Who Governs MATC?
Among the levies on your property tax bill is one entitled "Tech. College" For Milwaukee residents, that means Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), which levies a tax of about $ 6.9 million (for 2011) on all city property owners. But who decides how much that tax will be and how the money will be spent? Taxation without representation went out with the American Revolution, so how are we represented in this taxing authority?
I doubt that one adult citizen in a thousand knows the answer to that question; until about a month ago, neither did I. But there was an advertisement in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month seeking applicants for seats on the MATC Board, so I decided to explore the process by applying for one of those positions.
The MATC Board consists of nine people, of which five must represent employers (1), one must be an elected official and another one must be a school district administrator. Any voter living in the District may serve in the other two "at large" positions. Members of the Board receive no pay, but are reimbursed for parking and travel costs.
The selection of Board members is made the Appointment Committee, which consists of the Milwaukee County Executive (Chris Abele) and the chairpersons of the county boards of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Washington Counties. Abele chairs the Appointment Committee.
Applicants for seats on the MATC Board must first file a notarized application and submit two letters of recommendation. I applied for an "at-large" seat and obtained recommendation letters from Elena Kahn-Oren, the Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Community Relations (on which I have served several terms since 1985) and Leon Todd, a former member of the Milwaukee School Board. Some applicants were interviewed by the Appointment Committee on Monday, June 25, and the rest were interviewed this morning, June 26.
One person applied for the school administrator seat (Kurt Wacholz, Superintendent of West Allis/West Milwaukee schools), 14 applied for the 5 employer representative seats, three for the elected official seat (Milwaukee Ald. Jose Perez, Oak Creek Ald. Daniel Burkiewicz and Shorewood Village Board Member Guy Johnson) and three for the two at-large seats (incumbents Lauren Baker and Fred Royal and I. )
Although the Appointment Committee interviews were open to the public, applicants were herded into an adjoining room so that they could not pick up any good ideas from other applicants and use them later. All applicants were given three minutes to make a statement to the Committee, after which Committee members could ask them questions from a list, which was provided to all applicants in advance. After making my statement, which emphasized my experience in teaching college math, at MATC and other institutions, I was asked about new sources of revenue, enlisting legislative support and how I would deal with competing interests. Chris Abele read a complimentary remark from Elena Kahn-Oren's letter and asked for my comment. Since I expect both incumbents for the two at-large seats to be reappointed, I urged the Committee to keep me in mind for any vacancies that might arise. (2)
The present system of selecting the MATC Board (and those in other districts of the state) is sorely lacking in public participation. Although it is a taxing board, members never face the public for re-election. Since members of the Appointment Committee are much more likely to know incumbents than other applicants, the incumbents have a huge advantage. When the members of the Appointment Committee stand for re-election themselves, their roles in selecting MATC Board members have no public visibility and will have no effect. If you don't like what the MATC Board is doing, the most you can do about it is vote against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele in 2016, if he has opposition.
I would prefer that technical college boards be elected, like school boards. The leaders of state government like the present system because it guarantees that major employers will be represented. True, but there is no assurance that ordinary taxpayers will be represented.
Gerald S Glazer
(1) Of the five employer representatives, at least three must represent employers with at least 15 employees and the other two must represent employers with at least 100 employees. At least two of the employers must be manufacturers. Got that?
(2) Incumbent at- large member Fred Royal is also seeking the Democratic nomination for State Representative from the 17th District, the Sherman Park neighborhood. He would not promise to resign from the MATC Board if he wins that election. (It is legal for one state legislator (but not more) to serve on the board of a tech college .)