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In the movie "Groundhog Day," protagonist Bill Murray is stuck reliving the same day repeatedly. Each day he tries to do something, anything, to break the endless cycle of having to react to identical occurrences again and again. The movie has become so ingrained in American culture that the phrase "Groundhog Day" has become synonymous with reliving the similar events ad nauseam.
For members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, they've been stuck in a funk for ages, just like in the movie.
In December 2004, eight members of the board, lead by Supervisor Joe Rice, filed an ethics complaint against the County Board chairman, Lee Holloway. In February 2005, the county opened an ethics probe of Holloway. On June 12, Holloway was charged with 90 civil ethics violations. The most serious allegations charge that Holloway voted to approve $1.8 million in county contracts with the Opportunities Industrialization Center, a now-defunct non profit agency, between 1995 and 1998 without disclosing his own personal financial transactions with the agency.
Holloway has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, yet he and his attorney have continually sought to derail and delay resolution in the case. He's even gone so far as to sue the special prosecutor.
At the heart of the case is Holloway's failure to report properties he owned, most significantly one at 2100 W. Atkinson Ave. for which he and his wife allegedly received more than $165,000, according to various media reports. OIC is said to have paid the Holloway's more than $165,000 to rent and then to purchase their property, yet OIC never inhabited the building, the reports say.
Two weeks after the charges were brought, 11 members of the county board asked Holloway to temporarily step down as chairman, until the case was resolved. They argued that he couldn't effectively lead, and the board as a whole could not effectively legislate, as long as Holloway was surrounded by an ethical cloud. That was seven months ago. Holloway is still chair.
Many of his critics are no longer in positions of power, however. Some, like Supervisor Gerry Broderick, stepped down from their committee chair posts as a sign of protest over Holloway's intransigence. Others, like John Weishan and Roger Quindel, were stripped of their positions by the temperamental Holloway.
Holloway has replaced his critics with allies like Willie Johnson, Jr. Johnson, who now serves as chair of the Judiciary Committee, recently admitted he was blocking the confirmation hearing for the nominee to chair the ethics' board in part because of posts I made on my blog (dailytakes.com). I am not making that up. That's what a joke the Milwaukee County Courthouse has become.
Holloway, who once had a citizen physically removed from a public hearing by a sheriff's deputy after he joked about the chair's work ethic, has ruled the board in such tyrannical fashion that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board has gone so far as to describe him as a "king."
Perhaps, however, there is a palace coup in the offing.
At the end of "Groundhog Day," Murray's character reaches a breakthrough and is able to move on beyond the same depressing day. In Milwaukee, after months (frankly, years) of controversy surrounding Holloway, including his dealings with OIC, supervisors may finally have reached a point where they will be able to move on and install a new board chair.
Sick of being the subject of ridicule at both the hands of the chairman and his critics like me who mock their impotence, many county supervisors are discussing ways to break the monotony of life under Holloway.
There needs to be a vote of no confidence against Holloway. This public effort will not force him from his position of power. But it may, among other things, help encourage the county's corporation counsel, William Domina, to provide the board a clear roadmap on the procedures to replace the chair. The board has never faced such a task and such direction is needed.
At the very least, the board could reduce Holloway's pay by some $20,000 with a simple majority vote. (As chair, Holloway's pay is significantly higher than that of his fellow board supervisors.)
This week could prove to be pivotal the board. While I doubt Holloway will do the right thing and step aside voluntarily, the momentum to force a change at the next meeting of the county board may finally reach the breaking point.
Fittingly, the Milwaukee County Board holds its next meeting this Thursday, Feb. 2, Groundhog Day.
- Fraley is the president of The Markesan Group, LLC, a national corporate and political consulting firm. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is a past client of Fraley's firm.
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