By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jun 19, 2009 at 4:28 PM

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After former Ald. Michael McGee was hauled away in shackles for taking bribes in exchange for favorable liquor license consideration, members of the Milwaukee Common Council were quick to say that there is no such thing as "aldermanic privilege."

The public was appropriately skeptical of that claim, since the council has mostly deferred to aldermen's wishes when it comes to taverns in their district.

Common Council President Willie Hines was quick to appoint a task force to study how licenses are handled. Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler served as chair.

According to the task force, there are ongoing signs of aldermanic privilege in Milwaukee. In some cases, the task force found that aldermen were delaying bringing licenses to the Licenses Committee up to six months. The task force urged the council to hear all applications within 60 days of submission.

The panel also noted that some aldermen base their objections to a license based a hearsay and suggested that they put their objections in a standard form or letter.

The task force also suggested other ways to keep the local alderman from tampering with the process too much and proposed that more neighbors be notified of a tavern license proposal in order to keep the process more transparent and offer public input.

One odd recommendation was that the council adopt rules of decorum for committee members. Often, perhaps due to the length of the meeting, Licenses Committee members come and go from the table and engage in side conversations while people are testifying -- literally -- to keep their livelihood.

Then there's what some are starting to call "the Zielinski Factor" when it comes to the issue of over-concentration -- another tool aldermen use to deny licenses. The task force recommended that the Common Council come up with written standards when it comes to determining over-concentration.

Right now, it comes down to a matter of aldermen submitting a map of liquor outlets in a given area, saying there are too many outlets. It's usually when the individual alderman doesn't want a tavern to be licensed.

Earlier this year, Zielinski cited over-concentration as a reason to keep a store owner from getting a license to sell beer, only to come back a month later and support a tavern license a block away. This month, he also opposed a license of an existing tavern citing over-concentration. That had his colleagues quite puzzled and they suggested coming up with better rationale to oppose the license.

Public Subsidy for Public Entity: UW-Milwaukee is undertaking a substantial dorm building boom, but does it really need city subsidies to make it happen? That's what the city will decide this week and in meetings through the next month.

The city's Redevelopment Authority is entertaining proposals to not only declare the former Hometown gas station on North Avenue by the river as blighted, but also give the university low-interest loans to build a 700-room dorm on the site. The plan has been for developer Barry Mandel to build it for the university. The cost of the building is estimated to be about $50 million and the city is proposing floating $23 million for the project. The building would then be off the property tax rolls.

All Wet: At least one County Board member thinks County Exec Scott Walker's plan to close two indoor pools is all wet.

Bay View County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic asked Walker to reconsider his plan to close Noyes and Pulaski indoor pools in order to help cover a budget deficit in 2009.

She says the move would inadvertently affect seniors and seems a little miffed that Walker didn't consult with board members on the matter.

"Senior citizens ... quite frankly have no where else to go for the indoor pool needs that they have. They have annual passes and look forward to using these pools daily, many who take aerobics classes to aid them in their rehabilitation as they age," she wrote Walker.

She said her constituents would favor reduced hours and higher fees to keep them open. She also said that some of her constituents were put off by their treatment from the exec's office, saying they were "rudely treated."

"I find that unacceptable and was very disappointed to hear that, as I know that your staff normally deals with constituents in a professional matter. One woman said that your staff was very argumentative and even said, ‘The lady asked me if I had any alternative cost-saving solutions,'" Dimitrijevic wrote.

License Check: Rules for getting a bartender's license or a bar manager's license could be tightened severely under a proposal by Ald. Milele Coggs. Her plan would bar bartenders from getting licenses if they were convicted of a drunk driving offense within the past year.

Currently, members of the Licenses Committee have sort of an unwritten rule that if there are three drunk driving convictions on a person's record, they won't get a license. But, like everything else on the committee, that rule varies. Committee members seem to ask the question, "What is the status of alcohol in your life?" when a convicted drunk driver shows up for a license.

"The Common Council finds that the illegal use of alcohol by an individual driving under the influence of alcohol demonstrates a lack of proper judgment in the handling of alcohol to the extent that it places the health, safety and welfare of the public at risk," reads Coggs' resolution, which will be considered next week.

The city attorney's office issued an opinion pointing out inconsistencies in the plan, noting that a drunk driving ticket and conviction could happen between the time someone applies for a license and the Common Council considers it, so it wouldn't be picked up in police reports.

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.