Thursday, October 16, 2008

SEWRPC To Public: 'Don't Rock The Boat.'

The Milwaukee Rising blog documents SEWRPC's cynical manipulation of its mandatory federal review next week, tamping down public participation in the very process that determines whether federal transportation funds are being spent in our area wisely and fairly.

Trying to mute criticism of its record and procedures is a major behavior these days by SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - a seven-county, 100% taxpayer-funded organization with offices in Pewaukee, no City of Milwaukee appointees to its 21-member governing board, and only three minority employees among its 49-member professional staff.

SEWRPC does has an Environmental Justice Task Force (EJTF). It is a relatively new advisory body with members representing low-income, minority and disabled persons that was created last year under pressure by federal reviewers and local activists - - and it held its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.

But did SEWRPC encourage it, or members individually, to attend next Wednesday's federal transportation policy review, perhaps to report on how well the EJTF effort is going here?


SEWRPC had somewhat the opposite message for its task force.

At Tuesday's EJTF meeting, SEWRPC management unsuccessfully tried to block its own task force from recommending - - merely recommending - - that all future SEWRPC studies include an independent "socio-economic" analysis prepared by outside experts.

That sort of analysis was not included by SEWRPC's water supply advisory committee, for example, in its preliminary findings and suggestions released recently after a three-year planning effort.

And SEWRPC's affirmative action effort - - more a boiler-plate annually printed document than a true action plan - - has been so unproductive that some community organizations carried out their own socio-economic analysis of SEWRPC procedures, priorities and management by filing two recent civil rights complaints with federal agencies alleging discrimination.

It makes complete sense that the EJTF would give SEWRPC managers a vote of no confidence over the low priority assigned by the agency to socio-economic issues both internally and externally, and would go on record recommending the need for independent socio-economic analyses just as SEWRPC is on the verge of beginning a regional housing study after a 33-year delay.

But it was an odd and somewhat embarrassing drama, as EJTF members respectfully made their arguments and recommendation, which passed 8-1, only to have SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson oppose it, saying he was "offended" by a motion he took "personally."

It is a crying shame that SEWRPC does not electronically record these meetings, or for that matter, any of its meetings.


Michael Horne said...

SEWRPC is listed as the official surveyor of the counties of Walworth and Kenosha. (How much $ I don't know). Meanwhile, former SEWRPC executive director Kurt W. Bauer is the surveyor for Waukesha County.
Milwaukee, Racine, and Ozaukee all do without an official County Surveyor.

I think this means something. I am not able to figure out right now if it is -- or is not -- a conflict for SEWRPC to serve as a surveyor. And the Bauer connection must be very cozy in Waukesha. But I have a feeling, conflict or not, that it is not a good thing. Especially for Milwaukee.


James Rowen said...

I'd have to double-check, Michael, but I think Bauer or SEWRPC provides survey services to more than the counties in the region that you list.

Bauer has been a private SEWRPC contractor since he left as Executive Director in 1996. He is now Executive Director Emeritus, and earns $6.500/mo., plus a new Crown Vic and a nice office, for three-quarters-time work.

Along with his surveying duties, he chairs two advisory committees and thus remains a major presence at the agency.

He was the first SEWRPC director dating to its founding in the early 1960's.

He was followed as ED by Phil Evenson, who is retiring in January, 2009 after 37 years there, to be replaced by Deputy Director Ken Yunker.

So a very small group and loop manages the agency, and live in Waukesha County. None of the 11 agency managers, the so-called core staff, have a City of Milwaukee address.

I don't see much of a conflict of interest. To me, SEWRPC is a stright-up arm of Waukesha government, and from time to time drops into Milwaukee for a visit or testimony or a bit of work.