The Milwaukee County Board made several controversial decisions Thursday. The majority voted to dismiss county attorney Kimberly Walker. There was no discussion, but several supervisors stated afterward that they had lost confidence in her neutrality. She was appointed by County Executive Abele. He lobbied to reduce the board’s power.
Also Thursday, most supervisors decided to continue crafting a rule about when leaders can use public money on ads. Debate surfaced, after Sheriff David Clarke began purchasing radio announcements. In some, he advises residents to arm themselves - rather than wait for police to respond to threats.
Some supervisors say they’ve been bombarded by messages – most from out of state. They insist any rule limiting the sheriff’s ads on guns would infringe on first and second amendment rights – free speech and bearing arms. Supervisor Patricia Jursik says she supports those rights but also wants to make sure county leaders don’t spend public money courting political support.
“There is an abuse going on. There is clearly an abuse going on,” Jursik says.
Under Jursik's proposed a rule, if county leaders want to purchase media time with county money, they could not feature themselves.
The irony with the proposal, according to Supervisor Steve Taylor, is that board members have long used public dollars to promote themselves.
“Anybody who supports it, I hope to never see a paid newsletter out of their office,” Taylor says.
Taylor calls the suggested ethics change a personal vendetta against Sheriff Clarke. He and other county leaders have frequently been at odds, including over funding for his department.
Supervisor Tony Staskunas says he’ll only support a rule change if it targets all county leaders.
“Any attempt to muzzle one particular county official, Sheriff Clarke, I will be opposing that very vigorously,” Staskunas says.
Staskunas voted with the majority to send Supervisor Jursik’s plan back to a committee to sort through issues. She says she agrees the board needs more time and must craft a policy that applies to all county office-holders.
“Come next year, supervisors are going to have no funds to do anything. However, other elected officials may well have funds,” Jursik says.
Jursik is referring to Wisconsin Act 14. It will slash the board’s budget.
When it comes to the ads issue, some supervisors have asked her for a clear distinction between public service and political announcements. Others want to know what election law states, and a few appear content leaving the ultimate decision about leaders’ actions, with voters.