Sunday, August 29, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 8: Radio Tests Cancelled Due to Officer Safety Issues

Seven years after OpenSky radios were brought to the Milwaukee police, and five years into Mayor Tom Barrett’s term, the system was to be tested for seven days. That was in 2009.

The “seven day console” test would see if the radios worked right.

Guess what?

The test had to be cancelled because of concerns for officer safety!

This was revealed as part of 600-pages of Milwaukee Fire Department documents obtained by Citizens for Responsible Government under the Open Records Act.

We’ve looked at the records and determined there were 11 critical alarm bells that Mayor Tom Barrett should have heard to bail out on the failing OpenSky radios. But, Mayor Tom must be a deep sleeper because he hasn’t heard single alarm bell.

He slept when New York cancelled their mega OpenSky contract. He slept when the radios failed. Then when the backup radios failed. He even snoozed when his fire fighters battled a three-alarm blaze without radios.

What the heck is going on here?

Anyway, the seven-day test was cancelled because conducting the test would have put personnel in danger.

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“Halt the test in the interest of officer safety” is how one email described it. “It was agreed by the collective team that officer safety was foremost above the test.

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Yikes, so the radios are so screwed up that if you test them, you can lose contact with officers and firefighters in the field!

We suppose the OpenSky radios are tested daily and they fail daily. And for $20 million, we should turn them in with the receipt and ask for our money back.

If we bought ‘em at Radio Shack that’s what we’d do. But not Mayor Tom. Officer safety isn’t even worth his time.

Click here to read the entire sub-section of open records that contains the above excerpts (things start to get interesting on pages 21-90).  It's one of our favorites as it details many of the OpenSky problems faced not only in Milwaukee but other cities across the U.S.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Barrett Should Take a Long Look in Accountability Deficit Mirror!

More OpenSky Hypocrisy: Take responsibility, take action, BEFORE someone is KILLED!

We received an email alert from Tom Barrett that raised the issue of “accountability” and “leadership” with language like “man in charge” and “enough is enough.” Naturally, we thought Barrett was finally taking responsibility for the police radio boondoggle that after $20 million and 5 years of delays is still leaving police officers and fire fighters in harms way without radio backup. Maybe, we thought, he is taking responsibility for failing to stop dumping sewage into Lake Michigan as he promised when he was campaigning for Mayor six years ago.

No, the “Man in Charge” at City Hall still isn’t. “Accountability” and “Leadership” still apply only to others and “enough is enough” is still just campaign finger-pointing.

Rather than flush Barrett’s hypocrisy into Lake Michigan like so much blended sewage, we edited it into a message for our Milk Carton Mayor. If a petition is what passes for Barrett action, we’ll send him one of those, too (note the button depicted below is not an actual request to sign a petition).

UPDATE: Due to popular demand, we made the "SIGN THE PETITION" button below active so you can "sign the petiton" by logging your contact info.  We'll deliver the message to Mayor Barrett.  For those of you who have contacted politicians in the past, you know they require contact info before they take a "petition" seriously.  We left out the address block so at least we can guarantee you won't get junk mail!


Dear Friend,

Yesterday evening [For months], I [We] have called on Scott Walker [Tom Barrett] to finally hold himself accountable for the continuing crisis at [with] his Milwaukee County Health Complex [OpenSky Police and Fire Radio System].

One hour later [For six years], what initially looked like the first real step in making some long overdue reforms at the mental health facility has turned out to be nothing more than a worthless shuffle on Scott Walker’s county organizational chart. Instead of being fired, Walker’s crony is getting a golden parachute to a cushy new county job [Barrett’s police and fire departments have been trying make the OpenSky radio system work without endangering the lives of officers, fire fighters and the public without success].

Unfortunately, what initially looked like the first real step in making some long overdue reforms at the mental health facility has turned out to be nothing more than a worthless shuffle on Scott Walker’s county organizational chart. [challenge for Barrett as Mayor six years ago (aside from his promise to stop sewage dumping into Lake Michigan) has still not been addressed by the Mayor]. Instead of being fired, Walker’s crony is getting a golden parachute to a cushy new county job [doing his job as Mayor, Barrett has hidden from the scandal and left underlings to take the heat and police officers and fire fighters to needlessly risk their lives].

