Sunday, December 19, 2010

OpenSky Crashes Yet Again!

Mayor Barrett's Failure to Lead Plays Russian Roulette with Officers Lives

Here we go again, another miserable failure for the OpenSky radio system - the backbone of the City of Milwaukee's emergency response system.  Thursday, December 16th, the much maligned, over budget and five year late radio system - with multiple failures and abandonment in multiple cities across America, crashed for over two critical hours.

How many times must OpenSky crash before questions are asked?  How many more times will Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett roll the dice while laying down bets with the lives of police officers, firefighters, and citizens?  When will Barrett begin to understand how to lead?  When will the press begin to demand asnwers?

CRG continues to sound "alarm bells" that should be heard across the City of Milwaukee but, with the exception of Alderman Bob Donovan efforts, little is being done to hold the Barrett Adminstration accountable.  Will it REALLY take spilled blood and a funeral to wake people up?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Barrett Appoints Felon after Taking His Campaign Cash

Developer Defrauds Government, Appointed to Oversee Development

A Milwaukee developer convicted of defrauding the government was appointed to a key board after giving Mayor Tom Barrett $1,200 in campaign donations.

The 2004 criminal conviction came as a result of Boris Gohkman’s part in a scheme to defraud the Medicare program.

In 2008, Barrett appointed Gohkman, a real estate developer, to a Business Improvement District Board (BID).

Between the 2004 conviction and 2008 appointment, Barrett took $1,200 in campaign contributions from Gohkman.

“Less than two years after Gohkman was convicted of felony fraud, Mayor Barrett is accepting campaign cash from him,” said Chris Kliesmet of Citizens for Responsible Government.

“Talk about appointing the fox to guard the henhouse, Barrett appoints a developer convicted of defrauding the government to a board overseeing city development efforts,” said Kliesmet. “Why not give an accountant convicted of embezzlement the checkbook while you’re at it?”

OpenSky Remains a Failure

Despite Revisionist Claims of Success
UWM Grenade Threat Exposes Shortcomings

Lost in all the continuing revelations of technical system failures and missed implementation dates is the stunning failure of the City of Milwaukee OpenSky radio system to meet it primary objective – to provide an interoperable communications platform for all critical city emergency responders including police, fire, and other key departments. This capability was the impetus behind the federal mandates to upgrade emergency communication and coordination systems in the aftermath of the September 11th disaster.

As early as July of 2003, the City of Milwaukee amended the OpenSky contract to include the Milwaukee Fire Department with final purchase occurring in 2005 under Mayor Tom Barrett (see the Exhibit at Far beyond the recent total system failure of both police and fire radios and the failure to install already purchased and required equipment, the OpenSky system is still not close to accomplishing its primary goal of interdepartmental communication.

“Forget the pie in the sky notion that emergency responders will one day be able to coordinate firefighting and high speed police chases across municipal boundaries,” said Citizens for Responsible Government spokesperson Chris Kliesmet. “City of Milwaukee Firefighters cannot even directly communicate with City of Milwaukee Police across the street. Just the other day we had a situation where City of Milwaukee police officers could not talk with armed and sworn officers of the UW-Milwaukee Police Department over the discovery of a hand grenade. Imagine if this were a crazed gunman on campus. How many dead students would we be talking about today? The OpenSky project is so late, over-budget, and of such poor quality that any accomplishment at all is hailed as a complete victory. This is nothing but pre-election posturing. Basic OpenSky installation and coverage is still incomplete and its functionally no where near delivering what was promised to citizens and City emergency personnel and paid for by taxpayers.”

Friday, October 8, 2010

Is Barrett Playing Politics with Officer Lives?

OpenSky Radio Blackout the Second This Year

The $18 million OpenSky fire and police radio system was five years late and millions over budget when Mayor Tom Barrett finally found a reason to declare mission accomplished. With one month remaining before the gubernatorial election, Barrett had his police chief declare the system fully operational.

October 1 Milwaukee Police Chief Flynn declared, "We're announcing, sooner than we really wanted to, that on Wednesday, September 22nd, we flicked the switch, so to speak, and made the total conversion to 700 megahertz on the digital system."

A week later, the entire system crashed, as it had earlier this year.

