Tag Archives: Milwaukee County

Fund for Lake Michigan pledges $250K for removal of Estabrook Dam

The Fund for Lake Michigan has pledged $250,000 toward the removal of the Estabrook Dam on the Milwaukee River.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to regain miles of free-flowing river,” Vicki Elkin, executive director of the fund, said in a news release. “The dam removal aligns perfectly with our mission to improve water quality in both Lake Michigan and its tributaries. We’re thrilled to be involved.”

The fund said removing the dam would restore crucial habitat for native fish species including sturgeon, walleye, salmon and trout. It also would restore the river’s natural flow and clear sediment and unsightly debris which accumulates upstream of the dam. 

The crumbling dam on Milwaukee’s northeast side is facing some $4.1 million in repairs along with $200,000 in annual maintenance, according to the news release. Removing the dam altogether would save taxpayers nearly $2.5 million while providing environmental benefits for generations to come.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele applauded the Fund for Lake Michigan for stepping forward as the first private group to pledge money for the project.

 “Taking out the dam means we can invest millions more into our county parks which are destinations both for visitors and our own residents,” Abele said.

Earlier this fall, Abele announced a plan to transfer ownership of the dam from Milwaukee County to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which has the engineering and management expertise to carry out a large-scale project, such as the dam’s removal.

“We can’t thank the fund and its trustees enough for this bold gesture of support,” said Kevin Shafer, executive director of the MMSD. “This is an exciting project for the ecosystem and for the entire region. It’s going to save money, improve fishing opportunities and reduce the risk of future flooding.”

“The Fund for Lake Michigan has stepped up in a big way to protect the Milwaukee River watershed,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett stated. “Removing the dam will improve water quality and reduce flooding.  On behalf of the city of Milwaukee, I thank the fund for this generous and environmentally sound investment.”

On the Web

The Take It Down campaign.

Milwaukee County Transit honors Rosa Parks with open seat

The Milwaukee County Transit System is keeping a seat open and the headlights shining on its entire fleet on Dec. 1  to honor the life of Rosa Parks and her contribution to equal rights.

Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 1, 1955.

Her act of civil disobedience led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation on public transportation.

“This country was changed for the better that day Rosa Parks refused to give into racism and oppression,” County Executive Chris Abele stated in a release. “While we can never truly thank her for her bravery, we mark the occasion to remember and honor her courage.”

Every bus in the MCTS fleet has a seat reserved in honor of Rosa Parks. The signs feature a picture of Parks on the bus and one of her famous quotes: “My only concern was to get home after a hard day’s work.”

On the Web

Learn about Rosa Parks.

UW-Madison to review impact of voter ID law in the state

A comprehensive UW-Madison study is underway to determine if Wisconsin’s new voter ID law played a role in the lowest statewide turnout for a presidential election in more than two decades.

The study will review the impact of the state’s voter ID law, considered by some as among the most restrictive in the nation.

The review will focus on Dane and Milwaukee counties, which have the highest percentage of minority and low-income voters in Wisconsin, according to a news release announcing the analysis.

About 66 percent of voting age people in Wisconsin cast ballots on Nov. 8. That turnout was down nearly four percentage points compared to 2012 and was three points behind the predictions from state election officials.

Most counties in Wisconsin saw a decline in turnout, but the drop was particularly dramatic in Milwaukee County, where nearly 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year compared to 2012.

Preliminary exit polling showed that turnout fell off most among young voters and African-Americans.

In Dane County, turnout was up slightly in real numbers, but down roughly 2 percent from four years ago among registered voters.

“Overall there were few problems on election day,” Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said in a press statement.  “However, there were reports of voters who showed up to the polls with the wrong form of photo ID, while others simply did not go to the polls because they feared they did not have proper ID.  This study will move us from anecdotes to facts.”

Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuits have cost taxpayers over $400,000

Milwaukee County has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years to cover the legal costs of lawsuits brought by the notorious county sheriff.

A federal judge this week tossed out Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s lawsuit against County Executive Chris Abele. Clarke alleged that Abele violated his right to free speech by using the budget process to punish Clarke and others who say things Abele disagrees with.

