milwaukee – economic vitality demonstrated through vibrant neighborhoods, and active commercial districts. As we at the National Trust know, this is most readily accomplished by respecting and utilizing the city’s historic resources. Circumventing the historic preservation laws enacted to protect historic resources undermines their potential and results in neglect and demolition. In the future, we look forward to continuing to support the Historic Preservation Commission and the City of Milwaukee in their efforts to revitalize the city through rehabilitation and reuse of its historic structures.

This isn't over by a long shot. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shame of Sheriff David Clarke and Milwaukee County

At least now someone is paying attention.

The up-to-$80 million the State Court of Appeals says Milwaukee County may have to pay because of the awful, inhumane way Sheriff David Clarke's staff treated inmates at the Milwaukee County is getting a lot more attention from major media than the actual awful, inhumane treatment did when it was exposed. (The county actually contended that the reason all this bad stuff happened is that a Sheriff's Department employee never moved the scroll bar at the bottom of his computer screen).

The potential penalties are front-page news today. News of the actual conditions under which inmates suffered ran back with the underwear ads. Now we know that potential monetary penalties levied because of 19th century incarceration practices are considered more important to the main players of the Fourth Estate than maltreatment of mostly poor, minority inmates under those same 19th century incarceration practices.

Totally unsurprising, totally discouraging.

By the way, for those who think it's OK to mistreat criminals: the jail is mostly a pre-adjudication detention facility, which means the vast, vast, vast majority of those subjected to Sheriff Clarke's incompetent, highly-injurious care hadn't been convicted of whatever had landed them in the hoosegow in the first place.

If you are interested in reading more about the jail case, it's here and here and includes links to many of the major documents filed in the case.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A soft landing for Dick Cheney?

Vice President Dick Cheney's time of allowing major corporations to pillage America's assets undisturbed is almost (but not almost enough) over. Do not fret for the bad hunter, though. Halliburton, where he worked before, had a great year and probably can find a closet or a country where Dick can put a desk or pine over wars he almost, but not quite, got started.

From Rigzone, an oil industry newsletter:

Halliburton reported that revenue was $15.3 billion for the full year 2007, an increase of 18% from the full year 2006, and operating income was $3.5 billion, an increase of 8% from the full year 2006.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Downer Ave. deal: the reek continues

The public record related to the Downer Ave. parking garage continues to grow, and so does the stench about the way the Department of City Development handled the whole deal.

The Historic Preservation Committee is meeting tomorrow to discuss the matter, and emails are flying among activists and preservationists. If these people trusted DCD to any degree before, they don't now. DCD broke faith with the public and is going to have to go a long way to fix it.

My heavens, what were the folks at DCD thinking? Who was pushing to get the deal done even if laws had to be trampled? And what is being done to assure that this kind high-handed sneakiness doesn't happen again?

DCD, having been slapped pretty hard by Circuit Judge Elsa Lamelas for breaking the law and misleading a Common Council committee about the parking garage plans, has now put quite a bit of background information about the matter online, including Lamelas' decision.

Unfortunately, DCD still is in the minimization mode. An "summary" of the disaster by DCD Deputy Commissioner Martha Brown says only that Lamelas "expressed concern that the subcommittee meetings held in May and June were not publicly noticed and not open to the public."

Hey, Lamelas compared the city's conduct to that of a "totalitarian state." There was a lot more than an open meetings violation that she was concerned about.

What did DCD do wrong? Well, for starters, the Downer Ave. parking garage was proposed for a historic district. Said the judge in her ruling:

Given these circumstances...the Wisconsin Statutes required good-faith negotiation between the city and the State Historic Preservation Officer. This did not take place. Not only did the city fail to notify the State Historical' Society, even after Mr. Chip Brown, the Third, wrote to the city, advising the city of its obligation under state law, the city ignored the letter.

The State Historical has no enforcement authority, the judge noted, adding: I am troubled and discouraged that the city simply ignored what is nevertheless its statutory obligation to protect historic districts, properties, and the public trust. Our state's largest city is where we should turn to for civic lessons in statutory compliance, not noncompliance.

Ouch. But that was only the beginning.

The garage plan got altered a bit, and the judge said the alterations were minor and neighbors did not have to be notified. Then she lit into DCD again:

But the representations made to the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission (actually a Common Council committee) regarding the Historic Preservation Subcommittee are disturbing. I have considered that public bodies most likely would not be shocked to discover that not all persons who come before them are truthful. I imagine that they, like judges, have discovered that some persons who come before them are less than truthful.

