Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander has taken quite a few across the chops in recent weeks. Journal Sentinel reporter Georgia Pabst took issue with Alexander for using her Facebook page to post a link to her father’s obituary. The obituary page itself is set up to collect donations for the costs of the burial.

The gist of the story, also summed up in the Journal Sentinel editorial, is that Alexander might have violated the County’s code of ethics -- using her public position or office for personal gain.

But contrary to Pabst’s story, Alexander didn’t use her Facebook page to solicit funds. She posted a link to her father’s obituary, thanking people for their condolences. Even the obituary page didn't directly solicit money.

So the question is, why did Pabst do the story at all? Why make Alexander a headline over a story that didn't have a smoking gun and wasn’t particularly newsworthy?

Purple Wisconsin blogger Ashley Schultz says it was personal. In a stinging rebuke, Schultz blasted Pabst for playing a “twisted game of political payback.”

Schultz wrote,

“Just a few weeks ago Pabst published a piece on Alexander, pointing out an error in her newsletter. Alexander responded, saying Pabst’s article lead readers to think she had purposely misinformed them. It looks like Pabst didn’t take too kindly to the criticism.”

But Pabst denies the allegation that her recent flurry of stories have anything to do with Alexander calling her work "sloppy journalism."

“This story has nothing to do with the other one and I do deny her [Schultz’] contention, Pabst wrote in an email. “I posted an update on that Voter ID story to correct the record and in response to Supervisor Alexander's press release . . . the timing is unfortunate, but totally coincidental.”

Four stories critical of Alexander in two weeks may be coincidence, but it was undeservedly harsh. Brian Nemoir, a Republican strategist and communications expert, put it this way,

“How inhumane and/or morally bankrupt does a reporter have to be to use an elected official's loss of a loved one to push her personal agenda? Personal loss such as this should garner empathy, not hostile accusations."

In Pabst’s defense, she did try to mitigate the blow – ever so slightly.

“I know the death of your father has made this a difficult time and I'm sorry to have to ask you about this,” Pabst wrote to Alexander. “But it is in the pubic domain and given you [sic] elected position, I feel I have to ask these questions.”

Kudos to Pabst for her steady resolve, asking the tough questions – even as a family mourns. But where were the tough questions when Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan Jr. used $5,000 in county funds to mail 13,000 letters, criticizing State Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) weeks before he would challenge him for his seat in the State Assembly?

“The hypocrisy here is stunning,” Sanfelippo said by email. “Supervisor Weishan misuses nearly $5,000 of his taxpayer funded expense account and no one bats an eye. Yet, somehow a funeral on a private Facebook page makes it into the local section.”

One Wisconsin Now – bless their liberal hearts – has now filed an ethics complaint against Supervisor Alexander for the fishy Facebook link.

It is unfortunate that no one from the Journal Sentinel reported that Orville Seymer, an active member from Citizens for Responsible Government, filed an ethics complaint against Supervisor Weishan months ago. If they would have put as much zeal into chasing Weishan as they did Alexander, we would know more about the investigation the Milwaukee County DA's office opened (and apparently closed) concerning Weishan's use of public funds to pursue a substantial private benefit.

The findings of that investigation are still sealed under lock and key until the County Ethics Board or Weishan decides to make them a part of the public record.

The gotcha journalism story about Supervisor Alexander’s Facebook page is really much ado about nothing. The complaint filed by One Wisconsin Now shows just how petty partisan politics can get and is a waste of time for the DA’s office.

Rick Esenberg, President of the Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty (WILL) says, “Alexander didn’t use her public office to solicit anything for herself or her immediate family as that term is used in the ethics code. She was a daughter who, at a time of great loss, linked to her fathers obituary on a page where her Mom, like many, sought help to defray the expense of burying her husband.”

Except in anyone else's case, there wouldn't be a problem.

