Barrett promises ‘cleaner’ city government

Mayor Tom Barrett declared Tuesday a "new day" for Milwaukee government at his inauguration, saying "the symbolism of moving this ceremony outside" should not be lost on residents attending. The inauguration was held outdoors in front of City Hall, 200 E. Wells St.

City Hall has been marred with legal trouble during the past four years. Three aldermen left their positions for federal prison and former mayor John O. Norquist was the subject of sexual harassment allegations.

Barrett's promise of a cleaner city hall comes on the heels of a criminal complaint filed April 15 by FBI Special Agent C. Todd Ratcliff alleging that an alderman accepted bribes "in connection with the awarding and maintaining of a liquor license."

Francia Wendelborn, public affairs liaison for the U.S. Attorney's office, said the name(s) of the alderman or aldermen being investigated have not been released. She also refused to say whether or not the person or persons still hold their city positions.

"The best guess of everyone at city hall is no present alderman is that person being referred to" in the complaint, said recently elected fourth district alderman Bob Bauman.

"I think (not releasing names) is doing the community a disservice," Bauman said. "If you put the word alderman" in the complaint, it only fuels rumors and distrust of current aldermen.

Barrett did not refer to the investigation in his inauguration speech. However, he did touch on a few issues in his "road map" for his first 100 days in office.

He said he would work with business leaders and aldermen to bring more arts and entertainment opportunities to the city to retain students after graduation, and help bring in jobs for non-student residents.

He said promoting Milwaukee to businesses should be a citywide effort in which he will do his part.

"I'll sell this product because I love this city and I believe in this city," Barrett said. "This is a great city, and I'm going to let the world know it."

In reference to renovations, Barrett said city hall would need in the next few years, Barrett said, "I pledge the work here will be done by people who reflect the diversity of Milwaukee."

Another way to bring businesses to the city, he said, was to work more closely with the suburbs. He said the mentality of pitting Milwaukee against its suburbs and surrounding counties are harmful to job creation. He said the city and county should work with the surrounding areas toward more agreement and worry about competition from other mid-western metropolitan areas.

Diversity was another topic the mayor discussed. He said he would work toward the "creation of a (city) government that looks like Milwaukee."

According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the mayoral vote was markedly split between Barrett and opponent Marvin Pratt along racial lines.

Bauman said he thinks Barrett will do a good job picking a racially diverse cabinet. Bauman has known Barrett for many years, and said he is very familiar with the racial diversity of Milwaukee.

Barrett said he would initiate performance audits of city departments and listen to suggestions for cutting spending from employees to lighten tax burdens.

He said he would like to see a "legislative tax freeze," but said current estimates project the city will need $36.4 million — an 18.3 percent increase in the property tax levy — for the 2005 budget just to keep everything running as is, thus the reason for audits and suggestions.

Bauman said he would be proposing a performance audit when the Common Council begins meeting in late May.

"Over the next week there's going to be reassessment letters sent to landlords all over the city," he said.

These reassessments may lead to rent increases. He plans to introduce a performance audit of the City Assessor's Office, the office responsible for reassessments, by the Comptroller's Office.

The purpose of the audit, he said, would be to make sure the reassessments, especially for older properties, are up to state laws and being done in a fair manner with equal standards across the city.

He said he plans to initiate a task force looking at Marquette's off-campus housing early next semester. He said he would begin working on that task force over the summer.