One Year In, Milwaukee County Supervisors Adjusting to Part-Time Status

Mar 1, 2017

Milwaukee County supervisors are not holding regular office hours the way they did in the past. A new state law took effect nearly a year ago; it cut supervisors’ salaries in half, eliminated their health care benefits and reduced their terms from four years to two. WUWM spoke with some board members about how they’re adjusting to part-time status.

If you’ve called your Milwaukee County supervisor recently, you may have gotten voicemail. Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb says the new state law that has reduced the board to part-time, has resulted in many supervisors holding other jobs during the day and sometimes delayed responses.

“Each supervisor represents an average of about 54,000 county residents and if supervisors aren’t in their office because they have other employment and you also have part-time staff, that affects constituents’ service in terms of the time it takes to get a response and to follow up to any issues they might be having,” Lipscomb says.

Lipscomb says the board’s number one duty is to adopt a $1 billion annual county budget. Other responsibilities include overseeing the parks, the courts and transit. As board chair, the new state law cut Lipscomb’s salary in half to $36,000 per year, while the other supervisors now earn $24,000. He says in the absence of holding regular office hours, they all now do much of their work electronically.

“I’m responding to constituents every waking hour of the day, I’m seeing emails and regularly responding on the fly. This isn’t a 9-5 job, it wasn’t before and it still isn’t,” Lipscomb says.

While Lipscomb says he’s been working part-time in real estate to earn extra money, Supervisor Deanna Alexander now works full-time in the state foster care system to supplement her reduced board salary. Alexander says it’s a challenge, juggling a full-time day job with County Board responsibilities.

“I work downtown in the same area relatively that I did when I was at the courthouse most of the time, but I work a full-time schedule for the state of Wisconsin in that role, and then take time off or readjust my schedule to attend County Board meetings during the day time. Unfortunately the board has not yet moved them to evening meetings and there is no immediate plan to do so,” Alexander says.

Alexander says there was talk in the beginning, of moving County Board meetings to evening hours, so that supervisors could tend to their full-time day jobs. But, she says some board members fear that night meetings would be too costly, as the county would have to pay for security and extra staff to be on hand.

Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson was elected last April, and has only experienced being on the board since it went part-time. Nicholson teaches fourth grade at Pierce Elementary School in MPS, but she says the addition of her County Board position has been fairly easy.

“I take half days when I have committee meetings and I have relationships with substitute teachers that the kids know and are familiar with, who cover for me when I’m out of the classroom. When I am doing my county supervisor work, it’s more so in the evenings and on the weekends,” Nicholson says.

Nicholson says she and other supervisors have been able to convince some committee chairs to move meetings to late afternoon, in lieu of evening hours. She says it’s a good first step, as late afternoon hours provide better flexibility.