Tag Archives: supervisors

Analysis: County board out for revenge against Abele 

Three times in 40 years — in the 1950s, in the ’70s and in the ’90s — the Township and the Borough of Princeton, New Jersey, tried unsuccessfully to merge. The two finally combined into the new Municipality of Princeton a few years ago, allowing them to cut out redundant services and save millions on policing, snow removal and trash pickup.

But the Municipality of Princeton, formed in 2013, is an exception. Consolidations have often been discussed and studied, but the mergers rarely take place. And, based on the politics of the Milwaukee County Executive race, they’re very unlikely to occur in Wisconsin any time soon.

There are 3,069 counties in the country, and many of them provide redundant services in areas such as policing, snow removal and trash pickup. Across the country, advocates of consolidation, including governors like New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Illinois’ Bruce Rauner, both Republicans, say combining county and municipal governments will streamline services and save taxpayers money. But according to the National Association of Counties, cities and counties have only combined 42 times since the 19th century, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

An Illinois report released in December sparked a conversation in that state and in others. It found that living in an area with too many layers of government increases property taxes on residents (the report didn’t break out business taxes) and makes it all but impossible to remember which governmental entity governs what.

The issue is of particular signficance in Wisconsin, which has the most bloated county governments of any state in the nation. In fact 10 percent of all county-level legislators in the United States reside in the state.

While Los Angeles County has five supervisors, Dane County has 37. Milwaukee County has 17 supervisors, compared to 18 in Cook County. And, unlike Cook County, every resident of Milwaukee County also lives within the jurisdiction of a city, town or village government. No part of the county is unincorporated.

But realigning county government is a political hot potato that few leaders in the state appear willing to address. Just consider the backlash against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele over Act 14, even though it was passed by the Legislature and the voters.  That law placed a binding referendum on the county ballot asking voters if Milwaukee County supervisors should be made part-time as opposed to full-time employees.

More than 70 percent of county voters chose part-time status. Voters also approved eliminating supervisors’ pension and health benefits. The changes brought the county’s pay more in line with others in the state and made money available for services rather than bureaucrats.

Even though Act 14 didn’t merge city and county functions, it still incurred the wrath of county supervisors against Abele. They’ve piled on him in every way possible, waging what’s seemed like a permanent campaign against him in the media.

Former Milwaukee County Supervisor and now state Sen. Chris Larson is running a no-holds-barred campaign to unseat Abele on April 5, and at least some of the board’s supervisors are playing roles in Larson’s effort.

County board chair Theo Lipscomb is part of Larson’s campaign, but the challenger’s top board ally is former county board chair Marina Dimitrijevic, who stepped down from that position last year after realizing that her new part-time status would reduce her salary from $71,412 to $36,076, when it takes effect on April 18.

Dimitrijevic is now executive director of Wisconsin Working Families Party, which is not a party at all. Its emphasis is on an affiliated dark-money PAC that funds challenges against Democrats who are not considered liberal enough. It’s the left-wing version of the tea party: It works to knock out candidates who don’t pass an ideological litmus test or who negotiate compromises with members of the other party, as Abele has done in his efforts to improve Milwaukee’s relationship with the state’s majority Republican leadership.

Working Families has spewed hundreds of thousands of mostly anonymous dollars into Larson’s effort to defeat Abele. What they say about paybacks is true.

On its website, Working Families lists a slate of candidates and vows, “We’re going to work hard to elect these champions for working families into office.”

But only a small handful of those named candidates has received any cash, and one of the group’s recipients, who’s running for school board in Racine, isn’t even listed on the slate. Since January the group has leveled nearly all of its considerable resources against Abele, while all but ignoring everyone else — and completely overlooking right-wing Republicans who face challenges in races where the outcome would make siginicant differences for progressives.

It’s no wonder that insiders see Larson’s race as a grudge match by disgruntled county board members, whose pay dropped from $50,679 to $24,051.

Larson says he’ll restore the county board to its former status and undo what he calls other Abele “power grabs.” But as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in an editorial this morning, he simply doesn’t have the power to do that.

“It would require changing the minds of Republican legislators who control the Assembly and the Senate,” the Journal Sentinel opined. “Larson was in the Legislature when those changes were approved and he could not affect them. How would he change things as county executive?”

Next in Working Families’ sites is state Sen. Lena Taylor, the only Democrat in the Legislature to vote for Act 14. Working Families is said to be lining up support for state Rep. Mandela Barnes in his likely bid to unseat Taylor.

Faced with this sort of political fallout, counties and cities in Wisconsin will likely continue to operate separately, no matter how much combining them would streamline services or benefit taxpayers.

Information included in this story came from Stateline, a news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

 

 

Milwaukee County voters to face referendum on minimum-wage hike

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on June 26 voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the state minimum wage should be raised to $10.10.

Supervisor Khalif Rainey proposed the resolution that brought the vote.