The problem here has to do with the fact that the information regarding the position of the Historic Preservation Subcommittee came from a city staff person whose word presumably the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission was entitled to rely on and did rely on. The apparent misinformation standing alone might not suffice to undermine the action of the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission. My concern is that it appears related to a desire to control or perhaps silence the Historic Preservation Subcommittee.

City staff trying to "control or perhaps silence" an HPC committee? This is monumentally serious stuff. The city needs knowledgeable people to volunteer to serve on its committees and commissions. Squashing their ideas isn't a good way to attract them.

The subcommittee was appointed to work with the developer on some details of the plans for the five-story parking garage at 2574 N. Downer Ave.

And yes, there is more from the judge. That little thing called the Open Meetings Law got in the way of DCD's desires. Lamelas again:

These were subcommittee meetings that were closed to the public for no apparent reason and which at first blush appear to be violations of the Open Meetings Law. Once again, that is not an issue before me; and, therefore, I make no final, reach no final conclusions. But my reading of the statute and my understanding of the record as it appears before me has revealed no apparent reason to justify the closing of those meetings; no subsection of the statute seems immediately apparent. While the city contended that the commissioners are not conversant with the requirements of the Open Meetings Law, it turned out that one of the commissioners had raised that very question with city staff and that the concern apparently went unanswered.

Ordinarily we expect the governmental entity in question to provide this sort of information, regarding the law, to lay people appointed to serve the community in commissions such as the historic/ the city's Historical Preservation Committee, and forgive me if I'm misstating the name of the committee. I think you know what I'm talking about. I learned that there was no response to the commissioner who raised the question. I also learned during the course of the hearing that the city attorney's office has an expert in the area. And yet the city permitted closed meetings to go forward....

And when the subcommittee did meet, city staff made sure the minutes read the way city staff wanted them to read -- one commissioner sought to make significant corrections, but staff didn't feel like it.

Not only did the city conduct these meetings in closed session, it then took it upon itself to record meetings incompletely. When one of the commissioners objected over the omission of certain material covered during one of these meetings and attempted to supplement the record, the request was ignored. City staff did not trouble itself to inform the commissioner that the record would not be supplemented. The explanation given for this conduct is that the subcommittee had been discussing matters outside of its jurisdiction. It is a matter so fundamental that I am amazed to have to reference it that the purpose of minutes is to record. If minutes were scrubbed by staff to include only those matters deemed appropriate by the writer, there would be no value to minutes at all.

Isn't that what they do in totalitarian states?

The judge summarized things nicely:

So, with respect to the subcommittee, the public was denied access at the time of the meetings, the record was manipulated, and the city sought to suppress the testimony of those who might have clarified just what transpired.

Other than that, it was great!

Then, apparently, the manipulations rolled on.


The city then sought to have the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission believe that the modifications to the DPD (Detailed Planned Development) were the work of the Historical Society Subcommittee, or at least that's one of the interpretations to be given to the transcript which I think is Exhibit 14. This course of conduct seems extraordinary, so extraordinary that it raises questions about the manner in which Milwaukee made the decisions at issue here. I am concerned that the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission was deprived of accurate information. Whether or not the subcommittee was acting outside of its jurisdiction, the fact is that it appears that the Zoning and Neighborhood Commission was misinformed regarding the commission's subcommittee, the Historic Preservation Subcommittee's position....

The judge concluded:

I want to close with another quote from Holmes, and it's from the same case that I cited earlier. It is this: "We are in danger of forgetting that a strong public desire to improve the public condition is not enough to warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way of paying for the change."

I understand that the city had a strong desire to develop Downer Avenue and that in its mind the development would improve the public condition. But it, the city, should bear in mind that its failure to negotiate with the state and to deprive -- and to provide the public with access to information discussed at meetings does seem to reflect an inclination to the shorter cut.

The city's shortcut slashed through public trust, shredding it pretty badly. Maybe Monday's meeting will show us if the agency is willing to start repairing what it so badly damaged in its scramble for a desired outcome.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Our disappointing Congress

The stimulus deal on a Congressional fast-track is a bad one -- more tax breaks for businesses and meaningless tax rebates for the masses that will take too long to distribute to do much for the economy -- and our elected officials sworn to uphold the law instead are about to telcos immunity for breaking it.

There's a chance slimmer than a fashion model that these things will get fixed before final passage, but they probably won't be.