That's not accountability.

Walker [Barrett] himself has said the system as well as individuals must answer for [nothing about] this scandal. But for the past eight [six] years as county executive [mayor], Scott Walker [Tom Barrett] has been in charge of the system – appointing people to run the facility [departments] and setting the budget priorities.

If the buck doesn’t stop with Scott Walker [Tom Barrett], where does it stop? Watch our videos on this important issue and demand that Scott Walker [Tom Barrett] finally take responsibility for the years of reckless mismanagement at the county mental health complex [of the OpenSky police and fire radio system].

Here are some of the big questions still begging for answers:

• Why did the County Health Complex [Mayor] fail to [stop payment on OpenSky when radios were determined to be unsafe]?

• Why did facility staffing decrease [OpenSky cost rise] by over 20%, while at the same time the County paid more than $250,000 for lawyers and PR flacks to hide behind [Barrett allowed implementation to fall 5-years behind (and counting)]?

• Why have more than 40 funded staffing positions remained vacant [500 pages of officer complaints and a fire department internal investigation not received any attention from the Mayor], while the facility suffers from chronic shortstaffing [radio system fails at 3-Alarm fires, police foot chases and “officer down” calls]?

• Why is Scott Walker [Tom Barrett] allowing officials and investigators [citizens and reporters to be stonewalled] as they search for the truth?

The crisis at Scott Walker’s County Mental Health Complex [with Tom Barrett’s scandal-ridden radio system] has gone on for far too long, and it’s time for some accountability from the man in charge.

Please visit today then tell Mayor Barrett we need answers.


Link to printable document

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 7: Three-Alarm Blaze Fought Without Radios

Our Firefighters Face Death in Silence as Barrett Snoozes!

A three-alarm fire – simply put – is huge.

Extra trucks and firefighters from throughout the city are called to a fire that cannot be contained.

It’s a blazing inferno, and potentially a death trap for firefighters.

On August 31, 2008, Milwaukee Firefighters report that severe feedback shutdown their OpenSky radios at a three-alarm fire (page 4 of the MFD OpenSky Timeline).

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Did the radio shutdown lead Mayor Tom Barrett to get involved in the scandal…ask a question…wakeup?

No way!

This is the seventh alarm bell in an 11-Alarm series from Citizens for Responsible Government. CRG unearthed the fire department radio scandal as part of a 600-page Open Record request.

At 11 critical points Mayor Tom Barrett failed to show leadership to stop the radio disaster that has put our firefighters at risk of death. And could cause citizens to be injured or killed if radios failed at critical moments.

But, hey, we’ve got some of the highest taxes in America. Who cares if our police and fire radios operate like we’re in a Third World country?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 6: Back Up Fails Too!

C’mon Mayor Tom! Ding Dong . . . Hear the Alarms!

If crashing the fire radio system on January 9, 2010 wasn’t bad enough, imagine the dread firefighters felt when the back up system crashed the same day.

Internal Milwaukee fire department documents reveal that not only did the OpenSky radios fail on January 9, 2010, but so did the back up system.

Complete radio silence! And, complete radio silence from Mayor Tom Barrett on the OpenSky scandal! Not a peep from our fearless leader.

No main radios. No back ups. Alarm bell. Mayor Tom Barrett! Are you listening? Your firefighters are on the street WITH NO RADIOS!!!!

Here’s how Andra Williams described the meltdown in a memo the next Monday.

Williams' memo is one of 600 documents obtained by Citizens for Responsible Government, under Wisconsin’s Open Records Act.

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We are releasing the 11 Alarm Bells that Mayor Barrett should have heard as a public service to reveal the incompetence at City Hall that has plagued the OpenSky radios.

Six Alarms to date!

When will Mayor Barrett respond?

Who knows?

We have five more alarms to release!

You’d think 11 alarms would wake up Mayor Tom from his blissful leadership slumber.

