On July 21, four Milwaukee County Supervisors attended an event hosted by SEIU to protest the county's handling of the O'Donnell Parking Garage investigation. Supervisors John Weishan Jr., Johnny Thomas, Marina Dimitrijevic and Chris Larson called on County Executive Scott Walker to resign his right to continue a county investigation. It is thought that a state takeover would provide the public more transparency.
When County Supervisors coalesce with organized labor for a protest, you know the smell of election season must be in the air. What better way to get a fair investigation than by handing over the reigns to a Democrat Governor who endorses the "other guy".
Shortly after a 13-ton panel fell from the O'Donnell Parking garage killing a 15 year-old boy, the county hired Graef-USA to oversee inspections of more than 100 county buildings. But hiring Graef created a stir among Walker's harshest foes.
A reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discovered that Graef had contributed more than $14,000 to Walker over an eight-year period. The discovery raised the possibility that Walker had hired Graef in what is typically called a "pay to play" scheme. But in all fairness, Daniel Bice reported that Graef had also contributed more than 3 times that amount to Governor Doyle suggesting that Graef is as likely to favor Democrats as Republicans.
County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who represents a predominantly Latino district, has spearheaded an effort in what Scott Walker has dubbed "a political ploy" to hobble his Republican bid for governor. A recent statement made by Dimitrijevic might lend some credence to this viewpoint.
Accompanied by union leaders (otherwise known as the political arm of the Democrat party), Dimitrijevic told reporters that it was "still unclear whether deferred maintenance played a role in the failure of the decorative concrete slab".
What's unclear is why Dimitrijevic still thinks that deferred maintenance might be the cause. Last month, Parks Director Sue Black released a memo itemizing all of the "currently critical", "potentially critical", and "necessary, but not yet critical" problems at the O'Donnell Parking Garage. The report confirmed that all itemized problems were identified and resolved months prior to the tragedy. In other words, there is no evidence that deferred maintenance caused the concrete panel to fall.
Furthermore, recent investigative reports show that contractors, more than a decade ago, did not follow the building's blueprints when attaching the concrete panels to the structure's walls. Instead of using four connecting rods to secure the panels, contractors used only two.
William Cannon, the attorney representing the deceased boy's family, stated that "shoddy design and an on-site decision to change the stell connections were responsible for the death." He also said that the pre-cast concrete panel that killed the boy did not fit on the parking structure wall as intended, and modifications were made to shorten the panel. More interestingly, the two connecting rods used were hammered into the wall at a depth of 1.5 inches, which was 5 inches shorter than ordered in the original plan.
All available evidence indicates that the O'Donnell tragedy resulted from a failure of contractors to secure the panel properly to the wall. So we asked ourselves, what makes a County Supervisor more inclined to focus on deferred maintenance while the family's lawyer focused on shoddy design?
The simplest explanation is that the lawyer has been hired to present the strongest case based upon a preponderance of the evidence. He has no political axe to grind, and he has no stake in the November election. By keeping the focus on deferred maintenance, Dimitrijevic is looking to connect Scott Walker to the O'Donnell tragedy.
Marina Dimitrijevic has called for the state to usurp the safety investigation of all county buildings. She thinks they can provide an independent analysis. But she fails to understand that the County Sheriff and District Attorney, who are currently leading the investigation, are not appointed by Scott Walker. In fact, they are not appointed at all.
These offices are won through a county-wide election process making them independent and answerable only to a county electorate. If there are any concerns about a vast right-wing conspiracy involving Sheriff Clarke and Attorney Chisholm, it may be reassuring to know that both Clarke and Chisholm are registered Democrats.
The issue is this: Scott Walker is running for governor. Most policy decisions he makes, for better or for worse, are made newsworthy. Instead of being a part of the solution, Dimitrijevic has chosen to be part of the problem.
On July 29th, the County Board voted 10-8 to have the state assume control of the investigation, but it failed to reach the necessary two-thirds mark. If they had exceeded a two-thirds majority vote, they would have succeeded in prolonging the investigation through November, which could harm Walker's chances to win.
What's not being talked about, however, is that a child was recently killed in a terrible accident. The family who suffered the loss has a long road of grieving and healing ahead of them. For Dimitrijevic to use a human tragedy as a platform for partisanship is shameful, and prolonging an investigation to keep it in the news is rather callous.
But Dimitrijevic's actions underscore a larger problem for Hispanics leadership on the south-side. Recently, County Supervisor Peggy West, who represents a predominately Latino district, became the laughing stock of the nation when she tried enforcing a boycott against Arizona not knowing that it shared a border with Mexico. Now we have Dimitrijevic, who also represents a Latino district, exploiting a casualty to inject politics into an investigation.
As they say, the most effective way to influence your leadership is the voting booth. If the Hispanic community wants to become a political force in years to come, they must start holding their own leadership more accountable.