Friday, June 20, 2008

About SEWRPC: More Reaction, More Discussion

Yesterday's Freeman carried a news story defending SEWRPC and quoting various folks predicting doom and gloom for Waukesha County should Milwaukee County or City leave the seven-county planning agency.

(When I posted this, I did not have the URL or full text, but the Freeman has kindly supplied the text and I have copied it in full, at the bottom.)

It's fascinating to me that there is concern about the damage some say would occur if Milwaukee County used its $800,000+ annual property tax donation to SEWRPC to fund a more urban-friendly planning agency.

What Milwaukee would gain, and what is absent from the Waukesha/SEWRPC perspective, is valuable control over transit planning and other related items that take a back seat now to SEWRPC's suburban and exurban structure and priorities.

As I have said repeatedly, why does the discussion of regionalism have to take place within the framework and language and repeated outcomes that we have now - - the status quo - - and not use any new language or consider new or different formats that could achieve the same ends, but that change the rules and players of the game.

How about Milwaukee as a genuine partner in planning, not as a checking account?

You can contort yourself into knots and turn blue in the face defending SEWRPC, but you cannot get past these facts which grate on city dwellers in Milwaukee:

With a population of 600,000, and more residents than any of the non-Milwaukee County counties in SEWRPC - - all of which have three SEWRPC board seats, the City of Milwaukee has no seat at the table.

Despite having the largest share of minority residents in the region, SEWRPC has no minority core staff members, and has not had minority core staff for years.

There isn't even a core staff member with a City of Milwaukee address.

And minorities are excluded from SEWRPC's powerful advisory committees. There are zero African-Americans, and only one City representative, on the 32-member water supply advisory committee.

This is 2008. The US Civil Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to end this sort of institutional discrimination more than 40 years ago.

How is that SEWRPC is immune, tone-deaf, care-free and thoughtless when it comes to basic operations like hiring?

Yet the City of Milwaukee, where more than half the population is now minority, is responsible for sending SEWRPC about $400,000 annually in recent years as its portion of Milwaukee County's contribution to SEWRPC's operating budget.

I don't think SEWRPC practices affirmative action. This is beyond benign neglect. There's no action, there. There's nothing affirmative.

Milwaukee gets taxation without representation, spending without accountability, planning without participation.

It's long past due that Milwaukee get itself out of SEWRPC.

Big money is being taken annually by commissioners and spent by managers from Milwaukee who cast a blind eye towards Milwaukee's housing, employment and transportation needs.

Enough is enough.

Final thought:

I'll bet there is more than a handful of Waukesha County residents who look at the $600,000+ annually that they ship off to SEWRPC, then look at their own city and county staffs, and wonder just what the heck they are getting for all the overlap.

Freeman text:

Without Milwaukee, SEWRPC in doubt
Waukesha leaders unhappy with metro push to leave

By JOE PETRIE Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA ­With several Milwaukee aldermen beginning a push for the city to leave the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the future of the commission and regional initiatives could be left in doubt.

Because the commission is set up to meet the needs of the metro Milwaukee area, the absence of Milwaukee County would cause problems with obtaining federal money and serving the needs of the entire region, SEWRPC andWaukesha leaders said Wednesday.

And though the resolution by the Milwaukee aldermen is advisory, leaders in the planning group and from Waukesha are taking it very seriously.

"We're very concerned because the community is very important to us," said Phil Evenson, executive director of SEWRPC. "If they left, it would have the potential to destroy the commission."

Milwaukee Aldermen Bob Bauman, Jim Bohl and Nik Kovac introduced theresolution after former Milwaukee mayoral aide Jim Rowen publicly questioned the commission's need to exist in Milwaukee. In the resolution, the aldermen raise numerous grievances such as an underrepresentation on the SEWRPCboard, favoritism by the commission for suburban communities and the fact that the commission offices are in Pewaukee.

In the resolution, they describe it as "a classic example of taxation without representation."

Last year, several Waukesha County supervisors complained about SEWRPC and made threats to leave the commission as well, but no further action was ever taken.

SEWRPC provides long-term community water, transit and land use plans for municipalities in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, Washington, Ozaukeeand Walworth counties. However, the majority of the $2.5 million in municipal funding to the organization comes from Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, at $845,525 and $657,675, respectively.

Evenson said he would not speculate if Waukesha's share would change if Milwaukee were to leave the commission. But without that Milwaukee money, Evenson said it would make SEWRPC's job much more difficult.

For example, he said planning for regional transit has decrees from the Federal Transit Commission where his group must include the metro Milwaukee area and Milwaukee County.

Waukesha County Board Chairman Jim Dwyer, who serves on the SEWRPC board, said he doesn't believe the grievances raised by Milwaukee are completely accurate.

If Milwaukee left the commission, the ramifications would be felt in Waukesha County because the state's largest city is important in planning and politics for Waukesha. "There would be problems anytime a key member left an organization, Dwyersaid. "Hopefully it can be resolved soon."

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas agreed that it wouldn't be beneficial to either county if Milwaukee chose to leave the commission and hopes that leaders there realize that while SEWRPC may not be perfect, it's veryimportant.

While Vrakas and other leaders in the area have been working on regionalization efforts for transit and water, he said the resolution could also have the potential to erect barriers leaders have just worked to teardown.

"The city isn't a region onto itself," Vrakas said. "But some people still feel that way and it's just not productive."

(Joe Petrie can be reached at

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