"I cannot justify spending taxpayer money on a public art project at this time," explained County Executive Chris Abele after he vetoed a proposed $50,000 artistic bus shelter in Bay View. Abele had instead intended to use the funds on what he called "major deferred maintenance needs," which included rebuilding 25 underground fuel tanks and two pedestrian bridges.
This September, Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic proposed to fund an artistic bus shelter project in her Bay View district. Abele vetoed it because the county had a $55 million deficit and substantial deferred maintenance needs. In the end, the County Board agreed with Dimitrijevic and overrode Abele's veto. Support for the project fell along party lines with the liberal majority approving Dimitrijevic's project and the conservative element opposing it (except for surprising vote of Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo).
We asked Sanfelippo for an explanation why, given the county's fragile finances, he would vote for an art project in Bay View. The area in question is located at a busy intersection that serves as a large transfer point for bus riders, he explained. He argued that the project would increase property values ultimately netting an increase in property tax collections.
El Conquistador asked Marina Dimitrijevic a similar question. We asked why she had voted to override Abele's veto when he had intended to use the money on the county's deferred maintenance. Just last year, Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and John Weishan vocalized the criticality of staying on top of the county's deferred maintenance - so it was a fair question to ask.
Dimitrijevic retorted, "You do not reside in my district and are constantly searching for anything you can spin in a negative on your blog." She further added, "I am not interested in commenting in anymore of your blogs or the newspaper due to erroneous reporting and very low readership."
We explained that if she feels our reporting was unfair, she was welcome to write a response in El Conquistador to point out our errors. We also cleared up a few other misunderstandings. First, our readership matches or exceeds that of the Bay View Compass - a newspaper of which Dimitrijevic has a close working relationship.
Second, although Supervisor Dimitrijevic represents Bay View, her fiscal policy decisions impact the entire county. Milwaukee County residents should never hear from elected officials that their concerns aren't worth consideration because they don't live in that official's district. As long as a county government exists, it is acceptable - even advisable - to take your concerns to any of the eighteen Milwaukee County Supervisors.
And third, El Conquistador delivers a fair amount of newspapers into the Bay View area. We told Dimitrijevic that she should remember this point since earlier this year she had attempted to carve 8% of voting-age Latinos out of her district. Ultimately, when the Hispanic business community had opposed her, she was forced to back off.
A question we thought worth examining was why Dimitrijevic and Weishan would allocate funds for artistic purposes when 25 underground fuel tanks and two residential bridges needed repair? Sanfelippo argued that the allocation would increase property values; but Sanfelippo didn't use a bully pulpit last year proclaiming Walker's negligence about the county's deferred maintenance either. Let us explain.
In June of 2010, a 13 ton slab of concrete fell from a county parking garage killing young Jared Kellner. It was a fateful event in the midst of a gubernatorial election. To put it bluntly, it gave Democrats a gift-wrapped anchor to hang it around Walker's neck. The talking points were undeniable. A county structure fell apart, and Walker was the County Executive when it went down.
But, there was a tactical snag. Early in the investigation, the attorney representing Kellner's family said that shoddy design and an on site decision to change connections had resulted in the slab falling. This wasn't enough to persuade Dimitrijevic, however. She told the media it was "still unclear" whether deferred maintenance had played a role in the boy's death.
At the time Dimitrijevic made her statement, we responded, "What is unclear is why Dimitrijevic thinks deferred maintenance is still the cause." If the family's own attorney had debunked it, why raise the question at all?
When speaking of the county's deferred maintenance, Dimitrijevic said, "Things are starting to fall apart" and that "We could have prevented some of these things." She further added that the accident at O'Donnell should "force an honest discussion about the deferred maintenance of the county's infrastructure."
Fair enough, let's have that discussion.
County Executive Abele aimed to allocate all available public art funds to the county's deferred maintenance. This would seem like a no-brainer for Dimitrijevic since had attested earlier that things were falling apart in the county and that accidents could have been prevented. But, when an opportunity had presented itself to restore some of the county's deferred maintenance, Dimitrijevic passed - so did Supervisor Weishan.
We believe that spending $50,000 on an art project, especially when there were other pressing concerns with the county's infrastructure, was a mistake. When asked why he voted for the art project, Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo provided us a reasoned response citing economic benefits. We disagree with some of his assumptions, but we respect the fact that he took the time to respond.
When a constituent questioned why Supervisor Sanfelippo had supported the Bay View bus shelter, he wrote a detailed 770 word response beginning with:
"Thank you for taking the time to write to me with your concerns over my vote for the Bay View bus shelter. Let me start by assuring you that I have not lost my mind or softened on my conservative principles." Sanfelippo ended his email response with, "Once again, thank you for writing. If you wish to discuss this matter further or have any other questions, please feel free to contact me again. I appreciate hearing from constituents."
Contrast this with Supervisor Dimitrijevic's response to a constituent when she was questioned about her endorsement of Penny Sikora. Dimitrijevic asked:
Do you live in District 18? Are you affiliated with another campaign against him? He may have had some hard times, but we all have. The fact that he has improved his life and has dedicated his career to public service is more important than past mistakes he may have made. I am inviting you to speak on this matter as soon as possible rather than hide behind these attacks . . . If you do not reply and wish to discuss the matter you sent to my personal email inbox, I will assume this is merely a faceless, cowardly attack.
Supervisor Sanfelippo's response was respectful, lucid, and rational. Supervisor Dimitrijevic's response, contrastingly, was deflective, contentious, and accusative. Which County Supervisor do you think is most responsive to the concerns of their constituents?