Mayor Tom has raised taxes every year he’s been in office. You’d think protecting cops and firefighters would be possible in a city that taxes its citizens like they’re in Norway. At least in Norway, the police and fire radios work.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 5: Citywide Radio Blackout Threatens Firefighters Lives

On Jan. 9, 2010, radio silence enveloped Milwaukee’s firefighters.

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Click Here for Full Exhibit (see page 8 of 92 pages of failure)

Shouldn’t that be an alarm bell for Mayor Tom Barrett that maybe it’s time to get new radios?

This is Alarm Bell Number Five for Mayor Tom.  Citizens for Responsible Government is revealing the 11 Alarms as a series of exposes about the OpenSky radio scandal.

CRG has obtained over 600 documents regarding the failed radios from the Milwaukee Fire Department, under the Open Records Act.

OpenSky is the failed radio system that the city has wasted over $18 million to install and maintain for police, fire and other departments. So the system crashes, and thankfully there’s a backup system, right? But, stay tuned for Alarm Bell Number 6. If Mayor Barrett didn’t hear Alarm Bell Five, he really should have heard Number 6! Stay tuned. The story continues.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 4: Not Intrinsically Safe!

Doesn’t Alarm Bell No.4 say it all, Mayor Barrett?

So, you’re the Mayor of Milwaukee. And the cop radios don’t work after almost $20 million in taxpayer dollars wasted.

And, so you expand the failed the broken radios into the Fire Department - BEFORE you can get them to work. That makes sense right?

Well that’s exactly what Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett did – putting cops, firefighters and citizens at risk of injury and death.

Now, Citizens for Responsible Government has launched a probe into the OpenSky scandal in the fire department. After combing through over 600 pages of documents, we have found 11 Alarm Bells Mayor Barrett should have heard.

Our fourth alarm bell is the repeated internal fire department emails and communications that labeled the radios as “not intrinsically safe” and “posed a safety hazard to the Milwaukee Fire Department and citizens of Milwaukee.”

At one point, an employee of the OpenSky radio manufacturer asked if the department had the right batteries and if they were immerseable.

Whoa. Don’t fire department batteries need to work in water? The chief even told his staff to stop charging the batteries.

On May 13, 2008, the department found the radios unsafe and hazardous.

On May 29, 2008, Douglas Holton signed a document that said: “The radios are NOT safe.”

If you’re the mayor, isn’t your first job to protect the citizens and the cops and firefighters?

Alarm Bell Four. Not Intrinsically Safe. And our Mayor doesn’t have the intrinsic leadership abilities to fix a deadly situation for our cops and firefighters!

Exhibit 29: Sept. 26, 2007 - Link to Full Exhibit

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Exhibit 36:  May 13, 2008 - Link to Full Exhibit

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Exhibit 37: May 29, 2008 - Link to Full Exhibit

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alarm Bell #3: September 11, A Day That Lives in Infamy for Mayor Tom Barrett

You’d think that the anniversary of the most massive and deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil would get the attention of the mayor if he found out our firefighters can’t talk to other departments and agencies.

Not our Mayor Barrett. This is Alarm Bell No. 3 for our mayor in our 11-part series of the mayoral meltdown on the faulty fire radios of the OpenSky scandal.

On Sept. 11, 2007, the Milwaukee Fire Department completely missed activating the system needed to allow firefighters to talk to each other and other responders.

This is more than a year after Mayor Barrett PAID FOR a system that was already years late.

From the Department’s investigation:

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Great idea, pay for the stuff that doesn’t work. That’ll never lead to years more of delay, poor service and failed technology. OOPS, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Mayor Barrett hit the snooze button again. Not a word. Not a peep. Not a memo. Not a news release. Nada!

Check this document out.  MFD “completely misses” MABAS activation – Sept. 11, 2007.

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What was Mayor Barrett doing on 9-11-07? Not ensuring his fire department could communicate with other departments. MABAS stands for Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. 9-11-01 showed the importance of emergency service systems being able to communicate with one another. MABAS was adopted as the system to allow regional departments to work together as mandated by law. Barrett apparently missed the delay in implementation.

