Alert: Noxious fumes in Milwaukee courthouse | Wis.Community

Alert: Noxious fumes in Milwaukee courthouse

Maybe it's the fumes from the toilets that don't get cleaned since Scott Walker downsized and outsourced cleanup.

But the Milwaukee County courthouse, a gloomy, depressing place under the best of circumstances, seems more off kilter than usual this week, with the County Board trying to silence one of its members and the DA overreacting to a frivolous complaint. What the two incidents have in common is that they are both trying to silence critics of county government as run by Scott Walker.

First there's the attempt to censure Supervisor Lynne DeBruin for blowing the whistle on the shameful operation of the county's mental health complex.  Some board members want DeBruin spanked for revealing what was discussed at a closed (that means secret) meeting.

The censure resolution, the Journal Sentinel reports:

says De Bruin's disclosure was "a violation of a trust" and a "violation of closed session protocol," but does not allege any law or ordinance violation.

Deputy County Corporation Counsel Robert Andrews said Friday he knew of no state law, county ordinance or County Board policy that bans supervisors from talking about closed-session topics.

Doing so, however, "sort of defeats the purpose of having a closed session," Andrews said. The state open meetings law permits closed sessions for discussions about lawsuits already filed or probable.

And what is "the purpose of having a closed session?" Why, to keep the public from finding out what's happening.

Yes, state law allows a closed session to discuss lawsuits or potential lawsuits -- but that is intended for discussions of strategy, so the other side doesn't know your plans. It is not to hide damaging or embarrassing information from the public.

In this case, DeBruin did a public service by revealing that the man in charge of the mental health unit, John Chianelli, said dangerous male patients were housed in the same units with female patients at the Mental Health Complex as a "trade-off," accepting some sexual violence against women because there might be even more violence in an all-male facility.

"Having the women there may cause more sexual problems, but it reduces violence levels," Chianelli said, according to the De Bruin letter. No official record of the closed session was made, the Journal Sentinel reported.

So without DeBruin's decision to go public, we'd all still be in the dark. She deserves a commendation, not a censure.

The other piece of weirdness at the court house is the seizure of a computer from the office of Chris Liebenthal, a county employee who blogs under the name of Capper, based on a flimsy complaint from Citizens for Responsible Government, a conservative group that helped elect Scott Walker as county exec. Liebenthal is a relentless critic of Walker on his blog, Cognitive Dissidence, and another site he runs, Milwaukee County First.

The right-wing CRG folks, in an attempt to silence Liebenthal or maybe get him fired, filed a complaint charging him with posting political blog items on taxpayer time. The examples they offered, when he appeared to post items during normal work hours, were furlough days or days he had taken off, as he actually had explained on the Internet.

It's time to give Lielenthal his computer back and let him get back to work -- maybe with an apology from the DA.


June 17, 2010 - 10:31am