“Barrett knew the danger because the system had crashed before,” said Chris Kliesmet of watchdog group Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG). “CRG published a series of ‘Alarm Bell’ wake up calls to the mayor and OpenSky problems in other cities are widely known. This system is unsafe. One has to ask the question. Did Mayor Barrett push his Chief to bring the system up before it was ready for political purposes? After five years of failure and missed deadlines but an election only a month away, the timing is curious.”

CRG has documented the January 9th crash as well as failures in multiple tests of the system over months of research. CRG has combed through over 1,000 pages of fire and police documents on OpenSky to bring the scandal to light.

“How many more times will we accept being lied to about OpenSky? We got lucky this time. The Mayor needs to get the job done and stop playing poker with the lives of police officers, fire fighters and the public,” said Kliesmet. “Politics should stop where lives are on the line.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unelected Boards Create Campaign Cash

"Barrett" Example Yields Over $150,000 in Board Contributions

Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) has long analyzed and reported on the drawbacks of unelected boards, particularly those with the power to unilaterally impose taxes. The CRG audit and online database of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) Board spending and the well-publicized shortcomings of the Metro-Milwaukee Sewage District (MMSD) Board highlight a lengthy list of perceived problems with unelected boards given broad regulatory power as well as taxing power without direct voter representation.

CRG began an investigation and analysis of MMSD due to citizen outrage over recent flooding and basement sewage back-ups. Initial findings suggested that these failures are largely due to governance issues at the City of Milwaukee and on the MMSD Board level rather than operational issues at MMSD. Further investigation of political actions and involvement within MMSD revealed significant contributions from MMSD Board members to the politicians that appoint them.

For example, MMSD Board members contributed almost $10,000 to Tom Barrett campaigns with $4,000 being contributed in 2009-2010 election cycle alone. Every MMSD Board member who contributed gave at least $100, six gave at least $250, five gave at least $500, and three gave over $1000 with one donor exceeding $2000 and another exceeding $3000.

As a result, a pilot project was undertaken to analyze and understand the relationship between political contributions and appointments to boards such as MMSD. The City of Milwaukee and Mayor Barrett were chosen as the initial study example based on the large number of appointed boards the City has jurisdiction over as well as the large number of mayoral appointees to those boards.

The study methodology required compiling a partial list of mayoral board appointees by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to 92 boards during his tenure as mayor (list is partial as a complete list of past appointees do not exist – spouses were included on list). This list was cross-indexed against contributions to Barrett campaigns from 7/1/2000 to 6/30/2010 obtained from databases maintained by the City of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The entire tabulated data set may be downloaded at

The following are selected statistics from the analysis

Total Campaign Contribution Dollars $151,307.79

Average Contribution Per Donation $330.37

Average Total Contributions Per Donor $1,220.22

Barrett also made dubious appointments of local real estate developers to Business Improvement District boards after receiving substantial campaign cash.

Convicted felon Boris Gohkman received one such appointment after $1200 in campaign donations.  Even more suspicious was the appointment of Ronald San Felippo after making a series $1500 donations to Barrett on the 22nd of six consecutive months (January to June).  San Felippo was subsequently appointed 6 days later on June 28th!

Project leader Chris Kliesmet commented, “The numbers yielded by our analysis were quite surprising and perhaps more than a little disturbing. Given that the total contributions are well into six figures and the average total contributions per donor crosses the one-thousand dollar mark, it does suggest at least a perception of impropriety that should be addressed, particularly when reviewing compensated boards. Additionally, one must not discount the imputed value of the regulatory power wielded even by uncompensated boards. For those seeking appointments, and there are many who covet such appointments, the regulatory power may be more highly valued than any monetary reward. Whether by design or sheer happenstance, it is safe to say that the power to make unelected board appointments can be used as a tool to raise campaign cash and creates yet another strong argument against unelected boards. CRG will issue updates to our investigations should our analyses continue to yield noteworthy results.”

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alarm Bell No. 11: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Waterproof Equipment!

Skip the Waterproof Batteries and Mics?

When you’re a firefighter in a blaze, you need equipment that won’t melt from fire or meltdown due to water.

But not in Milwaukee.

The Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) investigation into the Open Sky radio scandal has found that firefighters repeatedly received batteries and microphones that were not waterproof.

CRG reviewed 600 pages of internal fire department documents. And, at 11 critical points over the last few years, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett failed to intervene to help his cops and firefighters to be safe with radios that work.

