A team of Journal Sentinel reporters tracks the career of Tim Russell, a former aide to Scott Walker and GOP operative who was charged last week with stealing charitable funds for veterans' which had been in independent hands before Walker, as County Executive, put the money under Russell's control.
The team's reporting fills out Russell's resume and long association with Walker, and to some degree illuminates why Walker would give Russell a grab-bag of duties to fulfill.
But it still is not clear why Walker chose to give Russell control over the veterans' charitable money, A) after the county's ethics board recommended that the charity's finances be separated from Walker and county government, and, B) after, in fact, those financial responsibilities had been moved to an American Legion post which District Attorney John Chisholm said in the Russell charging document had performed exemplary management, according to WisPolitics.com.
I offer one possible piece of the puzzle based on my work in both Madison and Milwaukee's city halls, where personality clashes or petty one-upsmanship in a highly-competitive or politicized atmosphere could contribute to decision-making.
First, let's back up a bit.
The veterans' charity, initially created by Walker, came under the eventual control of the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post No. 23 after the ethics board's 2006 recommendation that the funds be transferred, as the Journal Sentinel noted in a lengthy story a few days ago that should be read in full:
Walker set up the annual Operation Freedom as a military appreciation day at the zoo for veterans, who got free admission and food. It was run through the county executive's office. Russell was the coordinator of the event and worked on it with Darlene Wink, another former Walker aide at the county who has been under investigation in the John Doe probe.OK - - now pay attention to this nugget about Milwaukee County Board Supervisor John Weishan, Jr., a Walker nemesis, in a fine analysis by former Milwaukee Journal editor and writer Dom Noth, who now does communication work for the Milwaukee Area Labor Council:
But the financing setup for the event drew ethics scrutiny in 2006, when two county Ethics Board members questioned the practice of county officials asking private companies for money for public programs, saying it raised conflict-of-interest questions...
Walker said then that he was trying to save taxpayer dollars and that he'd resolve ethics concerns by asking a veterans organization to solicit funds for the event. Walker got legal advice that the fundraising should be handled by a separate charitable entity.
As a result, starting in 2006, Milwaukee Purple Heart Chapter 96 began overseeing the checkbook for Operation Freedom...
Because of concerns about how Operation Freedom's money was being handled, officials turned over control of the funds in 2009 to the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post No. 23.
But the group soon lost that responsibility when it was handed over to Russell and the organization he ran, Heritage Guard Preservation Society, in October 2009 - a decision personally signed off on by Walker as county executive.
Weishan is active in the community on Veterans' affairs, has criticized Walker over county budget cuts to veterans' programs, and also had done battle with Walker over appointments Walker sought for Russell that required County Board approval.Ignored concerns from Supervisor John Weishan.When Supervisor John Weishan, a Marine, complained several years ago that Walker was engaged in self-aggrandizement, shutting out the American Legion and the County Board and insisting on creating his own charity effort along with Russell for veterans, Weishan was hooted down as just another liberal politician opposed to Walker’s right-wing vision. So busy were the attackers that they failed to notice what the DA seized on, that Walker created a 501 ( c ) for veterans out of his own elected office, a big warning signal of what could happen to funds from the well-meaning public.
Today, Weishan looks pretty prescient...while Walker?
Walker also nominated Russell to lead the county's economic development office in late 2004, but county supervisors voted down the Russell appointment the following April on a 12-7 vote amid complaints that Russell was unqualified and a Walker campaign functionary.So it would not surprise me that Walker chose to transfer the veterans' charity management to Russell because Walker saw it as a way to stick it to Weishan.
Walker took the unusual step at the time of sending a letter beseeching County Board Chairman Lee Holloway to back Russell's appointment, saying he was needed to provide continuity on the county's efforts to market vacant Park East Freeway corridor land.
Supervisor John Weishan Jr., a frequent Walker critic, said Thursday he and others were irritated at Walker repeatedly placing Russell in county posts despite concerns Russell did campaign work on county time.
I can hear Walker saying, 'Weishan thinks he's the veterans' guy in the Courthouse? He thinks he can push me around by making Russell's life difficult? I'll show Weishan who's in charge here: watch me give that veterans' program to Russell just to tick Weishan off.'
That's my theory, and don't think for a moment that scores in government aren't settled just like that when a chief executive wants to teach a lesson to a nettlesome legislator.