Milwaukee County

The “living wage” ordinance may have passed the Milwaukee County Board just last week, but that didn’t stop the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from using the newly minted mandate to strong arm a local contractor in December.

Sally Sprenger runs Supportive Home Care Options Inc, a firm that contracts with the County’s Family Care program, which helps elderly and disabled populations.

In a phone interview, Sprenger said SEIU guaranteed her an exemption from paying the County’s wage hike if she agreed to deduct union dues from all of her employees’ paychecks.

Sprenger's situation adds to the mounting evidence that the "living wage" law is mainly designed to boost union coffers, not help low-income workers.

According to Sprenger, Bonnie Strauss, a project manager for SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, pitched the dues-for-exemption proposal to her and Art Beck (her lawyer), on December 16, 2013. The Red Fox blog could not reach Strauss for comment.

Supportive Home Care Options has more than 1,150 employees, but only 317 of them pay union dues. If Sprenger agreed to the payroll deductions, or what SEIU calls “union security,” she estimates it would generate an additional $300,000 a year in new revenue for SEIU.

That’s quite the payday. How is SEIU able to make such demands? They can thank the County Board.

A provision in the County living wage ordinance specifies that companies doing contracting or subcontracting work with the County are required to pay their employees a minimum wage of $11.32 an hour or 100% of the federal poverty rate for a family of four; but there is a big catch. The ordinance specifies that companies that have collective bargaining agreements may be exempted.

“It’s a windfall for the unions,” Sprenger said. “We’re about to be priced out of business and County Board Supervisors never asked us any questions.”

That’s probably because Supervisors didn’t write the bill.

“SEIU told me they wrote the living wage ordinance and that they singled out only the companies they represented," Spranger said. "After it passed, they said they were going back to the County Board to include all of Aging, Disability, Behavioral and Mental health providers in the County."

Supervisor Jim “Luigi” Schmitt told the Red Fox blog in December that SEIU worked on 16 different drafts on the living wage ordinance in collaboration with Supervisor David Bowen.

Peter Rickman, an operative for SEIU, prepared the County Board’s Finance committee members with living wage talking points for their public hearing and a point-by-point rebuttal by SEIU lawyers in Washington DC to a legal memo furnished by Milwaukee County’s Corporation Counsel.

Sprenger may object to her employee’s losing the choice to pay union dues voluntarily, but she also has to wrangle with the possibility of losing her Family Care contract with the County.

“I can see myself being told that our contract will be ending in two or three years because we will have priced ourselves out of competition,” Sprenger said.

But Sprenger and other Family Care providers seem to have a new fighter in their corner. Representative Chris Kapenga, a young politician quickly developing a no nonsense reputation in the legislature, is proposing a bill (AB750) that would preempt local units of government from attaching living wage rates to workers in programs that receive any state or federal money.

Sup. Bowen denounced the proposal as a “slap in the face” of local control. Kapenga retorted that he's all for local control as long as it’s paid for by the locals.

“Once you start taking other people’s money to pay for it [the living wage], those people should have a say in how it is spent,” Kapenga said.

The Family Care program is funded largely by the state. According to a fiscal report by the County Comptroller, the County’s “living wage” ordinance would burn through the program’s reserves by 2019.

In a previous fiscal statement, County Comptroller Scott Manske said the program risks being shut down if the Family Care reserve is depleted. “The current trend by the state has been to terminate insolvent programs,” Manske concluded in December.

Kapenga’s bill – which has been scheduled for a hearing at the Capitol today – has Voces de la Frontera and Wisconsin Jobs Now worked up into a frenzy.

“All hands on deck! Alec and the GOP are trying to make all living wage laws in Wisconsin illegal,” Voces said on their Facebook page. Wisconsin Jobs Now calls it a “direct attack on democracy.”

Whether it’s an attack on democracy remains to be seen. It’s far more likely to be an attack on SEIU’s new revenue-making scheme. It pays to write the living wage ordinance, literally.


Wisconsin - Milwaukee County

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