The 11th Alarm Bell should have rung in the Mayor’s office when repeated fire department correspondence detailed non-waterproof batteries, non-waterproof microphones, stickers placed over radio speakers, wrong batteries, and radios determined to “intrinsically unsafe.”

From 2007 through 2009, there is a timeline of failure of the radios is detailed in the internal documents.

What is NOT found in any of the documents received from the Milwaukee Fire Department under Wisconsin’s Open Records Act?

Guess what?

Not one email, letter, note, card, postcard, or phone message from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

NOT ONE! Nada. Nothing. Complete radio silence from a Mayor who is supposed to be protecting his cops and firefighters from danger.

Instead, Barrett has allowed cops to be sent into violent crimes scenes with radios that don’t work. He’s allowed firefighters to be sent into three-alarm fires with intrinsically unsafe radios. And, it’s only a matter of time before a cop or firefighter is killed because of the failed radios.

It’s a scandal. And it’s a failure of leadership that has been under-reported and, in many cases, unreported.

Take a look at the timeline of failure detailed below. It’s a disgrace to our cops and firefighters.

Wrong Batteries, shelf life issues, undocumented accessories, wrong labeling, wrong batteries, wrong profiles, cases don’t fit, mics not submersible. Nothing to see here.

Unless you want to see the proof!

Exhibit 28 – Summer/Fall 2007 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 48 – Oct. 14, 2008 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 50 – Oct 20, 2008 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 57 – Nov. 17-18, 2008 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 70 – Feb 2, 2009 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 29 – 9/26/2007 (link to full record)

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Exhibit 75 – 2/5/2009 (link to full record)

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The City of Milwaukee South 2nd Street Scandal


With taxpayers and businesses stretched by the worst recession since the Great Depression, the City of Milwaukee ignores engineers and turns to environmental sustainability advocates to turn a simple street resurfacing project into a boondoggle that spends more and delivers less. This is the story of millions being spent to slide a Milwaukee Street from an “A” grade for handling traffic to a “C” grade. In other words, you’re the one picking up the bill AND the one who will spend more time stuck in traffic thanks to Mayor Barrett and his Office of Environmental Sustainability [you pay for that, too.] But, before the street can be torn up and narrowed, it has to be patched and painted – huh – wait just a darn minute!

The City of Milwaukee South 2nd Street Scandal
How a Practical Road Project Became a
Costly Special Interest Boondoggle
[or the Real Cost of Mayor Barrett’s Office of Environmental Sustainability]

Several months ago, CRG began receiving calls after radio host Mark Belling noted concerns regarding waste and inefficiency by the Department of Public Works in maintaining a portion of South 2nd street near the Allen-Bradley Clock tower. Simply stated, questions were being asked as to why the City would spend precious tax dollars to patch pavement and repaint road markings (Figure 1) on a street that was scheduled to be torn up for resurfacing (Figure 2).

Figure 1: June 2010
Freshly Patched and Painted 2nd Street
Being Readied for Demolition
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Figure 2: July 2010
Weeks Later All Those Tax Dollars
Completely Wasted!
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However, after reviewing dozens of pages of open records requests it became clear there was more to this project than meets the eye, much more than simple waste associated with questionable maintenance scheduling. What surfaced was a rare insight into a City leadership run amok where special interest politics trumps practicality, where businesses and the jobs they produce are ignored, and where fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers is totally abdicated.

In 2001, the plans were laid for routine maintenance of S. 2nd Street to commence in 2003. A routine analysis by the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works (DPW) indicated that 95% of the road pavement structure was in “sound condition” and that a simple milling of the surface, repaving with 3.5 inches of asphalt and curb and gutter replacement would be sufficient to extend the useful life of the road an additional “20 to 30 years.”

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An economic and logistical feasibility study revealed that the existence of an old train tracks with rails and ties in place buried along the center line of the road presented a “buildability issue” for any major reconstruction scenario from both a logistical, needs, and budgetary standpoint. This supported the recommendation that a resurfacing project was the preferred alternative.

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In 2002, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation requested that the project be delayed to handle overflow from the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project. The City complied then restarted their engineering efforts in 2007 with construction scheduled for 2009. This is when the project begins to go “south” (no pun intended).

