Let’s get a few things clear right away.
I don’t know Summerfest chief Don Smiley. I have never talked to him, in person, by phone, by email, by Facebook or by smoke signals.
I might recognize him if I saw him on the street because I’ve seen some pictures of him, but there’s an equal chance I wouldn’t. We probably don’t really hang around the same neighborhoods because he makes something like a gazillion dollars a year and I don’t.
I am one of the people in Milwaukee who doesn’t mind that he makes a lot of money and I am one of a handful who knows why this is such a big story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Smiley made somewhere around $700,000 for 2011. In the six years he’s been there his pay has jumped by around $300,000. All that money has put him squarely in the middle of a scandal.
The scandal is being driven by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its bulldog columnist Dan Bice.
Time for a little history.
The newspaper has always been obsessed with how much money people who don’t work for the newspaper make. When I say "obsessed," I am not exaggerating. I have very personal experience with this.
Four times in my life I have left one job for another one. The first one I left was with the newspaper. Each time I left, the first and most important question reporters asked me was "How much are you going to make?"
Believe me, nobody cared what the job was or what I was going to do. What they cared about was how much money I was going to make. Each time this happened, if was four different reporters involved.
Two of those jobs were in the public sector, so my salary was a public record. In the stories about my new job the salary was either in the first or second paragraph. If I wouldn’t tell the reporters my salary, they’d get angry and hurt. And they would incessantly keep trying.
I’ve always found this kind of behavior very unseemly, but I understand it. Being a newspaper reporter is an historically low-paying job. That’s why so many reporters have gone into broadcasting or public relations or advertising or even government jobs, which have always paid more than being a reporter. And it is that ugly trait of jealousy that drives salary coverage like this.
Smiley has not been happy with this coverage and has taken a couple of shots at the paper. That’s the kind of thing that makes columnists like Bice froth at the mouth. Smiley talked with my OnMilwaukee.com colleague Eugene Kane, who is nobody’s fool. Kane wrote a very fair and balanced account of the controversy. But Bice saw it as part of the conspiracy to keep him from finding out what he wanted to find out.
"In a friendly interview with OnMilwaukee.com’s Eugene Kane, Smiley continued to bash the Journal Sentinel," Bice wrote. Read that carefully. Bice calls it a "friendly interview" perhaps to differentiate from the hostility he brings to this story. In his world, "friendly" is a pejorative. Frothing. Frothing.
I do want to say that I like Dan Bice and think he does a good job with his investigative reporting. But he has fallen into the same "what’s your salary" trap that has defined this paper for years and is demanding information to which he has no right.
Now, as to Smiley and his salary ...
It seems like he makes a lot of money. But, so what? He’s got a big job. It’s not taxpayer dollars. His salary is set by his Board of Directors.
To show how some people just respond like Pavlov’s dogs, a bright light like Alderman Michael Murphy has criticized the salary because Smiley makes more than Barack Obama. Talk about germane? Wow.
Summerfest is one of the things that this city does right. There are improvements and additional sponsorships every year. Almost a million people really seem to like it every year. Somebody has to run this thing and having a guy who is worth a lot of money do it is a lot better than getting some cut-rate wannabe to do the job.
I’m tempted here to say "who cares" but we know who cares. And we know why they care, as well.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.