It appears that the Milwaukee County Supervisors elected a new member of the Board, but forgot to tell anyone else about it. Peter Rickman, a lead operative for SEIU, played an even greater role in the Board’s recent move to hike the minimum wage than previously known.

Not only did Rickman oversee 16 different drafts on the County’s "living wage" ordinance, but according to open records requests obtained by the Red Fox blog, he provided Supervisors with their talking points and legal opinions as well.

Shortly after the County Comptroller issued a gloomy report on the projected effects of the living wage ordinance, County Executive Chris Abele sent an email to Supervisors urging them to hold public hearings on the matter. Just six minutes after Abele had sent the email, Supervisor Theo Lipscomb fast-forwarded it to Rickman for review.

Abele’s email wasn’t the only thing shared with Rickman. Open records requests show that SEIU lawyers issued a point-by-point rebuttal to the County’s legal opinion of the ordinance. SEIU’s response was emailed to County Supervisors just two days after the legal memo was first given to Supervisors David Bowen and Marina Dimitrijevic upon request.

What’s unclear is how SEIU got the legal memo in the first place. Open records requests for that same time period turned up no messages relayed by Supervisors to SEIU, or to anyone else for that matter. Brendan Conway, Spokesperson for County Executive Chris Abele, says their office didn’t receive the legal memo, let alone send it off to SEIU for a critique.

When asked whether it’s common practice for Supervisors to release confidential information to outside legal teams, Conway said it is his understanding that such a move requires approval by a majority of the County Board.

But this is news to Supervisor Deanna Alexander, who said she wasn’t approached by any members of the County Board about waiving their attorney-client privilege. “Clearly, the SEIU got it from someone,” Alexander said, “and it wouldn’t have been our attorneys.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time that a County Supervisor had intentionally withheld emails. Sometimes Supervisors need a refresher course on what constitutes an open record.

SEIU has been pulling the Board’s strings for a while. They wrote the minimum wage ordinance, issued “general messaging” for the Board's Finance, Personnel, and Audit Committee, and furnished Supervisors with legal advice.

At each stage of the process -- from drafting to legal instruction -- Rickman has become the 19th member of the County Board. In return, those companies that decide to collectively bargain with unions, they get special exemptions from the wage hike. Sounds like a pretty good deal if you're a union looking for more members.

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