In 2007, the Milwaukee Department of City Development (DCD) received a letter from Alderman Witkowiak indicating that “neighborhood stakeholders” (i.e. narrow special interests) are interested in pursuing a “streetscaping” plan. This plan included added green space, bike paths, “quiet zones” to reduce train whistle noise, wider sidewalks, and “bump-outs” to shorten the distance for pedestrian crossings among others. However, to make these changes a Business Improvement District (BID) must be created and additional coordination with the railroads is needed pushing the project out to 2010. Ultimately, the BID formation is not successful and the streetscaping plan is dropped in 2008.

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Interestingly, several emails from special interests soon arrived indicating a new concern for leaving the roadway configuration as is because of a perceived "lack of traffic" for the existing four lanes. The Milwaukee DPW reiterated the need for four traffic lanes (two in each direction) to accommodate peak hour traffic. Furthermore, DPW argued the four-lane configuration is necessary to conform to the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's (SEWRPC) future traffic plan, that “S. 2nd Street acts as an alternate route in and out of the CBD during large events, construction, emergencies, etc.” and that a resurfacing-only proposal is the preferred alternative given “the street's physical condition and the City's monetary constraints . . . and the standard analytic procedures used to determine project scope and project prioritization.” The DPW continued its investigation of other items such as the bump-out finding they should “not be placed at signalized intersections since … signalized intersections have a protected pedestrian phase.” The DPW also found that bump-outs should “not be placed at intersections where there is a bus stop since this makes it difficult for the bus to re-enter the traffic flow.”

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This is where the plot thickens! A meeting was called by the Mayor's Office of Environmental Sustainability in the fall of 2008. The so-called “neighborhood stakeholders” were once again rounded up to lobby DPW for their streetscaping plan although, curiously, several local businesses were neither invited nor informed of the meeting. By this time the special interests had upped the ante by seeking:
  • Decorative benches
  • Trash receptacles
  • Banners
  • Decorative and porous pavements
  • Trees
  • LED Lighting

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Once again, the City DPW responded in great detail why many of these and earlier requests where unacceptable.

“Porous pavements are susceptible to plow damage, traffic loading, and it is very costly … Added water that would get through to the underlying soils next to the buildings and there was no real way to assess the risk and future liability that the City might incur by proceeding with this type of construction.”

LED lighting still had “many problems be worked out and DPW was not ready to commit to any LED usage at this time.”

“DPW indicated that 4 traffic lanes were necessary to manage peak hour traffic. That being the case, there simply was no room for bike lanes.”

Not to be deterred, the special interests increasingly petition the local Alderman, DCD, and DPW and yet another public meeting is held in the spring of 2009 to lobby the DPW with an ever-growing list of demands.

But, DPW attempts to hold its ground, firing back:

“the budget does not allow for a full reconstruction project, the WISDOT may not agree to participate monetarily in a alternative traffic configuration scenario, and under a full reconstruction scenario, the removal of the existing track zone will greatly impede access during construction forcing abutting property owners to find alternative means of access for long periods of time.”

“Introducing angle parking- DPW state firmly that the State-Municipal Agreement that it has with the WISDOT indicates that angle parking will be prohibited. This is true of all state/Federally funded street improvement projects in the City of Milwaukee.”

DPW considers "effectively" reducing a traffic lane and introducing a bike lane in each direction simply by using pavement marking and keeping the curbs in their existing location. However, “The WISDOT, in the past, has not allowed pavement markings that are not approved by the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices).”

”DPW completes its analysis of the alternative to bring the curbs in 4 feet on either side of the roadway while still keeping the resurface scenario for the bulk of the roadway. It indicates that it is NOT possible since placement of the new curb would be at an elevation higher than the property line match point creating back pitch into the buildings.”

But, slowly, inexorably, and to the dismay of many business owners, the tide is turning in favor of the anti-car and anti-business forces.

“WISDOT agrees to participate, monetarily, in a narrowing alternative in early June 2009.”

“On June 12, 2009, DPW meets to discuss how the project has evolved and where it needs to go from here. Given the concerns about the subgrade support (and the subsequent continuation of vibration problems) which would not be improved by a resurfacing project, the WISDOTs willingness to participate monetarily with a narrowing alternative, and the need to incorporate green elements into the design, the decision is made to do a full reconstruct.”

“Utility conflicts and construction staging/access in light of the track zone removal are duly noted. New cross section will include one lane of traffic, one bike lane, and one parking lane in each direction.”

