By Doug Hissom Special to Published Oct 31, 2007 at 5:21 AM

City workers are more careful and healthier. Or it could be that a recent report noting fewer workers compensation claims due to injuries and illnesses in 2006 compared to 2005 could be attributed to the fact that there are fewer workers to make those claims.

The number of workers comp cases among city workers in 2006 totaled 1,140, down from 1,171 in 2005, a 2.6 percent drop, according to the city's Department of Employee Relations. But the average claims for the past five years were 1,121.

Departments leading the way in lost time were the Department of Public Works (at 351, or 31 percent of the total), the Fire Department (346 or 30 percent) and the Police Department (300, or 26 percent).Library and Department of Neighborhood Services workers appear the most immune to work-related illness and injury, with DNS workers making nine claims and library workers making 10.

The total number of lost workdays to the city was 21,279 in 2006, a 13 percent drop from 2005.

Disband the Schools: The trial balloon by Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Bill Andrekopoulos that MPS would need a 16.4 percent increase in property taxes next year to maintain services, drew immediate criticism from at least one Milwaukee alderman.

Ald. Bob Donovan, the South Side representative who has become quite the critic of the mayor's actions on crime and now MPS, suggests that the state or the city take over the school system. Ironically, it's an idea floated by former Gov. Tommy Thompson and entertained by former Mayor John Norquist.

What Norquist did, though, was take over certain budgeting functions of MPS so the city's more favorable bond rating would help MPS and the city now charges MPS for such services as attorney's fees and other administrative duties.

Donovan suggests that if MPS gets its tax hike (a highly unlikely event) it should start paying the city for additional police presence in the schools. "MPS doesn't have the track record to warrant this kind of tax hike. It doesn't have a strong record period. It's time to intervene in a system that has run off course for far too long," says the alderman.

The Good Cruisers: It appears that UW-Milwaukee brass likes having Milwaukee Police cruisers on overtime prowling the streets around the East Side campus, keeping the college kids quiet.

MPD police patrol neighborhoods keeping students in line -- by issuing loud noise warnings and tickets and busting under-age drinking parties -- so homeowners can retain a sense of sanity. Just weeks after striking a new deal with the city in which UWM was to chip in $24,000 for the extra police presence, the university tossed in another $5,000 to fund to the cops.

In return, MPD provides two cruisers with two officers each for a four-hour period on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. UWM also has its own police department that patrols the neighborhood.

Wet Dreams: Water politics remain active on the agenda of the Milwaukee Common Council. A resolution considered this week by a council committee calls on the city to stop negotiating water sales to any community outside the Great Lakes basin until all parties involved in the so-called Great Lakes Water Compact pass the measure.

The compact is an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces to restrict water from being shipped out of the Great Lakes watershed. The current rules on shipping water west are considered frameworks and not rock-solid policy.

The city is being wooed by western suburbs to sell its water. In recent years New Berlin was able to get some city water by threatening Milwaukee that it would spend its money on Oak Creek water instead of Milwaukee's. While that deal only applied to eastern New Berlin, the Waukesha County community wants water for its west end as well. This resolution would stall such hopes until some ethereal time in the future.

Wisconsin's Legislature stalemated on approving the compact and a committee directed to come up with a plan has disbanded to due partisan politics and a suburbs vs. city mentality.

For his part, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has waded into the issue, calling on the Legislature this week to pass the compact.

"It could easily open the door to a ‘Wild, Wild West,' free-for-all approach to Great Lakes water, where anything goes," says Barrett. "Instead of fairness, transparency and uniformity, we will likely see shortsightedness and narrow self-interest drive Great Lakes water policy. Instead of one set of principles that all agree to, we could easily witness hundreds of communities across the country scramble madly for water -- without considering the greater good."

Altering Reality: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's self-proclaimed voice of big business, is certainly taking a conciliatory tone now that the state budget has passed. WMC took out countless ads attacking Gov. Doyle's proposed budget attacking new real estate transfer taxes, various spending increases and a hospital tax that would have meant more money in federal aid for hospitals to take care of the poor.

The state hospital association even wanted the tax for obvious bottom-line reasons. But WMC took credit for killing it. Now, in a full-page ad in newspapers around the state, WMC called the budget "common ground ... and Wisconsin wins!"

Of course, the group didn't hesitate to put its agenda forward, urging "our elected leaders at the Capitol to keep up the good work. We urge both parties to find solutions on common sense civil justice reform, cutting unnecessary red tape, protecting the environment, providing a good education for our children and lowering taxes for business and families."

He Speaketh from Prison: Milwaukee Ald. Michael McGee Jr., whose statements from jail have been mostly threats against potential witnesses against him, is actually issuing a policy missive for next year's budget. A budget amendment offered by McGee would take $500,000 from the Milwaukee Police Department and use it to fund "unarmed civilian patrols," such as his personal gang known as the Rapid Response Team, which at times has caused consternation with police for showing up at crime scenes before police did.

The amendment proposes reducing MPD's overtime funds to pay for it.

"The alderman knows that Ald. Hamilton has his Commandos, Ald. Zielinski has the Guardian Angels, Ald. Donovan has Neighborhood Ambassadors and others and Ald. Hines and Witkowski helped create the community service officers," states a McGee aide. The amendment will be offered at Thursday's Finance Committee meeting and again when the full council entertains budget amendments next week.

MATA Gets Money: The Milwaukee Access Telecommunication Authority, aka MATA, that minor-league effort at community TV found on Time Warner Cable Channel 14, stands to get a bit of a windfall once AT&T fires up its cable offering in Milwaukee.

As part of an agreement with the City of Milwaukee, MATA would get two-thirds of 2 percent of AT&T's gross Milwaukee revenue to fund programming. It's a similar deal as the city's Time Warner pact. Perhaps that will mean more community groups and artists will be able to get their stuff aired.

MATA inherently discourages some budding TV producers who shortly after starting productions are asked to find underwriters for their shows.

The state Legislature is set to consider a bill giving AT&T unfettered cable access statewide, with no local agreements necessary. The Wisconsin Alliance of Cities is vehemently opposed to the plan, but Senate Democratic leaders seem enamored with the idea, especially after AT&T has spent $205,000 lobbying for itself.

Beer to Cry In: We're not sure if this is "winning" a bet, but Wisconsin Congressman Steve Kagen (D-Appleton) bet his roommate, Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, a case of Coors vs. a case of Miller on the outcome of the Packers/Broncos game. Perlmutter will supply Kagen's office with the Coors.

"My staff is looking forward to enjoying the Coors," Kagen said in a release. Kagen is facing a rematch with John Gard for his congressional seat in the 2008 elections.

Perlmutter clearly would have gotten the better end of the deal had the Pack lost.

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.