Reversion to the mean is predictable phenomena in nearly all aspects of life. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, in the years following the County Pension Scandal and deliberate efforts to root out systemic self-dealing by political insiders, it appears government is reverting to poor governance.
Last week, Milwaukee learned that Ted Chisholm, the son of District Attorney John Chisholm, was hired by newly-elected Sheriff Earnell Lucas as the latter’s “chief of staff.” This is a major job with a salary of $85,000.
District Attorney Chisholm and his son were strong political supporters of Lucas during the contested sheriff race. Moreover, after his election, Lucas announced a “transition team” led by the district attorney’s Chief Deputy Kent Lovern. That’s right: it appears Chisholm’s right hand man either participated in or acquiesced to the hiring of Chisholm’s son. To anyone paying attention, it appears both the district attorney and the sheriff are engaged in Tammany Hall-style political patronage, with an added tinge of nepotism.
In addition to the family-political angle, the hiring is troubling because of the youth of Chisholm’s son and his apparent lack of qualifications. At 20-years-old, the son has not graduated college or obtained a law enforcement certification. In fact, he is not eligible to be a rookie in the Milwaukee Police Department or a county sheriff deputy as those officers must be at least 21 years old.
The uproar over the hiring has been met with incredible silence from our elected officials. Only Lucas made a short, defensive statement regarding the hiring. No substantive argument was offered regarding the appropriateness of one of his first actions in public office. No statement was made about how future conflicts of interest between the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office would be handled. Presumably, most Milwaukee voters wouldn’t want major law enforcement policy created at a single family’s dinner table.
Not a single member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors has made a public statement or made any attempt to question the hiring. Matters concerning the sheriff’s department fall under the jurisdiction of the board’s Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee which has taken no action on the matter. Even conservative Supervisors Deanna Alexander and Patti Logsdon haven’t publicly piped up. What exactly is the purpose of county supervisors but to supervise departments under their purview?
Chisholm has made no statement denying his or his chief deputy’s role in the hiring of his son. Nor has the district attorney offered any justification for the hiring. Certainly, for many aspects of his job as a prosecutor, “no comment” about open matters is wise. However, the controversy regarding how his son received such a lucrative and important position deserves a transparent and frank dialogue. A blanket refusal to answer questions on the matter is a slap in the face to Milwaukee residents who are wondering whether the district attorney used his political clout or his chief deputy district attorney to score his son the gig.
Further, Chisholm should answer how the hiring of his son affects the morale of the 120 assistant district attorneys, many of whom struggle to pay their student loans on meager $50,000 salaries. In an office beset by prosecutor turnover, shouldn’t every public action have an eye towards attracting, training, and retaining the best young prosecutors? Simply put, Chisholm has prioritized the expenditure of political capital for the benefit of his own son’s finances over his prosecutors.
Lastly, Lucas must make himself available to local media and the county board to discuss how and why the younger Chisholm was hired. After 15 years of former Sheriff David Clarke’s misuse of the sheriff’s office to pursue politics at the detriment of Milwaukee taxpayers, we should be told why our public funds are being spent in this way.
Milwaukee sheriff deputies’ salaries start around half of what Lucas’ new chief of staff make. They are sworn law enforcement officers who often must confront the most dangerous and harrowing situations. It’s doubtful the hiring of a young, non-law enforcement individual to oversee their department is going over well within the ranks of these Milwaukee heroes.
Public safety policy is not something to be decided “in the family,” whether literal or political. The number two job in the sheriff’s office isn’t a summer lifeguard job with the Milwaukee County Parks department and shouldn’t be treated as such. Milwaukee County’s taxpayers are outraged over this controversy and deserve answers.
(Note: the original version incorrectly stated Dan Sebring was a member of the Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee. That is incorrect. Patti Logsdon is on the committee, and we regret the error.)