I don't ask much of my government, especially my city government.
I like having my garbage picked up regularly. I like the grass cut on the boulevard in front of my home. I like the fact that they inspect restaurants every now and then and try to keep them clean.
And I really love how they keep the streets smooth and even so that we can drive with ease.
Wait a minute! Did I really say that?
I got my driver's license when I was 16. The first car I drove was a dark gray 1957 Oldsmobile 88. Four doors. Push button radio. Automatic transmission. Big heavy car that rode like a cloud.
I have been driving a wide variety of cars on the streets of Milwaukee for over half a century. And unless my memory is failing terribly, this year is a milestone.
I have never, ever seen the streets so bad.
They are horrible. It's like being a mogul skier except instead of mogul bumps that go up, there are holes and cracks that go down. Instead of a pair of skis, you are using a big car with shock absorbers that should get hazardous duty pay.
You have two choices. Either go real slow and try to dodge the holes, or go real fast and hope you can skip over some of them. In the middle range you are liable to shake your teeth loose.
There has to be a reason for this, I'm sure. So I called Ghassan A. Korban who is the commissioner of the Department of Public Works. He gets paid almost $150,000 a year to run things like street repair. It took a while to get through a bevy of people lower down on the organizational chart who wanted to help him dodge this issue, but we finally connected.
Korban said there is a committee that decides which streets need fixing. Streets in Milwaukee are classified as A1, A2, A3, B1, B2 or B3. If you are an A1 help is allegedly on the way. If you are a B3, you can take a long nap.
He said lots of things go into the decision, including, after all the bureaucratic crap, input from citizens who live in the neighborhood. Excuse me, but I think that's just the reverse of what it ought to be.
Korban also said that "allocations for street repair have gone up every year.
"We have a six year program to fix streets based on the condition of the roads," he said. "The increases in the funds to fix roads have increased dramatically."
It was tempting to ask where all those dramatic funds had gone, but I didn't want to get into an argument with the guy. So I paged through the budget, line by line. I couldn't find the lines for tar or cement or anything that you use to fill holes, but I sure found the salaries of the gang that's supposed to fix the streets and decide where to allegedly do the fixing.
Here's the deal. You can see the title, the number of them there are, and the total amount devoted to their salaries. For example, there is one - Street & Bridges Services Manager - and he makes $109,864. Per year.
- 1 Street & Bridges Services Manager - $109,864
- 2 Street Repair District Managers - $162,150 total
- 3 Street Operations Supervisors - $189,170 total
- 5 Street Repair Supervisors - $287,304 total
- 7 Cement Finishers - $399,819 total
- 8 Cement Finisher Helpers - $135,821 total
- 15 Infrastructure Repair Crew Leaders - $674,911 total
- 33 City Laborers - $661,428 total
- 42 Infrastructure Repair Workers - $1,234,166 total
The totals are just over $3.8 million for 106 people who are charged with keeping our streets repaired.
It's kind of tough to figure out if that's a lot or a little. But one question it raises is that if there are seven cement finishers and eight cement finisher helpers, who does the extra helper help?
DPW is the group that keeps snow off our streets. Since we didn't have any snow this winter, this group is probably pretty rested and shouldn't have much trouble finding a way to fill all these holes. But then I got a great idea.
On the DPW website there's this little message from Korban to us citizens.
"I'm honored to serve you, and I encourage everyone in Milwaukee to help us by getting involved in the community."
Maybe he means we should all get a shovel and wait by these holes until someone drops off some hot tar and we'll just get involved and fix the damn holes ourselves.
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.