By Doug Hissom Special to Published Mar 07, 2008 at 5:21 AM

The Milwaukee Police Department's troubled Crime Data System was a victim of lack of management, project oversight and lousy training, according to an audit by the city comptroller's office. That's a familiar finding from that office when it comes to police projects.

The Data System earned infamous status when the public became increasingly aware that the MPD could not produce crime statistics for nearly a year. Ald. Michael Murphy finally asked for an audit of the $7.3 million system. MPD has withheld some $1.1 million to the system's contractor, Tiburon, because of "incomplete performance," notes the audit.

The system was supposed to be part of a $39.7 million computer upgrade in the department's new Third District station, a project itself that came in almost $30 million over budget.

The audit also discovers that five years after the system installation was started "important system functions sought and software purchased by MPD are still note operational or are currently underutilized."

MPD would not give a timeline for the project's completion and the comptroller's office declined to speculate on how long time and cost overruns will continue.

The audit also notes that the system's rising cost was not adequately disclosed to aldermen in the budget process, a practice which has been exposed lately at City Hall in projects such as the Canal Street expansion and the Third District Police Station itself.

Column Accused of Character Assassination: State Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) has taken such exception to my characterization that his views on racial disparity in incarceration rates is myopic, he took the time on the taxpayers' dime to send out a press release over the state political wires attacking and calling this column "slanderous." Pridemore is obviously not a lawyer.

The representative asserts that the key to stopping the racial gap in incarceration rates is due to the number of single-parent families among the African-American community in Milwaukee. This column wrote that looking at that factor as a major issue is simplistic. Besides "slanderous" he called our assessment "shameful."

"If I am wrong, show me data! If you disagree with the facts I have stated, then refute me -- but refute me with facts, not rhetoric!" he writes.

The cycle of poverty which leads young men into the penal system can't be simply solved by having two parents. After all, it is a fact that 50 percent of all marriages -- white and black -- end in divorce. We could cite facts related to segregation, lack of public funding for schools, blocked access to health care, lack of driver's licenses and a transit service that prevents low income people from getting to jobs as other parts of the problem, but there isn't enough bandwidth to do so.

River Development Resurrected: On Feb. 11 a group seeking to build a complex that caters to mentally ill along the Kinnickinnic River was told by the City Plan Commission that it should look for more suitable sites for the project, after environmentalists raised questions as to whether such a building would be the best use along the already highly-developed river.

Three days later the group asked the Commission to put their project on the agenda for the March 3 meeting.

Developer Cardinal Capital wants the city to approve a change in zoning on a two-acre parcel along the river near 6th Street and Rosedale so it could build housing and offices for the Our Space Foundation and the American Red Cross. Cardinal Capital builds affordable housing, taking advantage of tax credits offered by the state to do so.

Armed with a much slicker Power Point presentation and a speech by company president Erich Schwenker, the commission was told that the company had done its due diligence for two years in looking for suitable -- and for it, profitable -- properties for the complex known as Empowerment Village.

Schwenker said the opposition of Empowerment Village was akin to NIMBYism and that the same mindset would argue that the art museum shouldn't have been built because it blocked the view of the lake.

The commission also heard from the No. 2 official in the Department of City Development, Martha Brown, who said the city needs 1,000 more units of housing for the city's mentally ill. The Village would add 40 units.

Ald. Tony Zielinski maintained his contention that the site shouldn't be used for a large building and that the city and county -- which is giving the developers a deal on the land -- should take more time to find a better site. He said they could start by getting West Samaria -- a troubled residence building that has had some bad operators -- back into shape.

"It's very disingenuous to put the onus on the city when the county isn't doing anything," he told the commission. "Name one city in this country that has as a model taking green space and using it for this purpose."

But despite the same arguments it heard a month ago, the commission did an about-face, recommending to change the zoning to allow the project to go forward. It now goes before the Common Council's Zoning Committee.

Transit Talk: We like the strong talk coming from the Scott Walker camp. If he's not running for re-election to Milwaukee County exec against "ultra liberals" and special interests from Madison, he's faced with a "smear piece" from the Journal Sentinel on his transit policies.

"Don't be fooled by the smear piece printed in Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel," reads the latest missive from the "Walker Weekly" e-mail newsletter. It goes on to blur the exec's record on transit, even though he's overseen two fare increases and substantial cutbacks in bus routes, including the recent axing of the key route that went down South Delaware Street in Bay View, which may have not been popular with some residents, yet was a key cog for many seniors in the area to get around.

Fare hikes? Not according to Walker, even though single fares went up to $2, among the highest in the nation. "In 2008, regular riders of the bus continue to pay the same amount as they did in 2007 (weekly passes did not go up). And even though the transit system originally proposed eliminating a series of routes, Walker put them back in his 2008 budget," reads the report.

But don't worry, "Scott has a plan to identify a stable form of support for transit from state government that does not include a sales tax increase."

On the other hand, his opponent Lena Taylor hasn't exactly seized the e-mail high ground on the transit issue, although she has said in a forum that she favors an increase in the sales tax to aid transit.

"Just recently Lena rode bus route 15 from Downtown Milwaukee to Bay View to hear and see the effects of the transit situation firsthand," reads a recent e-mail. "Reality hit home when one resident from Oak Creek stated that if Mr. Walker cuts this bus route, he will be forced to quit his job. He is not alone. And of on top of service cuts, riders agreed that the fare increases have put a pinch on their already-thin wallets."

The missive goes on to ask for donations to the Taylor camp.

In related news, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett cast his lot with the Taylor campaign, citing her views on transit reform.

"The status quo on transit is clearly not working," said Barrett, noting seven consecutive years of route cuts and/or fare hikes, and dire predictions of 35 percent more cuts to the Milwaukee County Transit System by 2010 if there are no changes. "If we fail to modernize and upgrade our transportation system, our entire region will suffer."

One issue Barrett was silent on was the retirement of Brett Favre, which drew press releases from County Exec Scott Walker and County Board Chair Lee Holloway.

Tower Deal on the Table: Milwaukee aldermen get another kick at the cat known as the Kilbourn Tower dispute. The dispute stems from Kilbourn Tower developers refusing to pay the city $950,000 for a pocket park on the corner of Kilbourn and Prospect to allow the luxury condo tower to be built. Kilbourn folks contend the city violated the deal by allowing the University Club to build its even more luxurious tower.

Aldermen rejected the first offer that Kilbourn pays its $950,000, but the city drops its demands for some $316,000 in interest. Nonetheless, aldermen will consider settlement offer next week.

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.