Milwaukee County Board Seeks Legal Help to Battle State Legislature

The Milwaukee County Board Thursday voted to hire an outside legal firm to help clarify and possibly challenge state legislation that would cut the authority and funding of the board.
May 24, 2013

By Steve Schultze

The Milwaukee County Board Thursday voted to hire an outside legal firm to help clarify and possibly challenge state legislation that would cut the authority and funding of the board.

The measure, approved on a 14-4 vote, gives board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic the authority to choose the legal firm and an initial budget of $25,000.

County Executive Chris Abele, who lobbied for the state legislation, hasn't decided yet whether he'll issue a veto, his spokesman said.

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Some of the provisions in the bill are vague and need to be clarified, supervisors said. Others might be challenged as illegal, though that decision won't be made until the legal review is done, Dimitrijevic said.

Supervisor John Weishan Jr., in urging approval for the outside law firm, said the board needed to stand up to anti-Milwaukee legislation.

Singling out Milwaukee County for different treatment than other counties should not be tolerated, he said. The legislation was given final approval by the Legislature last week and is expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee county executive. It passed both houses with just one Democratic vote, that of state Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee.

The bill cuts the budget of the County Board by about two-thirds, reduces supervisor terms from four years to two and limits board authority over contracts, land sales and labor negotiations.

Supervisors' pay also would be cut in half if voters agree in an April 2014 referendum. The bill also would end health and pension benefits for supervisors, though pension credit already earned would not be lost.

It also includes numerous other provisions that have generated little discussion, such as turning over full authority for child-support programs and the county fish hatchery to the county executive.

Supervisors said the outside legal help is needed because the county corporation counsel's office also serves Abele and thus has a conflict of interest.

Supervisors Deanna Alexander, Mark Borkowski, Tony Staskunas and Steve F. Taylor voted against hiring the outside lawyers. Staskunas said the outside help was unnecessary and could be costly.

(c)2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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