Friday, September 19th, 2014

Abele-O-Meter

Freeze executive office spending, cut perks


"As County Executive, I’ll freeze the executive office budget and cut perks like cars and cell phones."


Updates

Some progress on all fronts

In June 2011, a couple of months after Chris Abele was sworn in as the Milwaukee County executive, we gave him an In the Works rating on his campaign promise to freeze spending in the executive's office and to "cut perks like cars and cell phones.”

Now that the end of Abele's one-year term is days away, let's see whether he made more progress on this pledge. We checked with Abele spokesman Brendan Conway in late March 2012.

Freeze budget

In 2011, under the final county budget adopted before Scott Walker left the county executive's office to become governor, the budget for the executive office was $1.23 million.

The 2012 budget for the executive also rounds to $1.23 million (it went up by a fraction: $6,895).

So, Abele met his pledge on this part of the promise.

Cut cars and cells

As we previously noted, Abele sold a Chevrole Impala that was reserved for the county executive's use. But nine cars assigned to other county employees remain, Conway said.

As for cell phones, as we previously noted, the county had 755 cell phones -- some assigned to employees, some to departments -- on the day before Abele was sworn in. The number fell to 725 when we first evaluated this promise, though Abele's spokesman at the time, Jeff Bentoff, said the reduction was not due to any action Abele took. We also noted that Abele ordered that no one in his office be issued a county cell and that his staff is not allowed to seek reimbursements for county calls made on their personal cells.

The number of county cells is now 720, down five from when we last checked, according to Conway. He noted that the reduction occurred after Abele in September 2011 asked county managers to evaluate the need for cell phones among their employees, though it's not clear whether the five fewer cells are the result of the review or other factors, such as an employee retirement.

These days, whether cell phones qualify as a "perk” as opposed to an essential tool could be open to debate. But the number of cell phones is down under Abele"s watch.

Abele froze the budget for his office and, ever so slightly, reduced the number of county cars and cells.

We rate this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "One car down, many more to go,” June 24, 2011

Email interview, Milwaukee county executive communications director Brendan Conway, March 20 and 22, 2012

One car down, many more to go

Here's our first look at how Chris Abele, the new Milwaukee County executive, is doing on his campaign promises. With the Abele-O-Meter, we are tracking 17 promises he made on the campaign trail.

In making his first run for political office in 2011, the philanthropist and business owner sounded some populist themes, using a TV ad to vow to freeze the budget for the county executive"s office and to cut "perks” such as cars and cell phones.

As a candidate, Abele received a Barely True from us for claiming that elected county officials tool around in taxpayer-funded luxury cars. And some might view cell phones not as a perk but a necessity for working efficiently in today's world.   

But a month after being sworn into office, Abele touted the sale of the car that was issued to the county executive. So let's take a look at how he has progressed on all three parts of this campaign promise.

Cars

The county executive's office announced on May 25, 2011 that a 24,000-mile Chevrolet Impala reserved for the county executive"s use had been auctioned four days earlier for $11,500.

Depending on options and other factors, an ‘06 Impala is worth about $9,300, according to the Edmunds.com car website.

Nine other county employees still have vehicles assigned to them personally, according to a June 2011 memo from county fleet manager Dan Goeden. Those employees are allowed to drive to and from work with the county vehicles; they are to reimburse the county 51 cents per mile for any personal usage.

The memo says the nine include: the district attorney and three of his top staff, whose responsibilities include "24/7 emergency response to crime scenes”; three highway employees, whose duties include responding to "emergency roadway conditions as part of a 24/7 operation”; and the airport's director and fire chief, whose vehicles are approved for "emergency operations.”

The memo notes that fleet management does not have information on vehicles that are assigned personally to employees of the Sheriff"s Department, so we contacted Fran McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.. She said 10 sheriff"s employees, including Clarke, have personally assigned vehicles and that all of them have 24/7 responsibilities for responding to major incidents.

Jack Takerian, the county"s transportation and public works director, said the county executive's vehicle is the only personally assigned vehicle that he has been directed to dispose of since Abele took office.

So, on the first part of his promise, Abele has made some progress, having sold the exec"s vehicle.

Cell phones

County employees are issued county cell phones if the phones are requested by department heads and approved by the Department of Administration, according to the county"s wireless communication policy. Employees must reimburse the county for any personal calls they make, the policy says.

As of June 8, 2011, 725 employees had county-issued cell phones, according to Laurie Panella, the county"s interim chief information officer. That is 30 fewer than on April 24, 2011, the day before Abele was sworn in as county executive. (Some 200 more cells are issued not to individual employees but to certain work areas, such as nursing or maintenance units.)

The reduction in the number of cell phones issued to employees, however, is not the result of any action taken by Abele, said his deputy chief of staff, Jeff Bentoff. He said Abele plans to order a review of both cells and vehicles to determine whether reductions can be made.

Bentoff also noted, with regard to cell phones, that Abele has ordered that no county executive staff are to have county cell phones -- and, unlike other county employees, they are prohibited from seeking reimbursement from the county for calls they make on their personal cells for county business.

The prohibition on county cells for county executive staff is a change from previous administrations.

Panella's data on cells for county executive employees confirms that no employees in Abele's office have county-issued cell phones.

When now-Gov. Scott Walker left the county executive's office in December 2010 -- leading to the special election and one-year term that Abele won -- two of  his staff, Bob Nenno and McLaughlin, each had a county cell. When County Board Chairman Lee Holloway took over as the acting county executive after Walker's departure, he was the only person in the executive office with a county-issued cell. And when Marvin Pratt succeeded Holloway, serving as interim county executive before Abele was sworn in, only one employee in the office -- Chris Johnson -- had a county-issued cell.

So, on the second part of the promise, Abele has not yet taken any steps to reduce the number of cell phones issued to county employees.

County executive budget

Abele's freeze promise for the county executive office budget applies to the 2012 budget. To keep this promise, Abele will have to keep spending for his office at the 2011 level adopted under Walker, which is $1.23 million.

Abele promised to "freeze the executive office budget and cut perks like cars and cell phones." The budget pledge isn't in play yet. Of the vehicles issued to county employees, he has cut one, his own. And he hasn't yet taken steps to cut the number of cell phones issued to individual employee.

For the moment, we rate the status of this three-in-one promise as In the Works.

Sources:

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Milwaukee County executive candidate Chris Abele says elected officials drive taxpayer-funded luxury cars,”Feb. 14, 2011

Chris Abele for Milwaukee County executive campaign, "They"re driving on our dime" flier

Chris Abele for Milwaukee County executive campaign, TV ad on cutting perks, Feb. 2, 2011

Milwaukee County executive"s office, news release, May 25, 2011

Interview, Milwaukee County executive deputy chief of staff Jeff Bentoff, June 6 and 20, 2011

Edmunds.com, appraisal for 2006 Impala

Interview, Milwaukee County interim assistant fiscal and budget administrator C.J. Paul, June 7, 2011

Interview and e-mail interview, Milwaukee County interim chief information officer Laurie Panella, June 7, 20 and 21, 2011

Interview, Milwaukee County fleet management director Dan Goeden, June 7, 2011

Interview and e-mail, Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and Public Works Director Jack Takerian, June 20, 2011

Milwaukee County, 2011 county executive office budget

Milwaukee County Administrative Manual, wireless communication policy

Milwaukee County fleet manager Dan Goeden, vehicle assignment memo, June 13, 2011

Interview and email interview, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin, June 20 and 21, 2011.