In response to looming legislation in the state Assembly to restrict the Milwaukee County Board’s budget and influence, the board released a less extreme overhaul alternative late last week.
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors announced its proposal Thursday night before an “Our Milwaukee County” listening session. The restructuring will cut the board’s budget and employment in half, while also reducing the annual pay for each supervisor by 20 percent.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, authored the original bill to remove two-thirds of the board’s budget, cut salaries of supervisors in half and divert much of the board’s power to the county executive – including management of county departments or communication, negotiation and contracting with county employees. 

The alternative to the bill would allow the Milwaukee County Board to retain some of its restricted power by ensuring the board remains the policy-making body for Milwaukee, while Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele runs day-to-day operations. 

Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said her overhaul proposal to the bill is based on local input from the people of Milwaukee, state lawmakers and local officials, rather than state-imposed obligation. 

“It’s been said that we would never reform ourselves, that we would never cut our own salaries, and that we would never cut our budget,” Marina Dimitrijevic said, calling it one of the board’s most dramatic overhauls ever. “But this package demonstrates clearly that not only have we listened, we’ve acted with a commitment to true, realistic, locally-generated reform.”

The Assembly will have its final hearing on Sanfelippo’s bill to restructure the board next month and a Senate committee will review the measure Wednesday.

Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, called the board’s overhaul a “very reasonable proposal,” but said she believes it will not sway Republican representatives and she expects the legislation to pass along party lines. 

“The Greater Milwaukee Committee, which Chris Abele was a board member of before he became Milwaukee County Exec., has been trying to take over the Milwaukee County Board for at least 20 years, and now they have the votes to do it,” Sinicki said, adding Republicans also tried to gain control of the Milwaukee County School Board. “It’s a bad precedent to set.”

If the Milwaukee County Board is reformed and limited based on the bill’s stipulations, Sinicki said she is concerned similar measures could pass in other counties and cause county executives statewide to replace the power of county boards.

Sinicki said there are only two ways to keep the state’s proposed reforms to the Milwaukee County Board from going into effect. Either Sanfelippo would have to withdraw the bill or the Assembly would need to begin drafting the board’s reform initiatives into a state law this week that could potentially replace the current bill.

Abele said in a statement he is “glad” the board is finally open to making the structural reforms 84 percent of voters requested in a referendum last year, but said he still prefers Sanfelippo’s reforms.

“While I genuinely hope this is more than an attempt to divert attention away from the measures being considered in Madison, I continue to believe the bill put forward by State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo is the best way to achieve the real reform that so many people are calling for while also addressing the statutory lack of clarity that has contributed to decades of dysfunction in Milwaukee County,” Abele said.

Sanfelippo did not return requests for comment.