You can’t expect Mayor Barrett to do anything, he’s only the Mayor!

In fairness, while he was putting his police officers and firefighters in daily danger by ignoring the part of his job where he does stuff, at least he has people who make sure the bills are paid.

Click to view the lists of exhibits cited above.  Read the source documents then ask yourself, "Where the heck was 'Mayor Milk Carton' when all this was going on?"  Unbelievable!

Exhibit 6
Exhibit 7
Exhibit 12
Exhibit 13
Exhibit 27
Exhibit 41

Friday, August 6, 2010

Straight Poop on Barrett’s Poop in the Lake

Barrett Takes Credit for Norquist Deep Tunnel Expansion

Now that Mayor Tom Barrett’s MMSD is Wisconsin’s biggest polluter, having dumped over 2 billion in untreated sewage into Lake Michigan last month, his campaign spokesman may be drinking the water.

As the controversy swirls like a toilet bowl, of course Mayor Tom is unavailable for comment. Choosing to exercise the Barrett leadership style of disappearing in crisis.

So enter Phil Walzak, flak for Barrett’s campaign for governor, with the unenviable job of defending a politician who said six years ago he would clean up the sewage mess, and who had attacked his opponent in 2004 for dumping a measly 90,000 gallons of poop and more into the lake.

Walzak today told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Barrett had added capacity to the deep tunnel to avoid sewage dumping in the lake.

POOP SPINNING IN THE MEDIA BOWL: “Since Barrett became mayor, 116 million gallons of storage capacity has been added to MMSD's deep tunnel system, a 28% increase, Walzak said. City funding for sewers has also gone up, he said,” The Journal Sentinel reported today.

Poor Phil may be drinking the Mayor Barrett’s Lake Michigan water straight from the lake.

Let’s take a look at the record:

STRAIGHT POOP: The 116 million expansion was planned in 2002, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.

STRAIGHT POOP: The construction began in January of 2004, before Mayor Tom was elected. In fact, the record shows MMSD was $29.4 million into this construction before Barrett was elected.

STRAIGHT POOP: He is taking credit for Norquist’s plan because the Milwaukee Mayor has control over MMSD (appointing 7 of 11 members). In six years, he as not used that power to keep his promises.

So when Mayor Tom runs into the bathroom stall to hide from the press, you should know that’s his management style.

That’s the straight poop. And there’s no denying it.

Here’s what the Daily Reporter Reported in 2002:

“McCabe, legal services director for the district, said three projects are planned that will increase capacity of the Deep Tunnel by more than 25 percent.  "The Northwest Side Relief Sewer will add 89 million gallons of capacity," McCabe said. "Bids were let on that several months ago, and construction has begun."

Two other projects planned for the future, he said, include a $25 million Wisconsin Avenue sewer, adding capacity of nearly 25 million gallons, and an $18 million Port Washington Road sewer, with another 2 million-gallon capacity.

Completion of the $117 million relief sewer, a 7.4-mile, 20-foot diameter tunnel, is expected in December 2006, while the other two projects are slated for completion in December 2009.  The Deep Tunnel capacity is 404 million gallons, McCabe said, and the three projects will add a total of 116 million gallons."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Alarm Bell No. 2 -- Fire Chief Launches Investigation of Timeline of Failed Radios

Mayor Barrett Snoozes

Mayor Tom Barrett snoozed through 11 alarm bells on the OpenSky radio scandal in the fire department. Wastewatchers is detailing all 11 alarms. So far, we see that the Mayor snoozed through the mega contract cancellation in the state of New York.

Hello, a $2 billion contract cancelation of the failed OpenSky radios, and that didn’t get the mayor’s attention? Hmm.

Now, it gets even worse.

An Open Records Investigation by Citizens for Responsible Government has unearthed over 600 pages of records.

That investigation has found that Milwaukee Fire Chief Jones was so concerned about the failing OpenSky radios that he ordered the department to begin an investigation and create a timeline of events back in September 2007.

Let’s start taking a look at more exhibits!

