Sheriff David Clarke faces a problem. He is irrelevant.
Clarke understands this, if not intellectually, then certainly emotionally. This explains much of the sheriff’s behavior.
Sheriff Clarke has an inability to “connect the dots.”
I recall the time he was running in the primary for mayor. He appeared at the Milwaukee Press Club and I got to ask two questions.
Clarke had lambasted Mayor Tom Barrett for wanting to take over the Milwaukee Public Schools Board. But when asked how he would handle the schools, Clarke declared that he would demand the superintendent meet with him every Friday morning and that he’d tell him to the do the next week. I pointed out that MPS had its own governance and taxing authority so why would the superintendent do this? Clarke was silent.
He had complained about the high salaries and benefits of county employees. I asked him if he would be willing to reduce his salary and benefits as others had done as an example. The silence was deafening.
Did Clarke understand then that his department makes up 44 percent of Milwaukee County’s budget? You can’t cut expenses without looking at the largest part of the budget…and certainly there is much “waste” in Clarke’s department. For example, various lawsuits brought by employees badly treated by Clarke or the horses, uniforms and vehicles that are used to enhance the sheriff’s image and ego, or failed prison “reforms” designed to emulate a certain Arizona sheriff.
Clarke’s irrelevancy is the reason his seeks attention at any price, in my opinion. When Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele reduced Clarke’s budget and used facts (gasp!) to justify it, the sheriff fired back with a reference to Abele’s manhood. Clarke attacks criticism, constructive and otherwise. He even improperly uses department funds to frighten residents by telling them that the police are ineffective. Yet the Milwaukee Police Department handles 75 percent of violent and property crimes, vs. one-fifth of 1 percent for the sheriff.
Although the bulk of 911 calls are for the City of Milwaukee, Clarke insisted on setting up a parallel and expensive system. This is power grabbing, not good government.
Clarke knows his days are numbered. How sad.
As Napoleon said, “Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” The sheriff’s actions appear to be his way of grasping glory, although it be fleeting.
Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman, a former River Hills trustee and the former chair of the Milwaukee Regional Telecommunications Commission and the Milwaukee River Non Point Pollution Commission.