What a damned depressing state of affairs.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The House of Correction -- for shame

The feds agree that conditions are awful in the House of Correction, the JS reports today.

That's certainly been no secret. House employees have appealed repeatedly to the County Board for assistance -- County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin says that one of those meetings included some of the most gut-wrenching testimony she has heard in years.

County Executive Scott Walker's response to the feds' report -- that the problems at the House are "longtime institutional challenges" -- is unacceptable. The broken House of Correction is absolutely Walker's problem to fix. He simply hasn't done that -- he hasn't even tried. His proposal to close the Downtown work-release center was just a gimmick, a proposal made without a thought behind it other than fooling property taxpayers for another budget season.

Walker's neglect of this issue is not benign. He knows exactly what he is doing and the impacts it has on the House's staff and inmates. It's pretty alarming that he is willing to sacrifice both to his political theatrics. Walker is inviting a lawsuit or, even worse, a disaster at the House. Both are avoidable, but it looks like Walker isn't willing to do what is necessary to avoid them. Let's hope the County Board is.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amen, aldermen

The Common Council's Public Works Committee delayed action on renewing a contract to sell water to Menomonee Falls until it shows a little more willingness to participate in other areas of regional cooperation, such as transit and housing.


Water is Milwaukee's ace. Waukesha County already is happily sucking jobs and wealth out of Milwaukee County, leaving its people (especially minority) behind. Playing the water card isn't popular with the pro-suburban element, but it's necessary to force Waukesha County to realize that cooperation isn't all "take."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rate cuts and stimulus

Rah rah for the interest rate cut and all that, but doesn't do much to address one of the basic problems -- interest rates that are resetting on mortgages of all types. Yes, some people will be able to refinance mortgages at the amazingly lower interest rates, but a whole lot of adjustable rates have obscene prepayment penalties that will make refinancing very difficult, if not impossible.

The interest rate cut might be like stitching up a scratch on the left arm when an artery is cut on the right.

And be wary, very wary, of any stimulus plan proposed by President Bush. Tax cuts for businesses won't help the real estate market and tax cuts for individuals likely won't be enough to help financially-drowning folks get out of the riptide. The Dems aren't doing a whole lot better: Hillary Clinton is proposing a three-month moratorium on foreclosures and a logical question is this: what the hell good is that going to do? Is having more debt when you lose your house the answer to the economy's woes? Barack Obama is proposing, among other things, a $250 tax credit for workers. Be still, my heart! He also is east proposing a $10 billion bailout to help homeowners facing foreclosure. That's not enough, but at least he is aiming in the right direction.

Unless Congress enacts some fundamental mortgage industry reform, a lot of people are going to lose their houses and a lot of decent landlords are going to lose their investments (a lot of slumlords are going to be hit hard, too, but the correct response to that is: "too bad, so sad"). Congress usually fails on the important stuff, so don't expect real reform anytime soon.

It looks like the next few years aren't going to be much fun, economically speaking. Congress, should it get its act briefly together, should not wait too long to extend unemployment insurance benefits. Folks might lose their houses and their jobs, but let's try to make sure they have enough to pay the rent and to keep their families together until things get a little better.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The 7th Aldermanic District: Part II

The 7th Aldermanic District has a pretty obvious property flipping problem going on: anyone out there paying attention?

And if it's going on in the 7th District, it is probably going on all over the city. Property flipping is a disease, leading to boarded-up buildings, high foreclosure rates, and handsome payoffs for the second-to-the last property owner.

Last week, curious about property values in the central city, I compared the 7th District residential sales prices and volume in the first five months of 2006 to the first five months of 2007. I chose the 7th District for no particular reason other than much of it is in the central city.

Afterwards, I thought it would be interesting to see how much prices changed for the same property. Wow. I thought there would be a clear downward trend, but on the contrary, prices of most of the homes climbed rather dramatically and suspiciously.

When 110-year-old house that sold for $16,500 in October sells for $40,000 in November, something's amiss. That property, now assessed at $29,000, has since been foreclosed upon.

Another property that sold for $30,000 sold for $90,000 five months later. The owner is the defendant in multiple foreclosure actions in civil court.

In yet another instance, the price of a 900-square-foot cottage soared from $20,000 to $65,000 in the same month. It is assessed at $21,200. That property owner, too, was a defendant in multiple foreclosure cases.

These cases weren't isolated. A house in the 3400 blok of N. 45th St sold for $80,000, then $110,000 -- in the same month.

