The first legislative proposal from Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic has been to merge two of our standing committees, the Finance and Audit committee, and the Personnel committee. In a conversation that I had with the chairwoman yesterday, she reports having a total of 13 co-sponsors for the resolution, which includes me. Let’s take a moment to look at the described duties of the committees.
Personnel: Employee relations, including collective bargaining, reclassification, compensation and conditions of employment of County personnel and officers are handled by this Committee. Members set policy for the Civil Service Commission and administer the county Employee Merit Award program.
In short, the committee sets employee and employment policies, including employee contracts and collective bargaining. If you ever want to see how a government really works from the inside, sit in on a personnel committee meeting. Once your head stops spinning at the facts and details being debated, you’ll have a much better understanding of how it works.
Finance and Audit: County budget matters, taxation and insurance are all reviewed by this Committee. Reports of the Department of Audit are discussed on a regular basis. Audit reports ensure other county departments implement program improvements and cost-saving recommendations of the County Board. This process provides the best service at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. In short, Finance Committee is in charge of crafting the budget after it comes down from the County Executive’s office. That’s pretty important, as Milwaukee County is a $1.2 billion entity. (Would you want a few part-time people to set the budget for the $1.2 billion corporation of which you are a direct owner?)
On it, I noticed that Supervisors Cullen, Johnson, Borkowski, Broderick, Jursik, Dimitrijevic, Romo West, Haas, Lipscomb, Schmitt, Taylor, Sanfelippo, Harris and Alexander are all listed as co-sponsors. Supervisors David Cullen and Willie Johnson have been named as chairs of the Personnel Committee and Finance Committee, which are currently separate committees. They would be co-chairs of the, larger joint committee.
Given that it has 13 co-sponsors, and we now have just 18 supervisors, the resolution’s passage is all but assured.
What would be the effects of this resolution?
It is argued that the combining of the two committees would streamline the county legislative process. What happened very frequently was that resolutions that came to the personnel committee would also have to go to the finance committee, as their effects and purpose were intertwined. In the last (2008-2012) county board cycle, the Finance Committee met prior to Personnel Committee, meaning that even if Personnel rejected a resolution, if it had passed Finance, its passage by a majority of the whole board was virtually assured. This was in spite of the fact that Lee Holloway had stacked Personnel with hard-line conservatives, which had the effect of hurting labor contracts.
Now, we will have both committees in one group. The meetings are likely to run much longer than before, as we will have to deal with arguably the most important elements of a government: its money and its staff. Hopefully, the gain in “efficiency” will not prevent good work from being done.
Also, let’s look at the current memberships of the two committees. I have italicized the duplicates:
Finance & Audit: Willie Johnson, Jr., Chair; David Cullen, Vice-Chair; Jim “Luigi” Schmitt; Peggy Romo West; Patricia Jursik; Jason Haas; Deanna Alexander
Personnel: David Cullen, Chair; Willie Johnson, Jr., Vice-Chair; Jim “Luigi” Schmitt; Patricia Jursik; Theodore Lipscomb, Sr.; Jason Haas; Russell Stamper II
The final, combined committee would have nine members:
Johnson, Cullen (co-chairs); Schmitt; Romo West; Jursik; Lipscomb; Haas; Alexander; Stamper
In thinking about the resolution, I can’t see many arguments against its passage. Having long meetings is not something a person in government legislation should be afraid of. Given the importance of these matters, it would be unadvisable for a person who is interested in getting out of there in a hurry to participate in the first place, or to try and stall it. Given the makeup of the proposed committee, I don’t see that happening.
What are your thoughts?