By Doug Hissom Special to Published Oct 29, 2008 at 11:24 AM

The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

It's always nice to be able to police yourself. Just ask the Milwaukee Police Department union brass. The union has filed a lawsuit challenging the new process the city uses to hear citizen complaints against cops.

The Fire and Police Commission started the new method in April after the state Supreme Court found flaws in the previous plan, mainly because it allowed police to police themselves.

The commission hired investigators to ask police questions regarding complaints. The union's suit contends that the investigations are being done without informing the officers of the complaint and that investigators are questioning cops without union representatives on hand. It also claims the commission would be biased since its investigator works for it.

Before this method was used the Police Department itself investigated citizen complaints about the department and the commission based its decisions on those investigations. Since 1998 the Fire and Police Commission had conducted only four trials and had imposed no discipline in 491 citizen complaints. The last trial was conducted in 2001.

Tax Tizzy: Apparently, some local officials think that governmental units shouldn't be allowed to run their own houses as they see fit. Case in point: The Milwaukee Public Schools. The School Board's passing of a budget that includes a 14.6% tax increase has drawn some interesting ire -- from the intriguing to the absurd.

Ever the colorful staid South Sider, Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan offered his acerbic assessment of the budget. He wants his district to secede from the school district.

"Enough is enough. I have to act in the best interests of my residents and a 14.6% property tax increase for a failing train wreck of a school district is not in their best interests," the alderman said. "I just wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't look into a way to relieve my district of this situation and go to a better option."

He accused the board of pouring gasoline on taxpayers by taxing to the max. "It's simply preposterous," he said, calling out Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle for taking a "do-nothing stance," even though they've set up a commission to study the MPS operation -- meddling that normally doesn't happen between independent governmental entities.
Of course, seceding from MPS is impossible. Sorry Bob. But that didn't stop the sound-off.

"There's been more than enough hand-wringing and finger-pointing on MPS problems for years, but the taxpayers are always left holding the bag," he fumed.

Barrett got in on the fight with MPS before the School Board approved its big hike. He sent School Board President Peter Blewett a letter prior to the vote noting the mayor's opinion that tax increases of that magnitude are not a good idea.
The mayor's budget includes a more than 4% tax increase and the raising of several fees.

He called the increase a "slam" on taxpayers and also says the School Board is irresponsible for not working with him to change the state's funding formula.

"Not only has President Blewett not acted to change the School Choice funding flaws, but he has also done nothing to change the state law that penalizes the Board for not raising spending to the maximum limit, as it did last year. ... Milwaukee taxpayers deserve better," the mayor said.

It would seem a dubious claim that Blewett has not been to Madison on behalf of MPS issues. At a legislative committee earlier this year he testified on a proposed expansion of the school voucher plan.

MPS says with declining state and federal aid it simply can't keep up with the costs.

Meanwhile in budget land, another municipal operator quietly raised the tax bill for locals as well, but without as much fanfare. Deciphering exactly how much the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission raised taxes for the average homeowner is an interesting task.

The district statement says the costs for a $400,000 home will go up $18.90 next year and notes that the tax levy for capital projects will go up 2%. Other numbers from the district state that user charges for a $200,000 home will be $113.65 and the capital charge would be $261.23. The district also notes that it will face an 11.8% increase in its operating and maintenance budget since a new contract with a private operator has the district covering energy costs.

UW-Tosa Taking Shape: It appears Downtown forces have lost their bid to get UW-Milwaukee to put its new engineering school Downtown. A County Board committee this week gave its blessing to selling some 65 acres of the County Grounds east of Highway 45 in Wauwatosa.

The idea has been derisively called "UW-Tosa" by Downtown backers.

"It appears that Milwaukee County is more interested in getting the proceeds from a land sale at the County Grounds than they are with putting UWM where it belongs to strengthen Milwaukee's future," states the mantra of the Web site

Downtown was seen by backers -- including Mayor Tom Barrett -- as a better site mainly due to logistics and proximity to the university. Transit and housing issues are certain to emerge, they warn. UWM says it can work better with the Medical College of Wisconsin if they were neighbors, which they would be in Tosa.

The County Board is expected to approve the sale, which doesn't yet have a price. UWM says the land is worth $10.3 million while the county says it's worth anywhere from $13.4 million to $21.5 million.

Philanthropist Michael Cudahy has said he would pay for the land.

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.