Milwaukee County First was started by a group of liberal bloggers who think they can deceive the public into thinking they are a legitimate non-profit organization looking out for the better interest of Milwaukee County. The purpose of this organization is to stop a single politician from getting elected to governor - and his name is Scott Walker. On their website, they have already impugn the name of Scott Walker about a dozen times in just two months time. Their most recent criticism is that Walker instructed his Department Heads not to attend the Milwaukee County Budget Hearings hosted the Milwaukee County Board.
Milwaukee County First states,
"Because the budget is so tight, some very difficult and important decisions will have to be made regarding spending priorities. While it is always important to listen to the tax payers regarding how their tax dollars are being spent, it is all the more crucial that the tax payers voices be heard when these tough decisions have to be made.
For Walker to arrogantly dismiss the tax payers voice in these difficult times is simply not acceptable."
Chris Liebenthal, founder of Milwaukee County First, is wrong because he employs "absolute" verbiage in his statement; and absolute verbiage is easy to dismantle. For instance, it's not always important to listen to taxpayers. If it were always important to listen to taxpayers, then nobody would be working at the Milwaukee County Office because they would be holding listening sessions 7 days a week. Always listening to taxpayers is no more true than always listening to your boss. It just depends on what the situation is. If Liebenthal had said that it was sometimes or very important to listen to taxpayers, then he would be correct.
The reason I make this distinction is because Scott Walker and his Department Heads have already conducted public sessions on May 4th, 6th, and the 11th where they have already listened to the taxpayers. The purpose of these sessions was to give the public an overview of the budget situation using a power point demonstration, and then allowing for a public discussion afterward. This is the most rational method because the Department Heads can then take these concerns heard in May and use them to craft a budget proposal in June.
What Liebenthal really wants is an unlimited amount of pubic sessions where bitter individuals like himself can drill Department Heads on a budget proposal that doesn't yet exist. This of course, doesn't make much sense as Department Heads will not be able to answer questions definitively. Remember, the proposals they give to Walker in June are all subject to change based upon Walker's priorities or budgetary agenda. And that is why Scott Walker has called their attendance at these meetings unproductive.
Milwaukee County First goes on to say,
"He admitted he held his listening sessions in May, but he did not even attend all of them. These sessions were poorly advertised not allowing a lot of people the chance to be heard. To make matters worse, the one I personally went to at Wilson Park on May 6, Walker was not even present to hear the citizens’ concerns. Steve Kreklow, Walker’s financial head, was unable to answer even one of my questions, making it far from “interactive.”
First, the Department Heads held three budget meetings in May. Scott Walker attended two of them. In reality, it wouldn't matter if Walker attended zero meetings because this is what his Department Heads are for. Like U.S. Senators, Department Heads are the ones who collect the public feedback so they can put together a budget proposal. Scott Walker's position, however, is more analogous to the role of the U.S. President. He may not create the legislation, but he receives it from his Department Heads and tells them what he likes and what he doesn't like. Walker then prioritizes their points in a give and take exchange that takes a couple months to finalize. Ultimately, Walker doesn't need to attend the meetings any more than a President needs to attend town halls. Sure the president will attend a town hall or two, but then again, so did Scott Walker.
Second, Liebenthal states that the meeting he attended on May 6th was unsatisfactory because one of the Department Heads couldn't answer his questions. Now, I went to the Milwaukee County Budget Hearing in Franklin yesterday. I personally heard Chris Liebenthal ask the Milwaukee County Board a few questions; and I can honestly say that nobody in the room understood him. Why? Because none of his questions made sense. At one point, I actually saw County Board Supervisor Peggy West look at some of her colleagues wondering what on earth this guy was talking about.
Imagine a person who strings together a dozen or so incoherent and unrelated sentences for about three minutes, and that is what Liebenthal sounded like that evening. This is not intended to be mean or derogatory, but is meant to demonstrate why people couldn't answer his questions. This is a sincere and genuine evaluation of what I observed.
To prove my point, I made scrupulous notes on every speaker that Wednesday from the Mayor of Franklin who encouraged the County Board to keep the EMS funding to the very last speaker, Chris Johnson, who works for the Milwaukee Transit, and complained that the county parks were becoming too dangerous. Why were they becoming too dangerous? Well, as luck would have it, one of his friends got injured while playing baseball. Apparently, a ground ball took a bad bounce and hit his friend in the face. I kid you not, this was Mr. Johnson's argument that the County Board should not withhold funds from the County Parks. The point here is that if I couldn't make any intelligible notes in the three minutes it took Liebenthal to make his speech, then it is no surprise to me why a Department Head couldn't answer any of his questions.
And third, Liebenthal states that Walker's public sessions were poorly advertised. I'm not sure what sort of crowds Liebenthal expected to attend these types of civic events, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided the times and dates for these sessions just as they did for the Franklin session. And unlike the public session at the Franklin Law Enforcement Center, the sessions conducted by the County Department Heads actually had an overview of the County Budget.
Although these preliminary Milwaukee County Budget Hearings aren't entirely useless, they aren't exactly ground breaking either. The County Budget Hearing in Franklin was dominated largely by County workers that don't want to lose their jobs due to privatization. Given that the Department Heads have sufficient experience with this sort of thing, I'm sure they could wisely anticipate what would occur at these meetings. Bottom line, Scott Walker was correct by advising his Department Heads to hold off on these meetings until an actual budget proposal is sent to the Milwaukee County Board for a public debate.