County taxpayers will now have to pick up the $50,000 tab for Clarke’s private attorney, Michael A.I. Whitcomb, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The county has already paid Whitcomb more than $260,000 to represent the sheriff in litigation against the county since 2012. The county itself has paid $83,000 defending itself in these lawsuits.

Altogether, the county has spent over $346,000 for the sheriff to sue the county. With the latest lawsuit, that figure will top $400,000.

“Public safety is too important to Milwaukee families for us to continually waste time and money on lawsuits like this,” said Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Abele.

Clarke said he has not read the decision in the latest lawsuit, but he had sharp words for Abele. The sheriff did not say if he plans to appeal the decision.

“Abele is the guy who spent $263,000 of his personal wealth trying to defeat me in my last election and he lost,” Clarke said in a statement. “He continues his vendetta by trying to silence me. That little man will stop at nothing.”

Clarke is a darling of right-wing talk radio in Milwaukee and the surrounding deep-red suburbs. He frequently makes national headlines for his over-the-top antics, such as his saying that blacks sell drugs because they’re “lazy” and “morally bankrupt.” He also asked Milwaukee County residents to arm themselves to help his deputies.

Clarke, who often wears a cowboy hat and boots, is African American.

In the run-up to Wisconsin’s presidential primaries, social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice circulated a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area. In early March, Clarke told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”

Last June, Judge David Borowski ordered Clarke to provide un-redacted information about people his department turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. The order was made in an open records lawsuit filed by Voces de la Frontera.

Grant to help reduce Milwaukee County jail population, reform system

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to Milwaukee County to implement reforms aimed at reducing the jail population and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

Eleven jurisdictions in the United States are receiving foundation money and technical assistance over the next two years.

The Milwaukee County grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration.

“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation president, said in a news release. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”

The foundation said the county will address the main drivers of its jail population — which include people with mental health and substance abuse, and others accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses — with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 18 percent over two years.

The county plan focuses on expanding the book and release program for low-level non-violent misdemeanor offenses and diverting individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues to alternatives to jail that will help prevent them from cycling in and out of the system.

The county also will institute a new post-booking stabilization program for individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues that will remove them from jail within 48 hours and connect them with appropriate services.

Additionally, the county will provide additional resources and training for law enforcement.

“We are extremely grateful and honored to have received this award and opportunity from the MacArthur Foundation,” Chief Judge Maxine White said in a news release. “With their help and our efforts, we can better protect public safety by smart use of our jails and working with issues of mental illness and substance abuse in a more systematic and effective way. This opportunity allows Milwaukee County to continue as a leader in criminal justice reform.”

In the United States, jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have the cumulative costs of building and running them.

Nationwide misuse of jails most harshly impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

And today, one in three Americans believes his or her local justice system is unfair, according to a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics and supported by the Foundation.

On the Web

More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge is at www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org.

Petition opposes Sheriff Clarke’s policing at Trump protests

Milwaukee social justice advocates don’t want Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke handling policing at political events for Donald Trump.

Clarke, earlier this month, told a Fox News host that demonstrators with immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter movements deserve to be “hit first and hit hard.”

Now the social justice groups Voces de la Frontera and the Coalition for Justice are circulating a petition calling for a law enforcement official other than Clarke to oversee public safety at Trump events in the Milwaukee area.

“Sheriff Clarke’s violent rhetoric endangers public safety, and his comments targeting immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter supporters completely disqualify him from having anything to do with protecting the public at Trump events,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “Clarke is inciting the racist violence that has shocked the country at Trump’s rallies. We urge local authorities in the areas where Trump holds events to ensure that Clarke and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office are not in charge of protecting public safety, given his incendiary comments. We call on local authorities to establish a plan to prevent racial profiling and violence at Trump events to protect the people’s constitutional right to protest.”

