Tensions high on board over law limiting it’s role
Don Tyler, County Executive Chris Abele’s top aide, strode straight to Supervisor John Weishan Jr. immediately after a committee hearing adjourned, pounded his fist on a table and told Weishan he should have raised his concerns about the water deal with him privately before the meeting.
Weishan, momentarily taken aback, yelled after Tyler as he left the room, “Ha! We’ll have your head on a stick!”
Weishan didn’t apologize, but later said he shouldn’t have spoken in anger, as other supervisors admonished him not to make threats.
The exchange played out in an atmosphere of growing acrimony between Abele and the board over legislation pushed by Abele and signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Scott Walker to curb the board’s power and resources.
A separate effort by the board to attempt to fire Kimberly Walker, the county corporation counsel, is slated to come up when the full board meets Thursday.
The board also will take a confirmation vote on Kathleen Eilers, Abele’s pick to head the county’s troubled Mental Health Complex. Another board committee has recommended against Eliers.
The water tower deal was backed by the board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committte on a 4-2 vote. It would transfer the county’s tower on the County Grounds — and the seven major institutional users of the county water utility — to the City of Wauwatosa for $20,000 a year.
The advantage to the county would be avoidance of some $3 million in costs to relocate water lines to be disrupted by the Zoo Freeway Interchange rebuilding project and other maintenance, according to a report by the county’s Department of Administrative Services headed by Tyler.
Weishan aggressively questioned the deal and said Act 14 — the law cutting board authority — required that the proposed deal with Wauwatosa be considered only by the board’s finance committee.
The transportation panel rejected detouring the measure to the finance panel. Such a move, Weishan later said, would have delayed consideration until next month and missed a state deadline on applying for aid linked to Zoo Freeway construction disruptions.
Abele said Tyler and his staff didn’t deserve the treatment they got. Weishan’s remark was at odds with a county ordinance calling for decorum and respectful treatment by county officials, Abele said.
“They want to do the right thing,” Abele said, of his staff. “They care about policy.”
Abele said he understood supervisors were upset about Act 14 and the pay cut it might mean to them. The measure requires a binding referendum next year to cut supervisor pay in half and eliminated their health and pension benefits.
Abele said he remained open to listening to supervisors’ concerns and would continue to answer their questions on county issues.
“I’ll keep doing my part of it,” he said. The Act 14 changes weren’t personal, they were aimed at improving services and efficiency for taxpayers, Abele said.
Supervisor Patricia Jursik said the new law had raised many questions that would complicate decisions until provisions of the law are clarified.
“We are going to have a lot of minefields going forward,” she said.
The board has voted to hire an outside law firm to review the law, with an eye toward a potential legal challenge.
The full board also is slated to consider Thursday a resolution to hire the Milwaukee firm of Hawks Quindel despite its role representinng unions in lawsuits against the county.