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Would Milwaukee County Residents Notice Downsized Board?

Wisconsin's State Capitol

Lawmakers in Milwaukee County and Madison have been at odds for months, over the wisdom and effect of shrinking the Milwaukee County Board. It appears the state will change board operations. Last week, the Assembly agreed; Tuesday, the state Senate did likewise.

It has been relatively common for the county board and County Executive Chris Abele to be at odds over issues. The board approved its own reform plan; Abele backs the state legislation. It would shorten supervisors’ terms from four to two years and limit the board’s power when it comes to collective bargaining and land sales. Abele does not foresee residents noticing a difference.

“They’re not going to have any less access to their county; they’re not going to have any less ability to express their concerns. They have no less representation; there is no diminished checks and balances, Abele says.

The state legislation would also let Milwaukee County voters decide whether to cut supervisors’ pay in half.

According to Abele, even when the county was at its largest, constituents found a part-time board served them well.

If the board is scaled back, Rich Meeusen would not be surprised if residents start noticing development in the Park East. That land, north of downtown, has been largely vacant since the state removed a freeway spur.  Meeusen is president and CEO of Badger Meter.

“I am a major investor in the only piece of property that has been developed in the Park East Freeway, and that is the Aloft Hotel. And I have said that under this county governance model, I will never again invest in anything on county ground, because of the amount of bureaucracy and red tape that was involved getting all of the permits necessary to build that hotel,” Meeusen says.  

While Meeusen and Abele expect residents to see economic development projects popping up around the county, Supervisor Theo Lipscomb predicts constituent services will suffer.

“For those residents who have interaction with their county board supervisor, they’re going to find that their less available. And that there isn’t anyone necessarily there to take their phone call or respond to their issue,” Lipscomb.

Liscomb says supervisors and residents may also find themselves less informed on issues affecting their lives, if the state slashes the board’s budget.

He says support staff – and people who do the research, will have to go.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.