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Lipscomb asked to repay taxpayers for frivilous lawsuit

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is calling on the county board’s chairman Theo Lipscomb to reimburse taxpayers for costs related to an unauthorized lawsuit Lipscomb filed against him.

Lipscomb spent an estimated $150,000 in legal fees to seek legal clarification on whether Abele has unilateral authority to award pay raises to political appointees who aren’t covered by civil service rules.

Lipscomb, who’s supporting state Sen. Chris Larson’s bid to unseat Abele on April 5, also said he wants a judge to decide whether Abele is obligated to attend board meetings at the request of county supervisors.

Judge William Sosnay ruled two weeks ago that Lipscomb has no authority to sue unilaterally without a resolution from the board of supervisors.

Lipscomb told The Associated Press he plans to refile the lawsuit.

Abele, however, is asking supervisors to consider a resolution ensuring that no taxpayer dollars are spent on the unauthorized lawsuit.

Implicit in the court’s ruling that chairman Lipscomb didn’t have the unilateral authority to file this unauthorized lawsuit is that the chairman also did not have authority to spend taxpayer dollars on the lawsuit,” according to a statement from Abele’s office.

Our system of checks and balances ensures that taxpayer resources cannot just be spent by elected officials however they like, the statement added.

“The right thing for the county board to do at this point would be to hold the county financially harmless for this unauthorized lawsuit,” Abele said in the statement. “The board should have the right to bring lawsuits where it’s appropriate; however, as elected officials we must set the highest standards for when taxpayer dollars are spent on legal fees above and beyond the full-time legal department employed by the county.

“The we were elected to serve would much rather we devote our time, energy, and taxpayer resources to solving problems, not creating them.”

 

Without Milwaukee County, Lincoln Hills could close

Milwaukee County’s plan to pull its inmates from Wisconsin’s only secure youth prison is putting the future of the Lincoln Hills School in limbo, with dozens of juvenile offenders hanging in the balance.

The county’s move to bring 134 youth closer to home comes amid a federal investigation into allegations of physical abuse, sexual assault and misconduct in office at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and adjacent Copper Lake School for girls in Irma.

If the county follows through, Lincoln Hills would lose more than half its population and half its operating budget, which comes largely from county payments of $284 per day per youth. The approximately $13 million funding loss would mean significant cuts or possible closure of the troubled facility, leaving uncertainty about where the remaining 50 to 100 youth would be housed.

“If we pull out, it’s hard to see how Lincoln Hills continues to operate,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

County officials and legislators say the state needs a secure facility for young offenders, but some hope the Lincoln Hills scandal will lead to a better overall corrections system.

“This really is an interesting opportunity for people to sit down together and come up with a longer-term configuration of what juvenile corrections should be,” said Jim Moeser, former state juvenile corrections division administrator and deputy director of Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Lincoln Hills has already lost about 30 inmates since mid-December, dropping the population to 232 as of Feb. 19. Abele said Milwaukee can relocate 64 of its inmates fairly quickly in the next few months.

Moeser said one option would be to sharply reduce operations at Lincoln Hills, closing cottages and cutting staff and programming. But he said it’s hard to imagine it would make economic sense for the prison to stay open with only 50 to 100 juveniles when it has a capacity of 548.

Another option would be to reopen a facility at Southern Oaks Girls School, which closed along with Ethan Allen School for Boys in 2011 due to dwindling populations and budget restraints.

A third possibility, which Democratic legislators are pushing, would be moving toward a few small regional facilities. Advocates say that model would reduce the chances of young inmates reoffending and make it easier for families to come visit them.

Right now, about 65 percent of inmates at Lincoln Hills reoffend.

“Change is needed and change is coming — that’s a good thing,” said Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee.

He and other legislators are pushing for a committee to study the Missouri corrections model, which houses juvenile offenders in smaller group homes, camps and treatment facilities, instead of in a larger prison. That effort has little chance in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but Goyke said counties pulling their youth closer to home might have that effect naturally.

Most counties don’t have enough young inmates to make it worthwhile to establish their own facilities. Dane County, for example, has only 16 youth at Lincoln Hills. The county’s own juvenile corrections facility closed three years ago because it didn’t have enough inmates.

“If the state could run smaller, more regional facilities closer to here, we would love that,” said Dane County Human Services Director Lynn Green.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab didn’t give specifics about how the department would adapt to the funding loss, saying only that the department would adjust as the population changes.

Lincoln Hills cuts or closure would hurt the economy in Lincoln County, where the Department of Corrections is one of the major employers.

The only other state juvenile facilities are the Department of Health Services-run Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center in Madison, which houses 29 male juveniles, and the 12-person agricultural residential program in Oregon, called Grow Academy.

Republican lawmakers, including judiciary and public safety committee chair Sen. Van Wanggaard, corrections committee chair Rep. Rob Hutton and Lincoln Hills’ district Rep. Mary Czaja, didn’t return requests for comment.