There were 58 properties that were sold twice during the time period considered -- basically from the beginning of 2006 until May of 2007. Let's not include the two properties with price increases of more than 1,000% and the couple of properties where it could not be determined whether the higher price was the first or second sale. Even with those allowances, the average price increase was 84%. Perhaps major improvements were made, but a quick check of 12 of the properties showed that permits weren't pulled for anything that would justify such price increases.

And remember, these increases occurred as average sales prices in the district were declining. There is no doubt that dubious sales are disguising the full extent of the drop in central city real estate prices. So the questions are: how bad is it out there? When will we find out?

And then what?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sure makes me want to run for office

Why would anyone want to run for office and have to put up with the lousy, mean, dirty tricks along the way?

It's not an original thought, but here's a lttle more evidence that people seeking public office either better be really tough or a little nuts. From Bloomberg, about the goings-on in South Carolina:

Among Republicans, the shenanigans this year include automated telephone pseudo-surveys trashing former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson's stance on abortion, mailings claiming Arizona Senator McCain turned his back on fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam and a phony Christmas card from former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney extolling polygamy...

The dirty tricks began in December, when some South Carolina voters received Christmas cards purportedly from Romney, a Mormon. The card quoted controversial passages from the Book of Mormon that describe God as a polygamist and refer to the Virgin Mary's white race. The mailing targeted South Carolina's large evangelical population, many of whom regard Mormonism as a cult.

McCain, meanwhile, has been attacked in phone calls to voters that describe his support for campaign-finance legislation as ``a restrictive assault on free speech.'' The calls also say he ``voted for a law that would have allowed unborn babies to be used for medical research'' by backing a bill allowing embryonic stem-cell research....

``Many understudies of Lee Atwater are still in this state, in the political-consulting business,'' said Blease Graham, a scholar of Southern politics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.


Friday, January 18, 2008

More WisDOT frustrations

The folks at WisDOT's open house yesterday could not even get their story straight among themselves.

Will additional traffic capacity be considered during the Zoo Interchange project? Depends on whom you ask.

Bush and the recycled email tapes

The Bush Administration has disclosed that it recycled and re-used tapes used to record email messages instead of buying more.

The bad news: millions of emails that should have been save are now lost.

The good news: the world has finally found something for which President Bush actually reduced spending.

Or maybe the government paid Halliburton $50,000 per to re-load the tapes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who was the staff member?

Circuit Judge Elsa Lamelas ripped the city a new one for its amazingly bad performance in considering neighborhood concerns over plans for a big parking structure on Downer Ave.

Lamelas found that a Historic Preservation Commission subcommittee met in secret, likely a violation of the open meetings law, and that a city staffer ensured that meeting minutes did not reflect everything discussed.

Lamelas ordered the Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee to meet to hear citizen comments on the project, and said that the committee should make a public confession of the error of its ways. The JS story, though did not list any ZND sins at all, but laid all of them at the feet of the Historic Preservation Commission, which is not a part of ZND.

If the issue was misconduct by the Historic Preservation Commission, then the Department of City Development should be the one confessing. The commission is, after all, staffed by DCD. Certainly the commission should have been better advised by staff -- again, this would be DCD -- about its obligations under the open meetings law.

ZND is not blameless in this matter -- I remember this issue coming before the committee only because residents testifying were treated so very rudely -- but bad manners are not against the law. Secret meetings may well be.

The two are vastly different degrees of public service sin.

WisDOT playing fast and loose with the Zoo Interchange

Plans may include expansion that is not to be studied in the environmental assessment process.

Details here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Milwaukee real estate: just something to think about

Here's a little exercise I did when too tired to do anything else.

Import 2007 residential sales data for 7th aldermanic district into Excel. Wonder why the 2007 data goes only through May. Ponder that for a moment, move on.

Import 2006 residential sales data for 7th aldermanic district into Excel. Compare the first five months of the two years.

No. of sales in 2007: 155
No. of sales in 2006: 299

Average sales price 2007: $96,264
Average sales price 2006: $99,074

Not good news. And as sales and values drop in some areas in the city, what do you think will happen to property taxes in others?

Flynn, Murphy singin' the same tune

Could this be the start of a beautiful relationship?

Police Chief Edward Flynn was sworn in a week ago and already figured out something Ald. Michael Murphy has been saying for years -- the Police Department's technology just sucks.
Murphy, eons ago, requested the audit that last summer finally confirmed the pervasive technology problems.

