MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee's mayor says a bill moving through the state legislature is an attack on local government and he says it could cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.
The bill would make changes to the City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, who oversees discipline of the city's first responders.
If made law, the fire and police commission would have to have two members, each with professional experience as either a firefighter or police officer and those names would be submitted by the unions. The mayor would ultimately choose from a list of five names.
This bill would also repeal a law passed in 2007 that cuts off pay to officers and firefighters charged with a crime. Mayor Tom Barrett says that aspect of the bill could cost the taxpayers in Milwaukee about $1 million a year in payments to officers or firefighters going through the legal process.
"They could stay on the payroll, build pension credits, earn vacation time, receive their full salary even though they might be charged with first degree murder, that's how egregious this is," said Barrett.
One of the bill's sponsors, State Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) says the current bill up for a vote would put certain safeguards in place to ensure employees don't take advantage of the system.
The fire and police commission would have a timeline of 120 days to make a disciplinary decision from the time charges are filed. If an employee appeals the decision, their pay would stop. If a judge during a preliminary hearing finds probable cause that a crime was committed, that would also cause pay to stop.
The only time the employee would continue to receive a salary is if the city files an appeal to extend the process, according to Wanggaard.
"We don't want this to continue on either and this would give the police and fire commission the responsibility to do their job and for them to have that hearing and have it in a timely manner," he said.
He also said having commission members with law enforcement or firefighter experience would be a valuable asset.
"We want somebody that's going to ask good questions on either side of the issue," said Wanggaard.
Barrett implied that having members of the commission chosen by the unions would allow the unions to exert more political influence on the commission, that he says is supposed to be non-partisan and independent.
He also said the bill would allow members of the commission to reside outside of the City of Milwaukee, as long as they lived within 15 miles of the city.
"Why is the state assembly once again attacking local control?" asked Barrett. "Why is the state assembly once again attacking the city of Milwaukee?"
But Wanggaard says this isn't an attack on Milwaukee. The bill would impose the same mandates on fire and police commissions across the state.
"We're not just doing this to see what we can do to shake Milwaukee up," he said. "There’s a lack of confidence in how the city is being administrated and with the police department."
The president of the Milwaukee Police Association issued a statement Sunday night that reads in part:
"The Mayor, fearing that he will lose his political power over the Commission, is pleading to halt AB606/SB512; bills that would make the statute better for all – community and officers...
It is truly unfortunate that the Mayor would misuse his position of Power & Authority to: mislead, misdirect… all bordering on misinformation akin to lies, in-order to maintain his absolute control over the FPC...
The Mayor’s continual attacks on police officers MUST STOP. Tom Barrett, your statements of appreciation for officers are meaningless – if you are unwilling to understand our concerns. Your comments towards some officers “not having skin in the game”, are insulting, disrespectful and out-of-line.
We ask for… demand, nothing more than fair treatment free of politics and mayoral interference!"
The assembly is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.