Friday, September 7, 2007

Scott Walker's Thoughtlessness Hurts Milwaukee

Another day, another story about Scott Walker's failure as Milwaukee County Executive.

Recent reports had catalogued his sleeping-at-the-switch as fresh pension scandals washed over his administration.

And his recalcitrance on regional transportation issues had led to such a scolding by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that Walker finally put some ideas - - limited as they were to some unfinanced bus system linkages - - on the table.

But Thursday's took the cake:

Keeping to his one-note pandering preference for cutting public service spending, Walker says he will likely slash funding for mental health treatment, reports the Journal Sentinel.

This paragraph caught my eye:

"The stretched-thin mental health staff would take a 12-person trim, while money to pay for outside service agencies would shrink by more than $1.5 million, creating waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient care, including drug and alcohol treatment."

Doesn't Walker understand, or haven't his staff and agency people told him, that there is a direct link between drug and alcohol abuse and crime - - realities that are universally recognized as Big Trouble in the City and County of Milwaukee?

And that mental illness is related to drug and alcohol abuse as both cause and effect, thus playing a significant role in violent, costly abnormal behaviors - - measured in dollars and cents and suffering - - that make headlines here everyday?

If Walker were a leader, he would not reduce this spending.

He would expand it, and he would not apologize for it.

And Walker would do it proudly, as a problem-solver.

And to help reach these comprehensive community goals, he would jawbone the hospitals and health care insurers and other medical services providers in the county - - many of which are paid handsomely by the county in employee benefit premiums and other payments - - for direct in-kind and cash contributions.

Milwaukee Police Chief Nanette Hegerty hit the nail on the head a while ago when she talked about the spiking level of anger in Milwaukee that is linked to violent crime.

School teachers and administrators will tell you the same thing because they are with our young people all day long, and also know the family histories and neighborhood-and-community shortcomings that surround and influence the youngsters.

Drug and alcohol abuse, and mentally unstable behavior, are directly related to that anger, and to its consequences. They feed each other. They need to be dealt with as a whole.

Separately, drugs and alcohol are not the only reason for mental illness, and vice versa, but each and all are both symptom and cause: A real leader would recognize the realities and the connections, and marshal resources to confront and reduce their impacts.

And not - - definitely not - - stay focused on the little picture and the talk radio templates, or on getting just right The Right's coded lingo for the next day's news release or targeted, self-serving emails, or a budding re-election campaign's ads or those to launch and carry the eventual race to succeed GOP Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner.

Given local crime and unemployment rates - - actually given the side swath of damaging social ills that touch every other aspect of Walker's budget and life in these parts - - there's only one word to describe these proposed cuts in mental health spending and drug and alcohol treatment.


(Disclosure note: It's well known, and I've mentioned it on this blog, that my son Sam works for 3rd District Milwaukee Alderman Mike D'Amato. It has also been reported that Ald. D'Amato might run as a Walker opponent in 2008. For the record, I don't have a scintilla of inside information about whether Ald. D'Amato will run, and either way, it's of no relevance to my opinions about Walker's budget and leadership.)

Further Note: On Friday, D'Amato told the Journal Sentinel he is not running for County Executive.)


Anonymous said...

I am so grateful for all the wonderful programs that you and your friends built to eradicate poverty and misery in Milwaukee. I wish you were still there using all of that brilliance and wisdom to fix Milwaukee’s problems. I will put a good word in for you with the executive.

James Rowen said...

You should be grateful that people like me let anonymice like you the ability to speak undercover.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure at your leap of logic from what the paper said "The stretched-thin mental health staff would take a 12-person trim, while money to pay for outside service agencies would shrink by more than $1.5 million, creating waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient care, including drug and alcohol treatment" to elimination of services and leading to drug an alcohol abuse, crime, etc., The services are being pared back truly but not eliminated. How is it stretched-thin and by who's definition? Also what percentage of the total budget is a reduction of $1.5 million represent? Does increasing the waiting time for services really produce all of the detrimental affects listed? I cannot believe that the affect is totally known by anyone at this time.

The problem the county is dealing with is that their constituency is not tolerating the high taxation that has been placed upon them. Tax rates have increased steadily because the increase in the county's population (tax payers) is stagnating while costs are pushed higher because of additional services that keep being added to the government's to do list. Sadly, this cannot go on forever and has gone too far as it is.

A balance must be struck on what the county can provide and what the taxpayers can bare. Costs and or services must be managed. While it is easy to critize someone for making changes it is far harder to come up with a viable alternative. What specifically are your thoughts as to how the county should control and reduce its costs? Or is this a case of someone else's thoughtlessness?

James Rowen said...

To the most recent Anonymice poster:

I did not say the services were being eliminated. I said they were being cut, which they are.

And I proposed a very specific plan by which Walker becomes an advocate for the mentally ill and chemically dependent to avoid these cuts, not rationalize them, as you and he both are doing.

I know people in these very straits: It is a blessing not to share their damaged lives. They need a level of care that goes way beyond the current county service level - - and I say need unless you are willing to let them go, with all that comes with that for them and the community.

That is the sad reality of the situation.

Walker doesn't need apologists. He needs pressure to stand up and lead. Which you are not doing for him.

Steve Branca said...

Anonymous simply represents the underlying American philosophy of any social issue: an individual's problem - whether illness, unemployment, homelessness - is of his own making and is his to solve. Period. Next question.

It follows then that his incredibly cold response to cutting mental health funding, which, by the way, has been drastically cut since St. Ronald took office, leading to a sharp increase in homelessness, is is either ignorant of or unconcerned with just the effects you describe.

And this anonymous business is just cheap, but reflective of our right-wing leadership's tendency to not take responsibility for anything.