Last updated on August 10th, 2019 at 02:20 pm
Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy says the decision to move a planned Milwaukee youth detention center from its initial site was a “political favor” to health care technology firm Direct Supply.
In a letter to residents and state officials this week, Kennedy said Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to locate the state-run detention center at North Teutonia Avenue and West Mill Road, rather than an initially proposed site three miles to the west behind 7301 W. Mill Road, was made after Direct Supply’s owner said he didn’t want employees driving past the correctional facility on their way to work.
The senior living industry supplier is based at 7311 W. Green Tree Road, about a mile north of the initially proposed site for the Milwaukee youth detention center. The company invested significantly in its northwest side campus in 2016, reviving long dormant expansion plans.
Kennedy made his claims in a letter that was co-signed by Glendale Common Council members and posted to neighborhood social networking site Nextdoor. Kennedy said he also submitted it to members of the state Joint Finance Committee.
Milwaukee officials, however, said opposition to the initial location also came from other sources. A spokeswoman for Evers said the governor understands “Not In My Back Yard” opposition “frequently occurs during conversations around criminal and social justice reform.”
Direct Supply representatives could not be reached for comment for this story.
As part of the plan to close the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls in northern Wisconsin over the next two years, Evers announced in March that one of the replacement facilities, a Type 1 juvenile detention center for youth considered to be serious offenders, would be built near the intersection of Teutonia Avenue and Mill Road. The vacant parcel of land is located behind the Milwaukee Police and Fire Academy, and borders the Oak Leaf Trail and the city of Glendale.
Neighboring Milwaukee and Glendale residents were quick to voice opposition to that site, saying officials chose it without input from those who will be most affected.
State Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr has said the Milwaukee youth detention center site was chosen because it’s located in an area where many of offenders live, which research shows reduces recidivism and helps youth reintegrate into the community upon their release. The state needs seven to 10 acres to build the facility, which is expected to house 32 youth. The chosen site covers about 17 acres.
However, prior to the announcement of the Teutonia site, a state committee tasked with site selection of the new Milwaukee youth detention center had recommended a city-owned site behind the DMV at 7301 W. Mill Road.
Kennedy claims state officials ultimately ended up diverging from the committee’s recommendation after the city of Milwaukee “put up roadblocks to the 73rd and Mill (Road) location after objections by a local business owner,” referring to Direct Supply.
“The alternative site on Teutonia is only under consideration because of one wealthy business owner in Milwaukee raising objections, and the Mayor of Milwaukee intervening to appease that business owner,” Kennedy said. “The study committee performed its job. One business owner should not be allowed to supersede the work done by a committee of experts and elected officials.”
While Direct Supply did raise concerns with the site, Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux said the company wasn’t alone in doing so.
“The local alderperson, the Havenwoods BID and local residents raised concerns about the facility,” Marcoux said. “I think it’s not accurate to say this is the work of one individual, somebody who has provided a significant number of jobs and is a force on the (city’s) northwest side. (Direct Supply founder, president and CEO Bob Hillis) and his company are not driving this. A lot of folks were concerned.”
Ultimately, Marcoux said, city officials pitched the Teutonia location to state officials because they “felt it was a great site,” noting its proximity to the police and fire academy.
However, Kennedy said, there are a dozen Glendale businesses located within 200 feet of the site and more than 600 residents within a quarter-mile of it.
He said he was first informed of Evers’ site selection when he announced it publicly in March.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff released the following statement in response to Kennedy’s claims:
“The governor is committed to getting kids out of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake and into smaller, least-restrictive settings with trauma-informed, evidence-based programming as soon as we safely and responsibly can,” Baldauff said. “We understand that ‘Not In My Back Yard’ (aka NIMBY)-type opposition frequently occurs during conversations around criminal and social justice reform and we will listen to those concerns. But we are not willing to back down from our efforts to move forward in closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.”
Kennedy said he is urging the state’s Joint Finance Committee to reject the Teutonia site.
However, at a neighborhood meeting in March, Carr said the location was “a done deal.”
Separate from the state-run juvenile facility, Milwaukee County also plans to house youth offenders from Milwaukee County who will transfer from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake when they are set to close in 2021.
The county has submitted a proposal to the state seeking $41.8 million to renovate and expand existing facilities, including Vel R. Phillips Youth Detention Center at 10201 W Watertown Plank Road, and work with community partners to create 54 beds for those youth.