By Doug Hissom Special to Published Feb 20, 2009 at 5:25 AM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

Conversations about a potential takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools continue, with politicians considering ideas ranging from letting the mayor run it to creating a pseudo MPS czar.

Last week, the Public Policy Forum released a report that looked at other cities with mayoral control over the school system. Mayor Tom Barrett hasn't entirely dismissed the idea, which was entertained by former Mayor John Norquist some time ago.

Another pitch would have the mayor appoint a "chancellor," and that chancellor would appoint the school board.

The Common Council committee will consider a resolution that the state change the law to abolish the superintendent post and have MPS employ a "chief executive officer." The CEO would be elected and four-year terms would run concurrent with those of the mayor and school board. Terms would be no longer be staggered, as they are now.

Ald. Willie Hines advocates the latter plan and recently released a rather lengthy justification for his plan.

"We have absolutely no say in the quality of education for which our constituents are paying double-digit tax increases," Hines said. "If we want to have a world-class city, then the City of Milwaukee must have some ‘skin in the game.' ... No matter who is running the store, we have to have the right tools in stock for our students and character education should be a cornerstone of efforts to transform MPS."

Hines says he is not advocating a takeover of MPS, just a little tweak.

"If the political will to carry out a change in governance does not exist, then other options must be carefully considered," he said. "My intent is to hold off any talk of an MPS takeover for as long as possible, and I plan to do so by working to bring estranged members of the community back into the fold. ... The City of Milwaukee must step into the fray and demonstrate a willingness to fight for its own future."

And then there's Ald Bob Donovan's idea to have Gov. Jim Doyle step in to help out in one school. Donovan sent out an open letter to Doyle after last week's "melee" at Bradley Tech, the scene of a number of prominent skirmishes of late.

"The way Bradley Tech has degenerated is an insult to the tens of thousands of proud graduates of the former Tech, which served as a model school in Milwaukee for decades," he said. "I am proposing that Bradley Tech be closed at the end of this school year so that we can start over."

Donovan says he wants to create "a true technical high school," where students would take tests to get into the school and take a strict regimen of computer and technical courses.

"I believe that is the kind of Bradley Tech we should create, because the current one is a disgrace that is likely causing Jane Pettit to turn over in her grave," concludes Donovan.

Pettit donated most of the money to build the new Bradley Tech as an innovative technical school, but it has been mostly mired in poor performance and bad publicity.

Cop Suit: Another month and another Milwaukee police-related lawsuit is proposed for settlement. But at least this time it's not related to the Frank Jude case. This one involves an unlawful arrest and could cost the city $35,000.

According to city attorney's office: Schalanda Long claims she was unlawfully arrested after filing a complaint that she was robbed at an automated teller machine. The responding officers, Detective Madrina De La Cruz and Officers Denmark Morrison and Roger Walker, said video from the machine was inconclusive that she was confronted at a bank on 35th and Vliet Sts. They cited her for obstruction. After reviewing tapes from a better video machine, they found Long had been confronted. No charges were filed.

But Long sued in federal court, where she argued that her rights had been violated since there was no evidence of probable cause. A judge in September agreed the case should go to trial.

The city attorney advised the Common Council that it would cost at least $50,000 if the city went to trial and lost, so the office tossed out the figure of $35,000 to settle. A council committee is scheduled to deliberate this week.

The Saga of the Depressed Manhole Cover: Get ready for a new term in the continued deterioration of our city's infrastructure during winter. It's called "depressed manholes," and if you hit one it can be worse than hitting a pothole - which also are hard to avoid. The continued popping up (or down, as it were) of the sinking manhole cover may soon ad another term to the urban vernacular-- "the manhole weave."

Brass from the Department of Public Works have been called in front of aldermen this week to explain the proliferation of the depressing features and what they're going to do about it. This new favorite topic of drivers will be preceded by those same DPW officials explaining what they're doing about those ever-present potholes as well.

Gun Play: The case of the West Allis man cited for carrying a gun in a holster while planting a tree in his yard cancelled has rallied gun advocates.

Brad Krause was found not guilty of disorderly conduct for openly carrying a gun. One target gun advocates have in their sights is actually Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. Last year, Rep. Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls) asked Van Hollen for an opinion on upholding open gun laws in the state. Musser was pushing because Wisconsin is one of two states that opposes concealed weapons.

The argument goes that if you can't carry a concealed gun in Wisconsin and you get cited for openly carrying a weapon, that would justify changing the law in favor of concealed weapons. Carrying open guns would be an interesting scene, indeed.

Meat Cutting: Reports are out that Smithfield Foods, owner of Patrick Cudahy, is axing 1,800 jobs and closing six plants, but the Cudahy plant will be spared any pain.

Hidden in this news, though, is the realization that the Cudahy plant has already cut its workforce by eliminating many of its temp positions, which affects minority employment. A main concern, according to plant sources, is that as many as 600 workers in Cudahy will lose their jobs if Smithfield's contract to make meats for Kraft Foods expires. Kraft is currently considering what to do with its meat.

Name Dropping: Tuesday's primary elections had fairly predictable outcomes around here, but there were some interesting names and stories on the ballot.

In Menomonee Falls, current President Randy Newman took 78 percent of the what little vote there was in his re-election battle against Jefferson Davis, who scored 17 percent. Davis is a former deposed and disgraced president who somehow thinks his political career will rise again. He will face off against Newman one more time in April.

New Berlin saw its current mayor, Jack Chiavatero, and ex-mayor Ted Wysocki get through the primary, with Chiavatero receiving substantially more votes than the ex-mayor. Paul Scheuble, the city's most prominent ex-hippie who has become its most perennial candidate as well, finished a distant third.

Wysocki could receive a major boost to his campaign if he bought a few cases of "I love Ted Wysocki" T-shirts now being featured on, with sizes up to 5-XL.

Scheuble made it through a school board primary, however, and will be on the April ballot for that post.

Field Patrol: This shouldn't prevent them from signing any Class A free agents, but the Brewers will be paying more to have Milwaukee Police as their security force in Miller Park. The city is seeking to increase the Brewers rate to have cops in the park from $45.22 an hour to $45.97 an hour. A letter to the Brewers from Police Chief Ed Flynn said the move is needed because "the original agreement has proven deficient."

There's Money in Trash: Another revenue source for the city will kick in next quarter and it's not from the stimulus package. The city wants to increase garbage pickup fees for some multi-unit apartment buildings by up to 19 percent.

There are about 2,660 such buildings in town and the city picks up trash from half of them. Building owners have the options of paying the city or using a private collector. The rate is supposed to increase every year. The costs vary based on whether the city needs a front loader or a back-loader for the job.

DPW officials estimate that 5 percent of property owners will opt out from the city pickup, but it will still bring in close to $1.5 million.

Stimulated into Action: The city is getting its act together in time to receive a little stimulus cash. A Common Council committee was to hear a plan to create an economic stimulus task force. The measure is being sponsored by Aldermen Willie Hines, Michael Murphy and Nic Kovac.

Ald. Bob Bauman offers some philosophy on what to do with the cash.

"It is important as we consider new funds coming into the city for infrastructure improvements that we recognize when to be fixing old problems and when to be investing in new solutions," Bauman said. "President Obama has even recently called attention to both high speed rail and other alternative infrastructure improvements, saying ‘We should be using this money to help spur this kind of innovative thinking when it comes to transportation.'"

Don Sykes, head of the city's job training program, which spends about $14 million a year, recently told a council committee that he hopes his agency would get a substantial piece of the pie in order to invigorate youth jobs training programs.


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.