By Doug Hissom Special to Published May 14, 2010 at 1:07 PM

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Milwaukee Police Department spending is coming under a closer scrutiny these days, especially when the department wants to remodel buildings.

The latest pitch from the MPD is for $46.3 million over five years to renovate the Police Administration Building on N. 9th and W. State Streets. The building houses police offices, municipal court and the city jail, along with other administrative offices. It has seen some, albeit infrequent, money for rehab purposes.

Ald. Robert Bauman wants to slow the rush to spend, calling for a task force to study whether or not the huge project is needed. He says any major cash spent on the building could interfere with other long-term plans for MacArthur Square, which sits between the police building and the County Courthouse.

The UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning put together a plan that would redesign the square for more commercial pursuits. Bauman says that must be taken into consideration.

"If there is truly a need for the upgrades in space and equipment, we should investigate whether we could spend the same money and relocate the facility elsewhere, spurring economic development in other parts of the community," he said. Spending $46 million could even build a cozy new building for the department.

"There may be other property the city already owns that could support the facility," Bauman said. "We just can't commit such significant funds without analyzing all of the available options."

Bauman's proposed Police Administration Building Task Force would include the chairs of the Public Works Committee, the Capital Improvements Committee and the Finance and Personnel Committee as well as representatives from the Police Department, the Department of City Development, the Department of Public Works and a representative from the mayor's office. An amendment considered this week added a member of the city attorney's office to the mix.

The proposal is in Common Council committee. The $46 million request currently sits in the Capital Improvements Committee.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Ed Flynn went on the offensive in defending the department's new digital radio system, which came under fire recently for various glitches that are being worked out. Blazing new cyber-ground for a police chief, Flynn went to MySpace to respond to critics in a 9 minute "interview" with a silent, off-camera interviewer.

"It's important to remember that this thing works the vast majority of the time," the chief said of the $17 million system, citing a 92.8 percent efficiency rating and a 95 percent goal.

Flynn said training is currently the top priority so that officers know how the system works. Flynn said officers will be much safer with the new radios once it's working correctly. He added every department in the country using new radios is having similar problems.

The system hasn't yet been in the field for six months and that there is going to be a trial and error period, he said.

The department has been trying to work bugs out of the system for seven years. Flynn hired a consultant to hold vendor OpenSky's feet to the fire. He said full compliance with the contract should occur sometime in the fall.

"Milwaukee decided not to be cutting edge, but bleeding edge,"  said Flynn, referring to the fact that Milwaukee is the first big city to go digital with the vendor.

Questions were raised in earnest when the department asked the city to unleash a previously budgeted $1 million to complete the system.

The chief noted that the communications giant Harris took over the original owner of OpenSky, Ma-Com, and by the time the radios were operational the consoles were already obsolete.

Harris has so far given the city $3 million to replace the consoles, he said.

Flynn also took on some of the radio critics.

"As far as I'm concerned that's for entertainment value," he countered. "There's a lot of different agendas out there regarding the police department that have nothing to do with the communications system ... And if there's people out there that can use concerns about the communication system to whip up dissatisfaction about other things they'll happily do it."

"We're going to make this thing work," he said.

Walker gets Green: Scott Walker just received an endorsement from an old foe. Former Congressman Mark Green, who lost to Gov. Jim Doyle four years ago, has given his blessing to Walker over Walker's Republican gubernatorial opponent, former Congressman Mark Neumann.

Walker dropped out of the governor's primary race against Green four years ago after it became clear he did not have party support and not enough chutzpah to raise the millions needed to unseat Doyle. It's a little easier now for the GOP since there will be no incumbent Dem to unseat and Doyle's track record has managed to offend the better portion of the state.

Green Bay's Green cites a mythical $8.9 million county budget surplus as a reason for lending his support.

"Scott has cut the debt in Milwaukee County by 10 percent, reduced the workforce by 20 percent and introduced eight consecutive budgets without an increase to the property tax levy from the previous year," says Green, sticking with the Walker campaign theme.

Obey fallout: Congressman David Obey, after achieving his career-long dream of becoming House Appropriations Committee chairman, dropped a surprise bomb last week when he announced he would not run for re-election.

But it's no surprise that Democrats are quickly circling the wagons around one candidate. This time it's state Sen. Julie Lassa from Stevens Point. Obey's district includes parts of central and northern Wisconsin -- pretty much Democratic strongholds.

Lassa has been a rising star in the party and the GOP felt so strongly about her future that her opponents in her first state Senate race violated state campaign laws in an attempt to smear her.

And the list of Dems dropping out of the Congressional bid is as prominent as Lassa's reputation. A big name bowing out is Senate majority leader Russ Decker, who has been a serious player in the state capitol despite being from Wausau. Another is state Sen. Pat Kreitlow from Chippewa Falls.

Former state Sen. Kevin Shibilski, whose seat Lassa took after he resigned to be Tourism Secretary following a failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2002, is allowing his name to be in circulation for Obey's seat.

Shibilski was a rising star in the party, himself, before the lieutenant governor's race, which brought to light ethical liabilities. Doyle gave him the post of Tourism Secretary after that loss. Shibilski quickly resigned that post with GOP operatives saying his job was payback from Doyle for Shibilski supporting a prominent Doyle campaign contributor in a run for Shibilski's old seat.

Bowing out ungracefully: Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski ran a stealth campaign for lieutenant governor and after seeing the writing on the wall dropped out two weeks ago. It was a low-key campaign but certainly not a low-key departure.

Zielinski claimed operatives of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, urged him to quit, citing potential political problems with an all-Milwaukee ticket for the state's top offices.

Not so, say the mayor's flacks. PR guy Evan Zeppos responded to Zielinski's assertions that the alderman was making it all up. "Nothing could be further from the truth," he told the media.

State Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) is undaunted and will remain in the race, even though he, too, said he was approached by some mayoral backers to quit.

Zielinski cast his support to state Rep. Tom Nelson (D-Kaukauna), who is Assembly majority leader.

Designated grenade lobber: Another somewhat stealth campaign for the state's second seat is being ventured by Republican Brett Davis, who's gotten some air time on local right-wing radio. The Republican representative from the Town of Oregon is using his campaign to lob grenades at Gov. Jim Doyle. Davis is also a part-time realtor.

His latest assault is over the administration flying in a green energy advocate from California to counteract General Motors' assertion that a state-enacted global warming bill would hurt GM's production facilities. Davis called the speaker an "environmental extremist.

"When I kicked off my campaign I pledged to transform the lieutenant governor's office into the leading taxpayer watchdog in the state with the chief mission of routing out waste, fraud and abuse," he said. "Certainly, paying for expensive plane tickets for radical environmentalists is wasteful spending."

Davis appears to be the standout in the GOP race, while the Dems still may have a decent primary.

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.