“A significant amount of green space will be realized under this alternative with a 6-foot grass terrace (total=5,300 S.Y.) and trees incorporated on either side of the roadway.”

Porous sidewalk elements are discussed next. The close proximity of adjacent buildings, the age of the buildings (over 100 years), the highly variable and contaminated nature of the soil under the roadway, sidewalks, and adjacent to the buildings, and the introduction of new water into this environment, requires that the City also line the building fronts with rubber membrane from the surface to the foundation footing if porous sidewalks are built adjacent to a building front “... a very costly venture … $100,000 per block to incorporate bio-swales. Cost would be less for porous concrete adjacent to buildings, but still significant.” No alternative funding sources are identified to off-set these costs. Therefore, these items are dropped from consideration.

Well, at least the DPW prevailed on THIS last costly item! Nonetheless, in times that cry out for practicality and austerity, taxpayers are now on the hook for the costly delays, re-engineering, and unneeded, pork-barrel spending forced down the throats of average citizens by a handful of selfish special interests, all with the tacit aid and acceptance of a mayor who claims to be fiscally prudent and pro-jobs and business but whose actions - and inaction - proves otherwise.

And so it goes in the City of Milwaukee, citizens are getting two lanes for the price of six! You would think that after doing a similarly disastrous “streetscaping” project on Mitchell Street City of Milwaukee leadership would have learned its lesson – but then again, why - it’s not THEIR money!

Open Records Documents referenced in this post

DPW Announces Project (note text below logo - "Support for Business?" Not this time!)

Special Interests Letter

Business Owners Final Plea

Mayor Barrett Makes the Wrong Call

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ALARM BELL No. 10: Five Years of Delays and Counting

“This Cannot Continue to be Dragged Out Any Longer”

In July 2009, Dave Wenzel of Milwaukee’s Homeland Security unit belted out an email to his superiors.

It should have been a shot heard throughout Milwaukee City Hall, and the Mayor should have hit the panic button. But, again, Mayor Tom Barrett snoozed in a blissful slumber – content to let cops and firefighters hit the streets every day with radios that don’t work.

“This cannot continue to be dragged out any longer,” Wenzel wrote, reminding the police command that his records show the radios were supposed be installed and running by May 2007 (note original promise date was 2005).

But records obtained by Citizens for Responsible Government show that the police department had to cancel a department training session on the radios in June 2007 because the radios weren’t ready.

That’s right the $20 million OpenSky radios didn’t work, and weren’t ready on time.

The radios had to be sent back to the manufacturer for coding, and the delays began.

That dragged on.

And, on.

And, on.

And, on.

The police department was told the radios would be ready by August 2007.

August came and went, and January 2008 came along. Still no radios.

Then, records show, the radios weren’t ready by January 2009. “Our radios have been gone for over a year,” one memo reports.

This is part 10 of 11-part series detailing critical points at which mayoral leadership should have been exercised to get to the bottom of the OpenSky faulty radio scandal. Cops and firefighters facing death with bum radios should be a top priority for the mayor of the state’s largest city. Acting Chief Michael Jones put the fine point on it in July 2009: “To date, not one MFD (OpenSky) radio functions in any operational capacity for operational use.”

Let’s take a look at the timeline of delays and disaster.

1. Timeline – Oct. 18, 2007 (Can't even get the straps and cases right!)

2. Exhibit 28 – May 2007 (well, the upside of being late was taxpayers avoided paying time and one-half)

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3a. Exhibit 41 – April 16, 2008 (Wow!  Someone who gets it - no delivery, no pay - it's now April 2008!)
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3b. Exhibit 41 - May 2, 2008 (Reasonable delays? Only in government are delays acceptable!)

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4. Exhibit 68 - Jan 16, 2009 (2007, 2008, 2009, still no radios!)

 5. Collection 0758 – July 9, 2009 (Lucy!  You got some 'splainin' to do to Homeland Security!)

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(and Assistant Chief Jones is not to happy about the heat in this memo to the OpenSky vendor!)

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C'mon Mayor Barrett, these warning bells have been ringing on YOUR watch for years.  What's it gonna take to light a fire in your pajamas - a dead firefighter?

OpenSky was started in 2003 with a promise of completion in 2005.  Well, it's already 2010 with 2011 looming around the corner - and we are already about $4 million (about 25%) over budget.  One more alarm bell to go.  Will Tom Barrett EVER wake up?