The Milwaukee County Board has not always seen eye-to-eye with the county's mayors and village presidents.
But despite their past misgivings, supervisors were eager to meet with their municipal counterparts Monday and defend their jobs in light of a proposal by two state Republican lawmakers . The proposed legislation would ask all Milwaukee County residents about the downsizing through a binding referendum on the April 2 ballot.
At the request of County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Supervisor Theo Lipscomb asked that he and three other supervisors appear before suburban officials and administrators at a Milwaukee County Intergovernmental Cooperation Council meeting Monday afternoon in Fox Point.
Speaking before the group, Supervisor Peggy Romo West said proposed legislation is a matter of local control.
"This is unprecedented," Romo West said. "You should be very concerned. If it happens to Milwaukee County, it could happen to municipalities as well."
But some proponents of the board's downsizing say that's not true. The scope of the Milwaukee County Board is outlined in state statutes, which suggests it is "a creature of the state", said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
The County Board wasn't always full time. Abele said the board was part time when the county employed 11,000 people, but is now full time with only 4,400 employees. Each supervisor has a staff member, and the board overall employs three public relations staffers.
County supervisors receive a higher salary than state legislators. If the referendum passed, Abele said Milwaukee County supervisors would still be the highest paid in the state.
The relationship between the county board and the municipal officials serving on the ICC has splintered over the years on everything from paramedic services to park maintenance to the exclusion of municipal voices in the board's redistricting plan.
Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor, chairman of the group, did say that the relationship between municipalities and the county board has improved since Dimitrijevic replaced Lee Holloway as the board chairman.
West Milwaukee Village President Ron Hayward was straightforward in his questioning, asking the four supervisors at the meeting directly: "Can you all honestly say that you work 40 hours a week as a county supervisor?"
When all of the supervisors nodded that they work 40 hours per week, Hayward said: "You better do your homework and let everybody know exactly what you do."
Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke said supervisors should have seen this downsizing coming, as it has been on the table for a long time. In the April 2012 election, voters in 12 suburban communities overwhelmingly supported a non-binding referendum proposing a downsizing of the county board.
In most communities, about 80 percent of residents voted yes to a smaller board living on a smaller salary.
"I can tell you as an elected official, there isn't anything I've ever said – either in my role as mayor or as a lawyer or at a cocktail party – where I've been able to get 80 percent of the people to agree on one thing," Neitzke said.
Taylor said those election results should have led the county board to address the voters' concerns. Instead, Dimitrijevic told the Journal Sentinel that the election results only speak for 20 percent of the county's residents.
"They had the control, but they acquiesced," Taylor said. "Now it's in the hands of the state Legislature."
After hearing from both supervisors and suburban officials at the meeting, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he would like to review the specifics of the bill before taking a position on the issue.