City lead­ers clash over cre­at­ing watch­dog job in wake of lead cri­sis

Coun­cil wants in­spec­tor who re­ports to al­der­men

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Mary Spicuzza

City lead­ers are clash­ing over the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent watch­dog aimed at pre­vent­ing prob­lems like the re­cent lead cri­sis that has rocked the Mil­wau­kee Health Depart­ment.

Mayor Tom Bar­rett told the Jour­nal Sen­tinel that he ve­toed a mea­sure ap­proved by the Com­mon Coun­cil to cre­ate an in­spec­tor gen­eral at City Hall be­cause he’s con­cerned about the po­ten­tial for po­si­tion to be com­pro­mised by “po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.”

“I share the sen­ti­ment that there is a ben­e­fit to hav­ing an in­spec­tor gen­eral,” Bar­rett said.

“But we did some re­search, and as we looked at other cities who have used an in­spec­tor gen­eral, the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor was in­de­pen­dence from both the leg­isla­tive branch and the ex­ec­u­tive branch.”

Un­der the mea­sure, which was over­whelm­ingly ap­proved by the coun­cil late last month, the in­spec­tor gen­eral po­si­tion would re­port di­rectly to al­der­men.

The goal of the po­si­tion would be to closely mon­i­tor de­part­men­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion and ac­tiv­i­ties city­wide, “while be­ing out­side of the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” the or­di­nance said.

“If we move in this di­rec­tion, we need to do it right,” Bar­rett wrote in his Oct. 3 veto let­ter.

“That means the po­si­tion needs to be free from po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and needs to be em­pow­ered to in­ves­ti­gate all as­pects of city govern­ment in­clud­ing those un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the city clerk, ab­sent po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.”

Bar­rett warned that po­lit­i­cal dis­agree­ments could de­ter­mine what de­part­ments or in­di­vid­u­als are in­ves­ti­gated if the in­spec­tor gen­eral was a po­lit­i­cal ap­pointee of the coun­cil.

He added that whistle­blow­ers may be de­terred if they thought po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence could lead to re­tal­i­a­tion.

“Liquor li­cense ap­pli­cants and ap­pli­cants for Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Block Grant fund­ing would not have in­de­pen­dent re­course if they felt their ap­proval or de­nial was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated,” Bar­rett wrote. “More­over, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into city clerk and coun­cil con­tracts would not have in­de­pen­dent scru­tiny.”

The mea­sure passed eas­ily last month on a 12-1-1 vote.

Al­der­men may at­tempt to over­ride Bar­rett’s veto at next Tues­day’s full coun­cil meet­ing.

The coun­cil orig­i­nally cre­ated the po­si­tion to over­see the trou­bled Health Depart­ment, which has been reel­ing for months over fail­ures in its Child­hood Lead Poi­son­ing Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram.

But a coun­cil com­mit­tee amended it so the in­spec­tor gen­eral would over­see all city de­part­ments rather than just the health agency.

Still, Comptroller Martin Mat­son warned in a let­ter last month that plac­ing the in­spec­tor gen­eral in the city clerk’s of­fice pro­vides the po­ten­tial for “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated au­dits.”

Ald. Mark Borkowski, who voted in sup­port of the mea­sure, said he did not want the is­sue to be­come a po­lit­i­cal “power play.”

“Some of us are very frus­trated with what had hap­pened in the Po­lice Depart­ment, what has hap­pened in the Health Depart­ment, and kind of just said, ‘OK, we’ve got to be bet­ter,’ “he said. “I’ve been dis­ap­pointed in the lead­er­ship from the mayor’s of­fice.”

But he added that the in­spec­tor gen­eral doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily need to re­port to al­der­men.

“I don’t like the way it’s be­come a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball,” Borkowski said. “But we can’t al­low things to get the way they got.”

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