The answer for Milwaukee governance
Milwaukee has been experiencing a crisis of confidence in local government during the past year. The mayor of the City of Milwaukee has announced he will not be running for another term, after news of his affair with a staff member became very public. The County Executive resigned from office, after it was learned that he had approved a pension plan that would have made him a multi-millionaire had he remained in office as long as he had intended. To date, seven County Board members have lost recall elections, largely as a result of their approval of the pension plan. And a City alderwoman has been under investigation for her role in directing federal funds to her daughter’s community organization.
These governmental crises have been occurring locally; at the same time, investigations at the state level have yielded felony indictments alleging extortion and misuse of office. Furthermore, the State, in a move to cut expenditures, has begun the process of reducing shared revenue to municipalities and counties. Local governments must learn to get by with less money from the state, beginning immediately. Concurrently, both the City and County are seeking alternative revenue sources. One they both desire is more regional revenue to help compensate for their hosting and paying for numerous non-profit facilities that largely serve a regional audience. Examples of these facilities include the Marcus Center (PAC), the Bradley Center, museums, hospitals, and the like (in the city) and the zoo and large parks (in the county). Given this course of events, there should be no surprise that alternative ways of govern- ing ourselves have been the topic of conversation and analysis.
This report is one of many undertaken to explore alternative ways of governing at the local level. It starts with an examination of the most visible alternative, consolidation of city and county governments. Consolidation of whole governments has often been discussed, but in the United States, we have but 24 examples of consolidation since World War II. Only a few of these involve larger communities, with only one larger consolidation occurring in the last 20 years. Of the seven most recent consolidations, only one has occurred north of the Mason-Dixon line. Despite the seeming reluctance to consolidate, the option should be explored for the lessons it does provide.
Changing the nature of government is difficult. Changing it so completely as to alter the very nature of whom one serves is even more difficult. Examining what these other jurisdictions have accomplished is, therefore, very helpful in determining whether such extremes as these mergers are justifiable. If consolidation is not the answer, then what is? That is where we head, after our review of the experience of others.