Scott Walker's election as Governor leaves Milwaukee County with an interesting cast of characters seeking to replace him as county executive. Perhaps the most interesting is relatively unknown, but well-heeled, Chris Abele.
Abele flashes onto our television screens out of the blue proclaiming that he's the candidate above partisanship, willing to embrace good ideas no matter where they come from. Sounds great, eh?
Not so fast.
Travelers in the desert report seeing mirages. At first they appear clear but when you approach them they become fuzzy and disappear when they are reached. Abele is reminiscent of such a mirage.
For example, one of his campaign ads says he'll cut of "perks" -- his word -- for county officials such as cell phones. Say what?
In case he hasn't checked, it's 2011 and most of the executive world is welded to smart phones that enable voice and data communication. It's how business is done these days and the mantra that government should operate more like a business is basically sound.
And it doesn't have to be just executives. When there's a crisis in the building -- like an overflowing toilet -- and custodians are needed, what's the best way to get in touch with them?
Instead of being a good steward of taxpayer money, someone who advocates such looniness is not only dumb, but costly.
Then there's his newest idea, resurrecting the notion that consolidating services is more efficient and cost effective. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. But one of Abele's ideas also comes right out of the loonie bin.
Abele says that the Milwaukee Police Department should take over investigations from the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department. Again, at first blush those who are not familiar with law enforcement might think it's an idea worth pursuing. In reality, though, it's another mirage.
Sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officers in the county with broad authority. Milwaukee County is bit unique because there are no unincorporated areas but the sheriff has specialized enforcement responsibility over county-owned property such as te courthouse, Mitchell Field, county institutions, the Milwaukee County Zoo, the jail and House of Correction, parks and so forth. County detectives also deal with cross-jurisdictional issues and witness protecton.
Not only is the law enforcement responsibility for these properties a matter of law, it's a matter of expertise. County officers know these facilities and their enforcement needs which are not necessarily the same as in a municipality. Shifting these duties would be a costly boondoggle, requiring training scores of officers. Further, the city would need to hire more personnel and the new hires might not have sufficient experience to replace the competence level lost by reassignment of experienced officers to duties performed by sheriff's detectives.
This is not to say that Abele's mantra of being creative and open-minded is entirely flawed. It isn't. But the more he floats dumb idea, the more his incompetence is unmasked. That's scary.