When Gov. Scott Walker announced his plan to require public workers to contribute more to their health insurance and pension, he promised he would end worker furloughs. He has lived up to that promise. But Walker left out the catch: a two-year freeze on salaries for state workers, which his administration announced last week. Consider […]

When Gov. Scott Walker announced his plan to require public workers to contribute more to their health insurance and pension, he promised he would end worker furloughs. He has lived up to that promise. But Walker left out the catch: a two-year freeze on salaries for state workers, which his administration announced last week.

Consider the impact of the benefit givebacks required: Those earning $25,000 a year are now contributing just under $4,000 – nearly 16 percent of their annual earnings. Those earning $50,000 are now paying about $5,400, almost 11 percent of their annual salary. Now the state is saying your pay is frozen for two years, so you cannot recoup any of that money.

Meanwhile the Walker administration has announced it will begin a system of merit pay for exceptional employees. The idea, ostensibly, is to make government work like the private sector. But private companies are driven by the profit margin and reward employees who contribute the most to that profitability.

Not so in the public sector. Government leaders are inevitably tempted to reward political loyalty. And all the changes occurring under Walker are leading in that direction. Unions have lost all ability to represent workers. There will still be civil service protection for those threatened with firing, but it’s difficult to see how civil service rules will prevent cronyism in the awarding of merit raises. And that sends a message to all workers: Be loyal or you’ll never get ahead.

Meanwhile, the legislature has given Walker the power to reach deeper into government departments to appoint loyalists rather than civil service employees, and the power to override rule-making by government agencies. All of this will lead to increased politicization of government – and less ability of workers to withstand orders that serve the party in power (whichever party it is) rather than all the people. These steps seem subtle, but lead inevitably to less democracy.    

The War Between Chief Flynn and the Journal Sentinel

The spat between Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn and the Journal Sentinel has gotten really ugly. On Sunday, the paper offered installment three of its series on rogue police officers whose crimes and other transgressions are treated lightly. The newspaper also published an op-ed by Flynn that bitterly criticizes the series, which it placed just below a JS editorial that blasts away at Flynn. It’s an extraordinary, almost unprecedented clash: The police chief and the newspaper are at war with each other.

Flynn’s op-ed offers a devastating critique of the series, noting that the highlighted cases span 31 years, back through the administrations of five prior police chiefs; that 86 percent of the cases occurred before he was chief; and that “the median discipline for domestic violence and drunken driving was two days between 1997 and 2004. My median discipline has been 30 days.”

Nowhere in the three-part series or its editorial does the paper deny – or report – Flynn’s statistics. The newspaper’s contention, to judge by the editorial, is that it doesn’t matter if nearly all the cases it discusses happened before Flynn was chief because these police are still on the force, as the editorial emphasizes with italics. But the paper offers no solution for this: Are Flynn or Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm supposed to reinvestigate officers who committed these infractions?

The editorial concedes that Flynn and Chisholm have made significant improvements in how officers are hired and disciplined. “But to duck the results of a two-year investigation?” the editorial goes on. “Then to attack the reporter?  There is only one word for such public behavior: It’s pathetic.”

The level of self-righteousness here is extraordinary. I can’t help thinking that for the public, it would matter far more that Flynn and Chisholm improved the system of disciplining police than that they did or didn’t cooperate with the “two-year investigation” of a reporter or two at the JS. As for the accusation that Flynn attacked a reporter, his op-ed is quite explicit in chastising the newspaper, without mentioning the reporter’s name.

Flynn is nearly as self-righteous in his op-ed. And there is enough in the Journal Sentinel’s reporting to suggest the police department is avoiding full disclosure of disciplinary records and/or has a sloppy system of records. But as a reader you have to sort out piece that together, just as you have to piece together how old most of these cases are. The end result leaves you concerned, certainly, about how police are disciplined, but confused as to how much the system has improved and what further steps, if any, need to be taken.

Experts on police departments will tell you that criticism from outside inevitably results in everyone on the force circling the wagons. Ironically, that is just how a newspaper like the JS often responds to criticisms from the outside. The end result of this war between these two, highly defensive institutions is a lot more heat than light – and a lot of confusion for the public.

This is not, alas, a small issue. Police departments can only succeed if they have support from the public. That was always true but is even more true for modern chiefs such as Flynn, who are putting great emphasis on a proactive community policing model that depends on the cooperation of residents in high-crime neighborhoods offering tips and other information to the police. For my money, Flynn is the best police chief this city has had in at least 25 years. But if he continues to get sidetracked by JS investigations that can’t see the forest for the trees – and here I’m referencing the silly, two-part series on police response time – it will be much harder for Flynn to succeed. The losers will be the citizens of Milwaukee.

The Buzz

-Is the Shepherd Express the victim of politics by Roundy’s? Pressroom Buzz reports, and also has his own take on the Flynn/Journal Sentinel conflict.

-Are the Packers the perfect team? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Sports Nut warns

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