By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jan 19, 2007 at 5:15 AM

Usually when a new spokesperson takes the reins as mouthpiece for a corporation, press releases are sent out and the media is forewarned. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Harold Mester, the new flak for the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors (pictured above), who quietly took the job at the beginning of November.

“I guess there was no one to send out a press release,” he laughs.

Mester heads to the Courthouse after five years as news director for WISN-AM. He said the move was financial and to give him something else to do.

“Radio news doesn’t make much money, even in management. And radio news gets old after awhile.”

The new gig comes at a much-needed time for the board, which continues to be overshadowed in the media -- and especially talk radio -- by the agenda being set by County Executive Scott Walker, which for the most part, seems at odds with the majority of the board’s wishes. The overwhelming rejection of Walker’s recent budget vetoes proves that.

“We’re trying to provide a counterpoint to what the county executive is doing. It really is the County Board that sets policy,” he says.

Mester says he is responsible to work with all the supervisors, “as long as it’s not a campaign issue” and not just Board Chairman Lee Holloway, which had been a point of contention before Mester arrived.

Mester’s predecessor, Alicia Griffin, had come under fire by board members as early as spring 2005, when supervisors questioned the value of the position, especially after Holloway referred to the post as part of “my staff.” Griffin’s detractors were accused of being racially motivated by her supporters, but the position was eliminated until the 2007 budget was approved. Griffin made about $58,000 a year, while Mester says he’ll earn about $52,000.

Potawatomi Polling: Public opinion is the next card being played on the table over a proposed casino for Dairyland Greyhound Park. The Denver and Las Vegas-based renowned polling firm of McGuire Research has been phoning residents in southeastern Wisconsin to test whether the odds are in favor of maintaining the Forest County Potawatomi tribe’s Menomonee Valley casino or leaning toward approving the Menominee Indian tribe’s plans for a mega-casino and hotel at the dog track site in Kenosha.

McGuire pollsters say the Potawatomi are behind the poll and the questions certainly seem to lean that way. The Potawatomi, after all, figure they stand to lose big time if the Menominee can fire up gaming tables and slot machines a mere 45 minutes from the Valley.

After a series of queries on how one feels about the direction of the city and county of Milwaukee and how favorable County Executive Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are viewed, the pollee is dealt a list of questions where it’s almost impossible not to come up with a favorable view of the Potawatomi. No word on when the results will ever be released.

Getting Testy on Transit: Milwaukee Ald. Bob Bauman is getting a tad frustrated over the much-ballyhooed talks about a commuter train from Kenosha to Milwaukee (aka the KRM), since there seems to be absolutely no consensus on how to pay for it, or how to pay to keep the Milwaukee County Transit System viable as well. Bauman argues that without a decent bus system, any KRM plan won’t work.

“It’s like (Milwaukee business leaders who support KRM) are looking through a brochure for a $250,000 Ferrari when they can barely afford the Volkswagen they have,” he says.

Bauman will try to pass a resolution in the Council that calls for any funding plan for the KRM to include dedicated funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System. A trial balloon to use a sales tax floated by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority, which wants to build and run the $200 million line, fell flat upon announcement earlier this year. It’s expected to cost $11 million to run the line.

Unless business leaders can reach a consensus on funding, Bauman says, “They should just stop discussing and studying the projects, because all they’re doing is making the consultants rich.”

It’s the Annual Seized Assets Spending Spree: New guns, motorcycles, tasers and computer systems top outgoing Milwaukee Police Chief Nan Hegerty’s list of how to spend federal funds given to the city from seized drug assets collected during busts. The funds were initially supposed to go to drug fighting efforts but tradition has it that the department regularly uses the money as sort of a slush fund for various items that won’t cut it in the city budget process.

Among those are usually the mounted horse patrol (at $106,000 for seven horses and riders); cell phones ($35,000); tasers ($58,400); rifle sights ($16,600); computers and upgrades ($450,575); and “training” ($72,685).

The fund contains about $1.3 million. New features on the list this year include: Motorcycles ($44,000) and wireless communications for them ($70,000); replacement Glocks ($30,000); new sign and poster printers for the police graphics shop ($20,000); an ethics enforcement unit ($15,000) and audio visual equipment for the training academy ($26,350). The chief also wants to start a new Crime Scene Investigation Unit, replete with new vehicles and equipment at a cost of $194,500.

Tugging at the Tax List: Former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Rollie Fingers may have made some headlines for appearing on the state’s deadbeat taxpayer list, but there are a few prominent Milwaukeeans that probably deserve more mention than Fingers, who hasn’t lived or worked here in 20-plus years. The state Department of Revenue began its deadbeat list in January 2006 and, after some slight initial attention, it pretty much labored in obscurity on the DOR’s Web site until recently.

Some A-list area deadbeats we found on the list include: Ronald McClaron, former chief of corporate relations for Miller Brewing, who has a tab of $1.43 million in income taxes with the state; William Doucas, of Doucas Olds fame, who owes $994,944 in income taxes; and Ross Hoffer, of Big Bend, who owed $537,564 in income taxes, but whose wife found enough cash in the cookie jar to give $310 to the political action group known as Citizen Leadership Coalition, which exists to back politicians who want strict interpretations of the original Constitution. And then there’s Deneen Weinz, who currently runs a Chicago-based publication, “Streetwise,” which the homeless sell to make money to live on. She left Milwaukee with a promissory note to the DOR for $461,307.

But if you’re looking for true Milwaukee celebs, there’s musician Sigmund Snopek, who’s listed as owing $28,327 in income taxes and Ruby Sprewell, mother of NBA-all star Latrell Sprewell, who’s listed as $41,672 in arrears.

The state insists the site is kept up to date, but after its debut, many complaints were made that the numbers were askew. Nonetheless, the DOR stands by its list.   

Call it Perseverance over Pizza Pratfalls: Milwaukee’s Bay View Ald. Tony Zielinski set his sights on thinning the crust of problems at the Chuck E. Cheese franchise at 2701 S. Chase Ave., after a long hot summer of fights and rowdiness marred the usually calm birthday party place for kids. In November, Zielinski threatened to yank the restaurant’s beer and arcade license by the end of January, even though the bulk of the trouble seemed to be caused patrons under 21 who couldn’t drink anyway.

Police were called to the restaurant 18 times over two summer months and the disturbances caused the owners to hire armed security to intimidate patrons into their best behavior. In any case, Chuck E. Cheese operators, Texas-based CEC Entertainment Corp., voluntarily stopped serving beer at the alderman’s behest and Zielinski seems happy as a kid in the foam ball pool.

“Chuck E. Cheese has taken some serious steps to correct their problems,” the alderman says. “I believe they are making progress and the best case scenario is for them to continue making progress.”

As for the whole beer issue, Zielinski says, “People in the community I have spoken to said they feel that if people want to drink they should go to a bar, but if they are taking their kids out for a good time, they should be focusing on their kids’ safety.”

Free Parking: This week thee Milwaukee Common Council approved free parking at all city meters on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.