The board voted 13-4 to place the “Raise Wisconsin” minimum wage referendum on the ballot, which also will contain the governor’s race, as well as other offices. Along with Rainey, Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Supervisor Gerry Broderick, and Supervisor Willie Johnson, Jr. were co-sponsors of the resolution.

The vote followed a short press conference at which the supervisors, Raise Wisconsin activists, low-wage workers and others spoke in support of raising the minimum wage.

Devonte Yates, a national leader in the movement of fast food workers and a Milwaukee County resident, said after the vote, “No one can survive on $7.25, and believe me, I have tried.  For over a year, workers like me have been taking to the streets, fighting to win higher wages.  Now, we are going to bring this movement to the ballot box in November.”

Wisconsin’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum. On a 40 hour a week schedule, that means $15,080 per year, or $290 per week. That’s below the federal poverty line for a single parent with a child.

Twenty-two other states have higher minimum wage levels. Massachusetts passed legislation last week setting its state minimum wage to $11 per hour, while Connecticut and Maryland set $10.10 minimum wage levels in the past month. In the Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota already have set higher minimum wage levels and Illinois is expected to follow.

Raise Wisconsin campaign director Peter Rickman, who lives in Milwaukee County, said, “It’s time to raise the wage so that we can raise our economy and raise Wisconsin.  Working people in our state need a raise, and we will win the higher wages necessary to address staggering income inequality, to increase economic opportunity, and to improve living standards.”

Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, added, “For too long, our communities have needed more economic opportunity and security.  Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 is a critical first step to transform the low-wage jobs of today into family-supporting jobs that can build a new middle class for Milwaukee’s future.”

Earlier in the week, Raise Wisconsin activists submitted signatures to qualify similar referenda in the cities of Neenah and Menasha. Previously, Eau Claire and Kenosha counties placed similar referenda on the November ballot.

The Dane County Board was expected to vote on a resolution later on June 26.

Changes to overtime rules could make millions eligible for time-and-a-half

President Barack Obama is seeking changes in overtime rules that will make millions of workers eligible for time-and-a-half pay for their extra work.

Obama was expected to sign a presidential memorandum today (March 13) directing the Labor Department to propose rules that expand the number of employees who benefit from overtime pay.

The rules would be aimed at salaried workers who make more than $455 a week and those who are ineligible for overtime because they are designated as management even though their supervisory duties are minimal.

The rules do not require congressional action but could take more than a year to implement.

Obama has put a focus this year on increasing worker pay, including a call for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. He also issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to abide by the higher minimum wage.

In his memorandum, Obama plans to direct the Labor Department to recommend new regulations that could increase the salary threshold for overtime eligibility and to change the definition of what constitutes a supervisor.

Obama’s attention to overtime dovetails with his emphasis on correcting wage disparities, a theme that he has said will be central to the remainder of his presidential term. It also serves his political ends during a midterm election year, giving him a populist issue along with his calls for a higher minimum wage and better pay for women.

The salary-per-week limit separating those who get overtime and those who don’t was increased to $455 in 2004 during the Bush administration. At the time, it hadn’t been increased since the mid-1970s.

“What we know right now is the threshold has been eroded by inflation, and there 3.1 million people who, if the threshold had kept up just with inflation, would automatically be covered by overtime provisions,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Business groups said any forced increase in wages has consequences that could affect employment, prices and the survival of certain companies which, they said, already have to comply with requirements of a new health care law.

“Similar to minimum wage, these changes in overtime rules will fall most harshly on small- and medium-sized businesses, who are already trying to figure out the impact of Obamacare on them,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of Labor Law Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Dane County voters to decide marijuana referendum

Dane County voters casting ballots in the April election will get to say whether Wisconsin should legalize marijuana — for any purpose.

The referendum is non-binding and is reaching voters following approval of a resolution by Dane County supervisors.

Supervisor Leland Pan sponsored the resolution, which passed unanimously with 29 “yes” votes. Dane County Supervisor Dave Ripp abstained.

The supervisors, according to a news release, also unanimously backed a resolution that calls for a nonpartisan system for creating legislative districts — from the local to the congressional level — to avoid creating safe districts for political parties.

The resolution states, “The current system, which essentially allows politicians to pick the voters they prefer in each district, is opposed by non-partisan groups such as the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and Common Cause and numerous newspaper editorial boards in the state.”

San Francisco sheds part of free-spirited past

San Francisco shed a vestige of its free-spirited past as local lawmakers narrowly approved a citywide ban on public nudity.

Casting aside complaints that forcing people to cover up would undermine San Francisco’s reputation as a city without inhibitions, the Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 on Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that prohibits exposed genitals in most public places, including streets, sidewalks and public transit.

Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city’s annual gay pride event and the Bay-to-Breakers street run, which often draws participants in costumes or various states of undress.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the ban in response to escalating complaints about a group of men whose bare bodies are on display almost daily in the city’s predominantly gay Castro District. He said at Tuesday’s meeting that he resisted for almost two years but finally felt compelled to act.

“It’s no longer an occasionally and quirky part of San Francisco. Rather, in the Castro, it’s pretty much seven days a week,” Wiener said. “It’s very much a, ‘Hey, look what I have’ mentality.”

Wiener’s opponents on the board said a citywide ban was unnecessary and would draw police officers’ attention away from bigger problems. Supervisor John Avalos also expressed concerns about what the ordinance would do to San Francisco’s image.

“We are a beacon of light to other parts of the country, and sometimes there is a little bit of weirdness about how we express ourselves,” Avalos said. 

Boos and calls for Wiener’s recall filled the board’s chambers after Tuesday’s vote. Gypsy Taub, a nudist activist who organized naked protests and marches in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, disrobed in protest before sheriff’s deputies escorted her from the room. 

Under Wiener’s proposal, a first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail.

The law still must pass a final vote and secure Mayor Edwin Lee’s signature to take effect early next year.

A federal lawsuit seeking to block the ban already has been filed.

Public nudity ban eyed in fed-up San Francisco

San Francisco may be getting ready to shed its image as a city where anything goes, including clothing.

City lawmakers are scheduled to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would prohibit nudity in most public places, a blanket ban that represents an escalation of a two-year tiff between a devoted group of men who strut their stuff through the city’s famously gay Castro District and the supervisor who represents the area.

Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposal would make it illegal for a person over the age of 5 to “expose his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza” or while using public transit.

A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city’s annual gay pride event and the Folsom Street Fair, which celebrates sadomasochism and other sexual subcultures.

Wiener said he resisted introducing the ordinance, but felt compelled to act after constituents complained about the naked men who gather in a small Castro plaza most days and sometimes walk the streets au naturel. He persuaded his colleagues last year to pass a law requiring a cloth to be placed between public seating and bare rears, yet the complaints have continued.

“I don’t think having some guys taking their clothes off and hanging out seven days a week at Castro and Market Street is really what San Francisco is about. I think it’s a caricature of what San Francisco is about,” Wiener said.

The proposed ban predictably has produced outrage, as well as a lawsuit. Last week, about two dozen people disrobed in front of City Hall and marched around the block to the amusement of gawking tourists and high school students on a field trip.

Stripped down to his sunglasses and hiking boots, McCray Winpsett, 37, said he understands the disgust of residents who would prefer not to see the body modifications and sex enhancement devices sported by some of the Castro nudists. But he thinks Wiener’s prohibition goes too far in undermining a tradition “that keeps San Francisco weird.”

“A few lewd exhibitionists are really ruining it for the rest of us,” he said. “It’s my time to come out now to present myself in a light and show what true nudity is all about so people can separate the difference between what a nudist is and an exhibitionist is.”

Because clothes are required to enter City Hall itself, demonstrators who try to disrobe at the Board of Supervisors meeting will be escorted out by sheriff’s deputies. That is what happened last Monday when Gypsy Taub removed her dress at a committee hearing where the ban had its first public hearing. Taub, a mother of two, said she got her start as a nudist while hosting a local cable TV program devoted to the theory that the government was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I thought if I take my clothes off, I bet they are going to listen,” she said.

San Francisco lawyer Christina DiEdoardo filed a federal lawsuit last week on behalf of Taub and three men that seeks to block Weiner’s ordinance, if it passes and is signed by Mayor Edwin Lee. The complaint alleges that the ban infringes on the free speech rights of nudists and discriminates against those who cannot afford to obtain a city permit.

While it may seem strange that going out in the buff is not already illegal in San Francisco, most California cities do not have local nudity laws, Wiener said. Instead, they are adequately covered by state indecent exposure laws and societal mores. But indecent exposure technically only applies to lewd behavior, so city officials have had to craft a local solution, he said, adding that the cities of Berkeley and San Jose already have done so.

“I suspect there are a lot of places that maybe don’t currently have a local law (and) that if people started getting naked every day would quickly see a local law,” Wiener said.

SF celebrating Giants’ victory with campaign against homophobia

As they celebrate the Giants’ World Series win, San Francisco supervisors on Oct. 30 were set to offer a resolution endorsing a national campaign against homophobia in sports.

At a press conference at city hall, city and county officials were expected to endorse The Last Closet, a campaign focused on encouraging athletes to come out in pro sports – and encouraging the leagues to support them.

The press conference was set for late morning in California, with former NFL player David Kopay expected to speak, as well as representatives with the Last Closet and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The city and county officials are expected to encourage commissioners of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer to state “on camera” that they will support gay players.

The Giants were the first team to make a video for the It Gets Better campaign and have a history of supporting their LGBT fans and opposing discrimination against LGBT people.

Note: Check back for updates.