By Doug Hissom Special to Published Mar 19, 2008 at 5:26 AM
It is the unthinkable. Civilians running the Milwaukee Police Department. That vision, at least part of it, was the brainchild of new Police Chief Ed Flynn, whose plan to reorganize the command structure at MPD was thwarted by the Common Council this week.

Flynn wanted to turn three deputy police chief positions into assistant police chief posts, as well as hire an IT computer systems person and a chief of staff, all of which would likely be filled by  civilians.

The chief of staff position would fall under the chief and be responsible for bringing police department concerns to various City Hall functionaries and overseeing positions such as the public information office.

The switch would have required about an extra $50,000 a year in funding from the city. Flynn told a Common Council committee last week that he would look to promote the current deputy chiefs to assistant chiefs since "a bump up in pay means a bump up in accountability."

Some members of the Council's Finance Committee were skeptical, noting that rank and file cops would be suspect of having civilians -- a.k.a. "unsworn personnel" -- helping run the shop. The police union has long fought the idea of civilians even handling desk jobs and clerical functions, preferring that those jobs be held for officers on light duty assignments.

"We're not a castle," Flynn told the committee. "We feel we can't cowboy this thing along," he said of the task of running a modern big-city police department.

King Drive Project Comes Up Short: One of the key catalysts in redeveloping Martin Luther King Drive has come up short of city expectations. The city put up $400,000 to rehab the old Home Bank building near the corner of King and North Avenue some 17 years ago, but the combination of apartments and retail space has failed to live up to its promoted promise.

The building at 2200 N. MLK Dr. has decreased in value since it was converted into 41 apartments and 15,000 sq. ft. of retail space. The retail component has been a revolving door of tenants, helping the value to decrease. One noted initial apartment tenant in the building was then-Ald. Marlene Johnson.

The city has been asked by the building's new owners to settle for a $300,000 payoff of the $400,000 interest-free loan that's due in May 2011.

Sawing Wood Works: Tom Ewart was apparently a man ahead of his time. The one-time Wahl Avenue resident was known as the Lake Park Lumberjack in 2001 after he took saw in hand and clear-cut some trees that were blocking the view of the lake from his house. That cost him $2,500 in fines. But last year, residents, with the approval of the Milwaukee County Parks Department, hired a private contractor to finish the job that Ewart started.

Now the Parks Department is financing an effort through the Lake Park Friends group to go even further and stabilize the bluff by planting prairie grasses and native trees to keep the bluff from washing away. It is the steepest bluff in Lake Park. The $135,000 plan was approved by the County Board's Parks Committee and features a five-year monitoring period by the Parks Department.

Health Care Lottery: Alas, it was not the winning ticket. Milwaukee state Sen. Tim Carpenter drew stunt status last week as he announced that if his ticket won the $230 million Powerball, he would donate the money to help save Wisconsin's SeniorCare program.

The health insurance aid for the elderly is on the chopping block since federal waivers that allowed the plan to exist are about to expire and the White House shows no inclination in letting the program continue -- despite its proven effectiveness in providing prescription drugs to low-income seniors.

A referendum on the future of the program also needs approval from the state Assembly to continue, but the Republican-led body hasn't taken action since October and the effort died with the Assembly's adjournment last week. Carpenter wanted a referendum on the ballot so voters could tell Washington they wanted permanent funding for the program.

"If it takes using novel methods to bring attention to this referendum for continuation of SeniorCare, I'm happy to do it. Seniors want their voice to be heard. And if the lottery ticket wins, the funding would help ensure state funding for SeniorCare," said Carpenter.

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.