Scott Walker formally resigns from office Monday, even though most Milwaukee County citizens are painfully aware that he’s been out of the office for the most of the last two years focusing more on his campaign for governor than on his actual duties as county executive.
Board Chairman Lee Holloway will take the office as county executive for the next thirty days, by which time he must appoint an interim county executive who will hold that office until the elections in April. Holloway hasn’t indicated whether he has someone in mind, or if he’s contacted anyone for that role yet. It should be noted that Holloway could appoint himself as the interim county executive, but that would mean surrendering his position as county supervisor and, of course, Chairman of the Board.
Holloway and the subsequent executives will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to get a handle on the state of affairs that Walker is leaving behind, much less trying to rectify them.
Some of the things that Walker is going to leave behind as part of his legacy:
Over the past decade, the Milwaukee County Transit System has seen its services cut by more than 20%. Despite the findings of a study done by the Public Policy Forum, which found that the best course of action would be to restore services and cut fares, Walker did the exact opposite. The result has been tens of thousands of workers becoming separated from good paying jobs. This in turn has hindered any chance of the regional economy to rebound from the recent economic stress it has been through.
To make matters even worse, with Scott Walker taking over the reins of the state, we cannot reasonably expect to have the will of the people honored when they called for a sales tax increase as a dedicated funding source for the transit system.
The new executive will have to find a new funding source outside of the state’s control in order to save the region’s economy from totally collapsing with the transit system.
As with the transit system, the parks have been one of the main targets of Walker’s ideologically driven slashing. During the campaign, Walker tried to deny and cover up the results of his neglect, even so far as trying to tout the parks as being “gold-medal” worthy. The sad truth is that the parks are a far cry from being that.
An audit done on the parks shows that there is somewhere between $200 and $300 million in needed repairs and deferred maintenance. Some of the buildings have become unusable to the public due to safety concerns.
There is also the lawsuit that is going to come with the collapse of the parking structure at O’Donnell Park.
As with the transit system, the new executive will have to try to find a new source of revenue outside of state control or risk losing these former gems once and for all.
Safety Services (Mental Health)
One of the biggest headaches that the new executive will face is the public safety net involving mental health services. Walker has made such a mess of this program that it is hard to even know where to begin. The physical structure of the mental health complex is in such a state of neglect that it would be more fiscally responsible to build a new one. There is not enough beds to meet the community’s needs which leads to patients being unsafely discharged without adequate community support.
The new executive will have to find a way to meet the communities needs in order to protect not only these vulnerable citizens, but the public at large. Fortunately for him or her, the County Board has already started the process by approving to build a new structure to house the facility.
As with O’Donnell Park, the new executive will also have to deal with the bad publicity (which only goes to further stigmatize the mentally ill and make them even less willing to get the help they need) as well as the possible lawsuits coming from the abuse and neglect that has occurred over the past eight years.
We would also strongly urge the new executive to practice true transparency and release the 2008 report regarding the mental health complex. The citizens and tax payers of Milwaukee County deserve accountability from their leaders for once.
Safety Services (Income Maintenance)
This could provide rather challenging for the new executive. Remember that due to his mismanagement, Walker managed to have the Income Maintenance Program taken away from the County’s control. As a result, Milwaukee County tax payers have been paying millions of extra dollars to do what the county should have been able to do all along, for less money to boot.
I would not be surprised if the state suddenly decides to return the program back to county control in order to get it off their ledger, but I don’t think that they will be doing so with adequate funding. The new executive should be prepared for the eventuality, perhaps using that extra money to make sure that the county maintains control of the program.
The new executive will also have to deal with such things as finding proper funding for the public safety programs such as the Sheriff’s Office and the courts. The Sheriff’s Office has been the subject of a number of lawsuits over the years, some from mismanagement, but mostly from problems related to understaffing the prison and the House of Corrections.
Other things the new executive will need to figure out is a way to preserve other important programs such as the Farm and Fish Hatchery, keeping support up for the zoo and the museums, fixing the pension issues and finding a way to repair and maintain our infrastructure.
The Public Policy Forum had done a report for the Greater Milwaukee Committee which highlighted some of the problems with the legacy costs (pension and health care) for county works.
While those legacy costs most definitely need to be addressed as soon as possible, they pale in comparison to the legacy costs that Scott Walker will be leaving behind for us to pay for.