Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Little Defensive, Aren't We?

Apparently Brian Fraley would prefer it if we didn't talk about the pros and cons of public policy issues facing Milwaukee County. In his "critique" of my latest post about the pluses and minuses of privatizing Central Park, I counted a total of one actual critique.

According to Fraley, all
Walker is suggesting is adding a handful of coffee shops to the county parks. Not that big of a deal, right? Evidently the "dirty hippie types" and I are "freaking out" over nothing.

Here are all the lines from
Walker's State of the County address from Monday that resemble anything close to proposals for solving the $2.3 million budget shortfall facing the county parks last year alone:

  1. "To fix the problems with parks, we propose adding a new position for fiscal management and recommend dual reporting to the parks director and the budget director."
  2. "In the area of parks, we will seek to expand the number of successful partnerships in the parks. This month, our administration will send an RFP down to the County Board for a coffee house in Juneau Park and will follow with others throughout the system. My view is simple: if it takes a coffee shop in every park to keep them open, then I'm all for it. If it works in Central Park, we should do it here."
  3. "To help with the parks budget, we will take proposals for the sale of the maintenance building at 68th and State and will consolidate staff into other locations."

So let's sum-up: adding one administrative position, expanding commercial partnerships, and selling off a maintenance building. But that's not all. We should really also consider what has taken place over the past couple weeks for a full view of Walker's position on the parks.

Just over two weeks ago,
Walker publicly threatened the job of the parks director, Sue Black. Either she fixes the budget problem in six months or "I'll find somebody else," said Walker.

Why is there a $2.3 million budget deficit facing the parks? Well, according to Black it's due in large part to back orders on unfunded repair jobs that plague the parks department, which makes cutting a maintenance building an ominous proposition to say the least.

And according to at least one county supervisor, the budget deficit stems from a problematic merger between the parks department and the public works department that was initiated by Walker in 2004--a merger that has since been undone. Another county supervisor added that
Walker keeps giving the board tax-freeze budgets and then expects the supervisors to solve all the problems that come from handling increasing costs on fixed revenues.

What about that one fiscal oversight position
Walker proposed? That's an increase, right? Well, it's not really a big help when the parks department has already lost 15 park manager positions since 2004 and now is set to loose 125 seasonal maintenance workers this coming year to go along with the 200 seasonal employees the parks department lost in 2005. And anyone who has worked in a parks environment can attest to the importance of seasonal workers. I'm going to go out a limb here and assume that the budget manager the county finds won't also double as a do-it-all handyperson.

The fact is Scott Walker doesn't have any ideas for the
Milwaukee parks besides privatization. There are hundreds of parks with coffee shops in them around the country, including ones right here in Milwaukee. Walker referenced Central Park for a reason--it's the only major urban public park in the country that's privately operated. Why else mention it as model unless he wanted to emulate it? And if he wants to emulate it, it's gonna take a lot more than a handful of coffee shops. I suppose we could always ask the people working the coffee shops to run around and maintain the parks in between latte orders.

It's all good though, Brian. Those dirty hippie types just love their coffee shops. And they'll probably be too high to notice the parks have gone to crap, anyway.


Blogger Milwaukee Chip said...

I wish Walker would just say he is going to get rid of the county workers and let private companies partner with the county. We can't afford the pension and sick leave benefits those employees get. And does it really matter who mows the lawn as long as they get mowed? Apparently to you dirty hippies....

February 08, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

It seems you missed the entire point of both of my posts on the topic. Here goes, again--it's not simply about who maintains the parks, it's about the power that maintenance brings to determine how the parks are used.

A simple example: You have a right to help determine how a playground in a public park is set-up because you're a citizen. You have no right at all to determine how a playground is set-up in a McDonalds, for example, or whether one should even exist there because that's a private enterprise. See the difference?

Now, I want to make clear that I think allowing some commercial ventures into the county parks is a good idea. In fact, it's the idea of Walker's predecessor, Democrat Tom Ament.

But those commercial ventures alone are not enough. More must be done. The debate here is over what "more" should constitute. I think it would be a mistake to turn more over to private enterprise because of the reasons I've laid out in recent posts and a bit above.

But Walker, unfortunately, will never let go of the purse stings to allow anything but privatization to happen. He's hitching his political future to the ideals of extreme groups like CRG. This is going to be a losing battle for him in the Republican primary this year, and it's also going to be a losing battle for the county parks in the future.

By the way, I'll take the dirty hippies comment as a compliment. So thanks.

February 08, 2006  
Blogger Dailytakes said...

If we can save one public employee union worker it will be worth it...just one.

February 08, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

That's right, it would be. We hippies hate to see a person loose a job and a family loose an income & benefits. If only we could convince Scott Walker that saving union jobs is a priority.

How's this for a parks proposal:

1. Add a handful of, preferably local, commercial establishments to various county parks
2. Require county employees to pay a modest amount for their benefits (note: I'm not aware that what Walker is currently proposing is modest)
3. Modestly raise taxes in the area to help with not only the parks, but also other county services

Sound fair? It's diversifying, right?

February 09, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

A quick note on the proposal I presented in the comment above. I don't intend for those three suggestions alone to solve the parks problem, but rather they should serve as a foundation. I'm sure there are additional, more creative ideas that could help bolster the three suggestions I've laid out.

My point is this: There needs to be a variety of avenues investigated in order to solve the fiscal crisis of the parks while still maintaining public control over them. If there are solely public means sought for the parks, there will be a constant fight for revenue year after year. If there are solely or even a majority of private means sought for the parks, the public will loose control over the structure and use of the parks, which is what has happened in Central Park where the operation is 85% privatized.

There needs to be a variety of public & private solutions for the parks. The problem is that Scott Walker has not presented anything but public cuts and private solutions. And, what's worse, as long as he stays in bed with groups like CRG, he won't be able to present anything but private solutions because those extreme groups call for a recall election at the mere mention of a public revenue increase.

And if Walker is hoping he'll be out of Milwaukee by the time the s**t hits the fan with the parks, I think he'll be sorely mistaken by the end of the Republican primary this year. If that's not what he's hoping, then he better get more open and proactive about exactly what his plan is for the county parks.

February 09, 2006  

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