Flynn is the new guy, had nothing to do with creating the problem, and has nothing to lose by going public. What is nice about the way he did it, though, is that he asked for help -- civilian help. Previous chiefs didn't think civilians were trustworthy enough to handle police data, which led to police officers acting in IT jobs for which they were unqualified, which led to this general sad state of affairs.

Now Flynn has acknowledged the problem and has opened the Police Department doors at least a little bit and Murphy can put down the hammer he's used to beat this issue for years now.

A very nice start.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The sun did shine

For just a few minutes on Saturday evening.

The city doesn't need this

The billboard industry wants the Common Council to adopt an ordinance that will allow hucksters and advertisers to destroy the landscape of the city.

The bad news is that the council might do it. The industry is pushing for an ordinance change that would allow every billboard in the city to be converted to electronic versions that change messages every six seconds.

Industry representatives argue that there will not be a wholesale changeover in signs because of the expense involved and expertise needed. That seems to be an iffy proposition: the price of technology has a habit of falling, and expertise gets replaced by easy-to-use software. If the council approves the change, it won't be too long before we have dozens or hundreds of billboards screaming at us even louder than they do now.

The billboard industry has a lot of money and, judging from Ald. Mike D'Amato's water-carrying performance during last week's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee, the billboard industry has him as well. (It's one thing to support a measure -- it's another to cut off testimony when it might not be what one wishes to hear. D'Amato's abrupt silencing of a city traffic engineer brought laughter of disbelief from other committee members.)

The Federal Highway Administration is starting to study safety issues related to frequently changing billboards. Do they distract drivers? Do traffic lights get lost in the bright lights of the billboard? We don't know, and some aldermen don't want to wait a year to find out. They want to give the billboard industry everthing it wants -- right now.

The ZND Committee eventually recommended tabling the matter, but Ald. Michael Murphy, who opposes the lights-in-your-eyes measure, said he expects it to be fully debated when the full council meets on Tuesday.

The proposed changes are a sweet deal for advertising behomoths like Clear Channel and Lamar, but are bad news for the rest of us and for the city's aesthetic.

Who will the council serve when it votes on this issue?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tony Romo

Why can't he choke like that when he's playing the Packers?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dan Cody speaks out

Dan Cody is indeed distancing himself from Jim McGuigan's sexist post regarding Supervisor Lynne DeBruin.

I've posted his comment with the original blog entry, but include it here as well:

Hi Gretchen,

As you correctly pointed out, this is something Jim choose to write on his own, ironically, in a post about how he has no involvement in my campaign, which is correct.

Unfortunately, I don't have as much time as before to keep track of what everyone in the Wisconsin blogosphere is writing due to taking care of my own two young children, supporting my wife who's in graduate school, out knocking doors every night and weekend, and of course working! :)

I did get a heads up about this late last night finally from a friend, but want to say a few words about this, before heading out to knock doors again today.

As I saw you post on another website, you commented that "this race has descended into garbage" and I have to disagree with that characterization that things like what Jim wrote have anything to do with the campaigning going on.

My campaign is based on communicating with residents of the 15th district about my positive message of change and leadership.

There have been multiple times where I've called out what I consider poor votes made by Sup. DeBruin on issues like standing with Scott Walker and cutting funding for the 211 Impact line and the court system. However, there's nothing wrong or negative about pointing out the facts and how I disagree with her on issues such as those above. Taking a stand on these issues and many others doesn't degrade the debate in my opinion, but helps to inform voters about the choices they have this spring.

I can understand how what Jim had to say would insult some people, my own family included. But Jim would agree that he speaks for himself, and anything about his specific words should be addressed back to him.

So I hope that makes some sense about my feelings on this. Hopefully you're not completely committed to voting for the incumbent yet Gretchen, because I'm still going to try to win your vote this spring! :)

For now, I'm going to stay focused on running my campaign in a positive fashion and continue to meet and listen to the residents of the 15th district like I have been for the last three months.

If you have any other questions please let me know and I'll be more than happy to answer them!



Way, way, way over the line

Jim McGuigan can say what he wants about anyone he wants, but his overtly sexist, stereotyping post on Supervisor Lynne DeBruin doesn't do him any credit.

To be up front about it, I'm supporting Lynne DeBruin in her bid for re-election. This has less to do with Dan Cody-- he could well be the best candidate for some other position -- than with DeBruin's record as a hard-working common-sense supervisor.