The petition, addressed to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, states, “Sheriff Clarke’s inflammatory statements encourage violence and put Milwaukee County residents at risk. Given his comments that Trump supporters should “hit first and hit hard,” we have no confidence in his ability to protect public safety.

Please ban the Sheriff from policing any Trump events and protests in the area and implement a plan to prevent profiling and violence against protesters.”

An explanation with the petition reads, “We already face one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, a new round of anti-immigrant legislation, and we are still mourning Dontre Hamilton’s murder. Donald Trump’s The last thing we need is a Sheriff instigating violence and further harming our communities.:

On the Web …

‘Hit first and hard’ video.

The petition online.

Vote Jean Kies for Milwaukee Cty. Circuit Court

We support attorney Jean Kies campaign to replace Judge Michelle Ackerman Havas on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. She’s experienced, respected and not involved in partisan politics.

Gov. Scott Walker appointed Havas to the judicial position at stake — the same one he used to jumpstart the career of now Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Bradley and Havas are friends who represent the same political and ideological interests — and have the same benefactors.

But Havas doesn’t appear as savvy as Bradley. While Bradley disavows that the GOP and its Koch-backed  PACs will hold any sway over her judicial decisions, Havas seemed to acknowledge the role she could play on the court for the state’s executive branch.

At a Republican fundraiser for Bradley, Havas spoke after high-ranking Wisconsin party officials finished patting themselves on the back over the successes of Walker and his Legislature during the last session.

“I want to thank all the leadership here who has helped me and is helping me to get my name out,” Havas said, according to a transcript of the speech. “You all do such wonderful work, and obviously everything that is happening in the executive branch is all very important.”

Those words were reminiscent of Judge David Prosser’s vow in 2012 that he could be counted on to support Walker. It was inappropriate then, and it is now.

Kies, on the other hand, says she’s maintained political independence in anticipation of someday rising to the bench. She’s beholden to no one, as demonstrated by her bipartisan endorsements.

We strongly support Kies in this race, not only for her understanding that the judiciary is by necessity apolitical, but also for the scope of her legal experience.

She’s practiced law under her “own shingle,” as she puts it, rather than at a large law firm. As a result, she’s worked on a broad range of cases and with clients from all backgrounds and walks of life, she says.

Kies estimates that since graduating from Marquette University Law School about 25 years ago, she’s taken on more than 1,000 civil and 1,000 criminal cases. She says the diversity of her legal background makes her an exceptional judicial candidate.

Kies’ legal partner is her husband Lewis Wasserman. He says that she brings more to her cases than knowledge, skill and fairness. He contends that she has the right temperament — a gift for making defendants and plaintiffs alike feel satisfied with the way their cases have been handled.

Kies deserves the opportunity to prove what she can do on the bench. We urge readers to vote for her on April 5.

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.

Milwaukee County reports surge in fentanyl-related deaths

Milwaukee County has started the new year with a surge in deaths linked to the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office said Friday it is investigating 19 fatalities tied to the drug since late last year.

By comparison, the office investigated 28 fentanyl deaths in 2015 and 16 in all of 2014.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel eports the recent deaths have not been confirmed by toxicology reports, but indications are that fentanyl likely was involved.

Fentanyl is used to put patients under for surgery and to alleviate severe pain. The medical examiner’s office says none of the 19 deaths appear to be related to the misuse of a fentanyl patch but stem from the illicit use of controlled substances and multiple-drug abuse.

State Rep. Brostoff hosts public hearing on Milwaukee Cty. mental health services on Sat., Feb. 6

State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, is holding an open public hearing from noon to 3 p.m. on Sat., Feb. 6, to discuss Milwaukee County mental health services.

The hearing is scheduled to take place in the main hall of Milwaukee’s Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet St.

Brostoff, who’s a member of the Wisconsin Assembly Mental Health Reform Committee, wants to hear from people who have a vested interest in improving mental health care, including family members, community leaders, professionals and advocates. He hopes the hearing will help him in crafting legislation and policies during the Legislature’s next session to improve mental health care in the county.

Brostoff is a Democrat representing Assembly District 19.

Click here to learn more about Rep. Brostoff.