Fire Chief begins investigation of OpenSky after repeated failures. He begins to keep a timeline of the failures (to be published at the conclusion of this series) in case he has to make a case against implementing the system. Hello, Mayor Barrett, your fire department is investigating an $18 million expenditure that threatens fire fighter safety. Awake, yet? No? How about when they brought in the City Attorney to help?

Exhibit 50:  Chief Holton Letter - Letter to City Budget Director

The Mayor failed to show leadership when New York cancelled the contract. He failed to show leadership when the fire chief launched a probe. And at nine other times during the OpenSky radio scandal, he has hit the snooze button.

Stay tuned.

There’s more …..

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Poof! Talgo File Disappears at Commerce

CRG Demands Access to Records of No-Bid Train Contract

Wisconsin Department of Commerce officials may be replacing David Copperfield in Las Vegas.


Their file on the controversial Talgo no-bid contract disappeared like a tiger at a Copperfield show.  Citizens for Responsible Government in May requested access to the file and other documents to see if taxpayers got ripped off when the $48 million no-bid train contract went to the Spanish company and not a Wisconsin firm.

The train cars will be used on the $800 million high-speed rail line being forced on Wisconsin citizens.

Presto. Change-o. One-two-three. Gonnnnnnnnne.

“We do believe there was a folder of official correspondence via letters that we have been unable to locate,” wrote Commerce legal counsel Laura M. Varriale in an email to CRG.  For over two months, “Both the Executive Secretary and I have been looking for the letters we believe were in a file, but have been unable to locate them yet.” Varriale is the records custodian for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

CRG fought back.

In a strongly worded letter, CRG demanded that Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Aaron Olver produce the file.

“We are prepared to take all appropriate legal steps if such actions are required. As the statute so eloquently notes, ‘a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate … all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the … official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.”

Governor Jim Doyle gave Talgo the contract after he went to Spain on a “trade mission” in 2009 shortly before he announced he would not seek re-election. Wisconsin-based Super Steel – a train manufacturer – was not allowed to bid on the project to build the rail cars.

CRG’s letter to Olver rips the Houdini’s at the Commerce Department for depriving the public access to the information about their government and use of tax dollars:

“Losing” the file regarding the signature issue of Governor Doyle’s economic, transportation and green agendas raises serious questions about the process of awarding a contract to Talgo. We are entitled to know what methods you used to locate the file, including who you talked with, who was contacted and what files were searched. We and the public are entitled to a clear explanation of exactly what steps are ongoing to locate this most sensitive and important file. To the extent the file cannot be located, then surely we and the public are entitled to a description of the documents and correspondence that you believe were in the file. We reiterate our demand that the Department produce all relevant documents specified in our original request and, additionally, disclose the procedures used to locate those documents, and what efforts are ongoing to reproduce the missing file.

We’re not buying it . . .

"It strains credulity to believe that the Wisconsin Department of Commerce has 'lost' a file of correspondence so critical to this $800 million project. We know that there was, in fact, correspondence regarding the decision to back a foreign firm over a Wisconsin employer. We are now apparently expected to accept that all those decisions were legitimate, thought-through, economically sensible decisions, when exactly the opposite may be true. An entire delegation of Wisconsin officials went to Spain to negotiate a deal and we now have no official correspondence that led to the formulation of that deal because it is supposedly 'lost.' We can certainly all agree that such convenient disappearance cannot help but raise suspicions."

At every good magic show, the magician brings back tiger, the jumbo jet, or lady in the sequin gown.

So it is with the magicians at Commerce. Hiring an attorney, threatening a lawsuit and notifying a reporter made "a" file appear. The Associated Press is reporting that the bureaucrats at Commerce “FOUND” "a" file. We say “a” file because we cannot be sure it is “THE” file.

A government agency that claims to have looked for a file for over two months only to find it when faced with a CRG lawsuit cannot be trusted. What was in the file when it was “LOST?” What is in the file today?

Finding what government wants to hide is what CRG was created to do. What would have happened if the request came from a group that hadn’t spent the last decade in these fights or was not able to hire a lawyer? In short, what would the result have been if a citizen had tried to exercise their rights?

