By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 01, 2007 at 5:12 AM

The irony isn’t lost at the Private Industry Council job-training HIRE Center when out-of-work or soon-to-be out-of-work clients find themselves sitting in the same orientation session as laid off PIC workers.

Yes, the county’s lead workforce development has begun laying off its own workers -- eight so far -- as PIC has run out of money until July, basically due to what’s known to the rest of the business world as lack of “prior proper planning.” Others would call it gross mismanagement. More layoffs are expected and feared.

And it didn’t encourage the room filled with former workers from Jewel-Osco and Washington Mutual -- of which 25 of 33 were women -- when they heard trainer Pat Elizondo tell them, “I have to be honest with you, anything that costs us money won’t happen until after July 1.” So until July 1, anyone needing more schooling, help getting to a job interview or to look for work, or on-the-job training is going to have to cool their heels until after July 1.

When one client asked for a bus ticket to get home after the session earlier this month, he was told, “We’re pretty much out until July 1,” after being pointedly asked how he got to the session in the first place.

The situation at PIC worsens for employees and job seekers as the agency enters its final month before being taken over by the City of Milwaukee on July 1. Mayor Tom Barrett succeeded in getting control of the agency and the $14 million budget -- 70 percent of which is federal aid -- that comes with it for job training. Some of the mayor’s arguments could be that the agency’s performance was substandard. But the city could just be left holding the bag for an agency that has apparently punted on its mission to retrain and help find jobs for the area’s unemployed.

Long-time PIC president Gerard Randall, was warned in April by the state to continue business under the terms of its funding contracts, including setting up a budget. Guidelines were also set that PIC could not discontinue services, give out staff bonuses or issue new contracts without city approval. PIC’s funding is funneled through the Department of Workforce Development.

Allowing PIC to put together a budget–though required by federal grants–seems odd since Randall and his team are out beginning July 1. And the budget effort seems to reflect that. At least five staff making more than $100,000 a year in salaries (Randall earns at least $159,000) are reportedly retained in budget drafts, while lower-level employees, who actually do the job training and searches, will get lay-off notices.

Expect a new budget after the city takes over. Randall has indicated PIC could continue after the city takes it over, but it would have to take some exceptional grant writing, or glad-handing, for that to happen since the grants will go to the city July 1.

Randall has virtually run the agency without board involvement, since meeting regular quorums seemed to be difficult for the board to do.

Hence, Randall received the “Innovator of the Year” award by The Daily Reporter newspaper in 2002 for PIC’s receiving of a $20-million-plus youth jobs grant that was in the millions. PIC later lost the grant due to what some suggest was bad management.

More recently, however, PIC has also soured its relationship with major subcontractors, which were to provide training and jobs to unemployed. Goals, standards and pay scales were considered unattainable by some contractors and they stopped dealing with PIC. The city will have to repair those relationships.

This crash and burn is happening at a time when the area has to withstand some major lay-offs, including those at Jewel-Osco, Washington Mutual and the 440th Airlift Wing of the Air Force, which is moving to North Carolina. In fact, no plan has been developed yet to deal with displaced 440th workers, even though it was announced nearly two years ago that the wing would be moving.

Meanwhile, Don Sykes, the designated head of the mayor’s new workforce development office, held the first transition team meeting this week. Barrett named the team earlier this month. Its membership includes 20 people ranging from CEOs to education leaders, all whom seem like they would be much too busy to concentrate on the all-important hand-off of PIC to the city. Of the 20, only five are retained from the current PIC board, which has been appointed by County Exec Scott Walker and to a certain extent reflect his Republican roots.

It could take the city between one and three months to complete the transition, so it’s obvious that there’s a lot of work to do in a little time. What’s going to happen to PIC and its programs after July 1 is anybody’s guess. Workforce development funds from the federal government, which, again, accounted for 70 percent of the current PIC budget, are expected to be cut dramatically. The slash is considered more a result of PIC’s under performance than other issues and with some Congressional help, the city could likely sway the feds to get some of that money back.

McGee’s Lawyer has Court Record: Glenn Givens, Jr., Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee’s lawyer, is no stranger to headlines in high-profile cases, although it’s usually because he was on the losing side of a difficult-to-win case.

Givens is defending McGee against federal charges of bribery and extortion and state charges of conspiracy to commit substantial battery. His activity in court prior to this has been mainly being a trustee in bankruptcy cases, but there have been notable exceptions.

Among other cases, Givens:

  • Was the defense lawyer for a man who received an 836-year sentence for being a serial rapist.
  • Represented a 15-year-old boy who shot his stepmother after she threatened to call police after finding his handgun. He got 25 years.
  • Represented a 12-year-old accused of pushing an 8-year-old out of a tree house with a noose around his neck.
  • Represented a man who received a 150-year sentence for burglarizing residences to satisfy a cocaine habit.
  • Was the lawyer for a 23-year-old man who received a life sentence for killing a man after an argument over a pager.

Givens was no stranger to McGee before becoming his lawyer. He got into a public disagreement with the alderman after McGee indicated he would support zoning restrictions in Brewers Hill that prevented developers from building multi-story structures that would block the views of other residents. Givens wanted to put condos on the lot next door to the house he owns on Vine Street.

Board Stiff in the Financial Planning Category: The Milwaukee Public Museum board deserves no credit for coming up with a plan to save the place from bankruptcy, after it oversaw the museum’s demise over the past five years because they were too lazy to ask tough questions or even show up for meetings.

The board’s solution this time? Ask the county for $13.6 million to bail it out. The museum was privatized in 1992 after a highly touted plan to get the museum off county subsidies. It obviously didn’t work, and former museum management raided the bank account to make up for major losses. Ultimately half the workforce paid for the mismanagement by losing their jobs.

The board, however, can continue to put their directorship on the resume. For $13.6 million, the county should just de-privatize the museum and run the place itself. It can’t get any more costly.

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.