Cody, though, should be distancing himself from McGuigan's post. That he hasn't done so -- and it's a stretch to try to believe that he doesn't know about it -- is troubling indeed.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Not quite pothole hell

During the most recent Common Council Judiciary and Legislation Committee, a Department of Public Works fellow said city potholes are generally fixed within two business days of being reported. Ald. Jim Bohl got somewhat miffed about this ridiculous assertion, but then aldermen get calls from constituents really crabby about potholes not being fixed for weeks after being reported. I was somewhat aghast and amused and awed by the audacity of Mr. DPW's statement: wow, now that's another six weeks in purgatory.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Cuts mean new thinking needed

District Attorney John Chisholm and is warning of huge cuts in federal funding next year that will significantly reduce the number of prosecutors on his staff.

Bad federal-level decision-making aside -- please, please, please local Milwaukee pols, be smart about this. Adding police is not the answer!

The Milwaukee reaction to crime has been to add cops, cops and more cops, slashing other city services to pay for them. Police are necessary, but so are firefighters, street repair crews (especially street repair guys), snow plowers, working streetlights, open libraries, a decent Health Department, building inspectors and a lot of other things. They are slowly being sacrificed, though, so Milwaukee can hire more police.

The marginal usefulness of each additional police officer must be around zero -- while police staffing continues to increase, the space to store bad guys and gals is fixed. What good does it do to have more officers if it only creates a revolving door system at the Jail and House of Correction?

Does anyone know if the additional cops making a dent in crime? Are they arresting the right people in the first place?

And now it looks like there will be fewer DAs around to prosecute the folks the cops arrest. Some bright light on the Common Council is sure to suggest that the answer is to add cops and there will be intense political pressure on other aldermen to go along with that deep analysis.

More cops stopped being the answer probably a couple years ago.

Milwaukee will have fewer prosecutors and limited jail space and limited financial resources. The answer we need to figure out is how many cops the city needs and can afford, given those conditions. We need that answer before other city services are totally gutted.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Oh, no! The iTunes betrayal

One of my hard drives seemed about to crash, so I bought a new one. Moved my several thousand iTunes files to it on Thursday. Yesterday all was fine -- all the music showed up just like it was supposed to.

Got up this morning and iTunes recognizes exactly one album on the drive: the BoDeans "Blend."
All the stuff is still on the drive; iTunes just won't play nice with it.

Grrr. The thought of importing either from the drive or from CDs is a real stomach-turner. Has anyone run into this? Is there a fix?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Faith is not restored

A three-judge panel basically gave Supreme Court Injustice Annette Ziegler a reprimand, or mostly a pass, on her unethical behavior.

"Red flags of danger were prominently flying," the panel said in its decision. "Justice Ziegler did not see them."

Oh, bull. Ziegler was a judge. Judges should know -- it's as basic as knowing which way to put on their robes -- that when they rule cases involving relatives, as Ziegler did multiple times, disclosure of a potential conflict is the minimum standard. If Ziegler didn't see the flags, it's because she hid herself away in a self-imposed darkroom, then wrapped the blindfold around herself as tightly as she could.

"Certainly, no judge or justice would want to expose himself or herself to the public shame of a reprimand; a more severe discipline is not needed," the panel said.

Ziegler is indeed undoubtedly humiliated and not feeling very good about it all.

But what about the folks who now have to appear before her. a judge officially reprimanded for conflicts of interest and who claimed not to know basic judicial ethical behavior?

They, too, likely won't be feeling very good about it all.

Hardly a way to build confidence in our court system.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bus riders don't count?

The JS did a nice wrap-up yesterday on the smash-and-grab tax and fee increases approved by the Legislature and Gov. Doyle to support the mad paving plans of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

There were big increases in county bus fares and cuts in the routes as well, but our local newspaper was silent on those. There are lots and lots of bus riders out there -- wonder why they are so invisible to some folks.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pay no attention if your paycheck is screwed up

The county launched its new, late, expensive, it's-been-really-a-pain human resources system last month and, predicatably, there were a few glitches.

An email went out from the county's information technology folks describing a few of the problems: some employees had union dues deducted twice; some had too many insurance premiums deducted.

The county promised to fix all those woes.

The best one, though, has to be this:

The YTD year-to-date) numbers on the bottom of your paycheck may be incorrect. Do not be concerned.

You bet. The system implementation was a royal mess, and there was that little matter of omitting a half-million dollar retiree benefit component, but don't worry if your income is underreported on your paycheck.

Don't think so.

Happy New Year

This year, boy, I'm going to have some brave, paradigm-shifting political predictions.

Here goes.

Tom Barrett will be re-elected mayor.

Whew! I have to go lie down now.