CRG Open Records Request

CRG Open Records Demand Letter

11 Alarms Mayor Tom Barrett Ignored Signaling OpenSky was a Dangerous Boondoggle


This is the first of an 11-part post based on over 600 pages of new open records documents received from the Milwaukee Fire Deparment regarding the dangerous and wasteful boondoggle know as the OpenSky radio system.  It is a follow-up to our 500 pages of complaints obtained via open records from the Milwaukee Police Department.

Each post will detail an "Alarm" with supporting documents that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett ignored in the past six years that any competent leader would have heeded to take aggressive action to protect both citizens and our public safety professionals.  At the end of the series we will post links to the entire set of documents.

Fire Fighters never ignore an alarm because every alarm means someone is in danger and it is their job to help.  Alarms have been going off for more than six years alerting Mayor Tom Barrett that his police officers and fire fighters were in danger from the OpenSky radio system.

We aren’t asking the Mayor to rush into a burning building. Just show a little leadership and protect the people he sends into those burning buildings.

Open records requests from the Milwaukee Fire Department have yielded over 600 pages of documents raising the alarm over this $18 million dollar scandal.

We found evidence of:
  • Complete radio blackouts impacting all police and fire communication.
  • Radios declared “not intrinsically safe”
  • Fire Fighters working feverishly to protect their brother and sister fire fighters from the failure of this system with no help from the Mayor.
  • Training cancelled because of radio failure.
  • In all, at least 11 situations that would have called a leader into action.

Here is what we didn’t find:
  • A mention of Mayor Barrett following the issue, aware of the issue, engaged in the issue. In fact, we couldn’t find a reference to a conversation about OpenSky that involved Barrett in his six-years as Mayor.
  • An email, letter or note to Mayor Barrett or his key staff regarding OpenSky.
  • Our Google search couldn’t find Mayor Barrett being asked by a reporter or commenting on OpenSky over six years in which $18 million was paid out.
As you follow our daily Alarms, think about when you would have gotten involved, if you were Mayor of Milwaukee.  The documents make it very clear that true professionals at the fire and police departments worked extraordinarily hard to make this boondoggle work. They need a leader!


New York revoked their $2 billion OpenSky contract because the company failed to provide safe communication for their fire fighters and Cops. The articles below were tracked by the Milwaukee Fire Department and discussed as part of their investigation. Another government canceling the same system because they were having the same problems. Might make a Mayor think…

New York cancels OpenSky

For those who might think the New York disaster is an isolated incident checkout Lancaster County, PA  Wow, they spent $13.5 million and estimate it will take $35 million to finish the job (about double what Milwaukee has already spent).  They are currently looking for ANOTHER sucker ... we mean "city" to buy their useless OpenSky equipment!  "Warning, warning, danger Mayor Barrett!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New UWM School of Public Health Could Educate Mayor Barrett

Study: Diarrhea in Kids Caused by Sewage Dumps

A School of Public Health could find a lot to study in a city that is forced to drink its own excrement.

They could study whether giardia cysts and fecal coliforms in drinking water might make children sick.

Oops, the Journal of Pediatrics already did. The study is called, “Pediatric Emergency Department Visits for Diarrheal Illness Increased After Release of Undertreated Sewage” and it takes place right here in Milwaukee … I wonder why.

They found, to no one’s amazement, that adding millions of gallons of crap to the drinking water supply can make children sick.

In fact, they concluded, “Emergency department visits for diarrheal illness increased significantly after 2 events of release of partially treated sewage into area waterways. These data suggest a potentially harmful effect of such practices.

Funny, we didn’t see Mayor Barrett bragging about this study done right here in Milwaukee by researchers from our very own Medical College of Wisconsin. In fact, the kids with diarrhea were from Milwaukee and the surrounding communities who drink Mayor Barrett’s Special Sewage Mix in their water.

So, Mom and Dad, next time you take off from work to drive your kids to the ER or clean up after a domestic dump of … raw sewage at your home, remember who PROMISED to stop the sewage dumps that contaminate Milwaukee water.