Milwaukee Biz Blog: Civil service reform is a power grab

Bob Chernow

How can you tell if a politician wants reform or when his actions only result in more power?


The Walker administration has a problem in recruiting talented people. But the best employees are attracted to organizations that inspire and honor them. Few who now work for the state feel that way. They feel abused by the actions of the Walker administration.

The state’s other challenge has to do with changing and aging demographics of skilled and unskilled workers. For those who have been reading my articles on the future for the last decade (and during the 2008-10 depression), this should be no surprise.

The “reform” of Wisconsin’s civil service is a power grab. It needs to be seen in the light of gerrymandered districts, Voter ID, the stacking of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the attempt to dismantle the Government Accountability Board and other election “reforms.” Add to this list, the several attempts to eliminate the open records law. Those attempts got push back by both the right and the left.

Huey Long would have been impressed!

It is instructive to see what Mr. Walker’s administration has done when they have had the freedom to hire outside of the civil service laws.

For instance, the Fitzgerald brothers got their father appointed to head up the State Police shortly after the voters kicked him out of office. A college dropout was appointed to a technical position over two highly qualified Republicans. What was his qualification? His father was a lobbyist supporter.

And just look at the parade of staff and administrators that have bumbled through WEDC. These folk did not know the basics of running an organization that gave out loans. There was no validation of information or credit checks, or monitoring of loans and defaults. Loans were given out for political donations.

A now retired friend who worked in state government for Thompson, Doyle and Walker complained that the budget department could no longer attract high quality folks from Harvard and Yale. The ones who were hired are beholden to the Walker administration. Why would they give honest evaluations on the consequences of policy?

If the Republicans wanted to actually reform and improve civil service they would do what Governor Tommy Thompson did. He set up a non-partisan commission to study the problem and recommend solutions. Thompson wanted to solve real problems.

But reform is not wanted. The Walker administration wants patronage jobs and total control over state government. Their failure to use this power for the good of the state ought to be a lesson to us all.

Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman and a former River Hills trustee. He served as chair of the Regional Telecommunications Commission and the Milwaukee River South Non Point Pollution Commission.

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