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Editorial: Milwaukee County stacks deck against itself

Whoever writes Milwaukee County’s want ad for a new director of economic development should be sure to keep the lines very close together.

That way, hopefuls for the job won’t be able to read what is between the lines, none of which speaks well of Milwaukee County government. County supervisors can hope no one in the specialized field of economic development management is watching the departure of the incumbent director. Through a clumsy connivance, a majority of the supervisors forced out Brian Taffora with a trick so slapstick, it was several levels of refinement below switching the signs on the men’s and women’s restroom doors.

No, professionals in the field will see and understand exactly what to expect if they apply for and get the job: a political time bomb on which the new director’s chair would balance, and a precedent for salary that reportedly is 65 percent of the average paid to counterparts in four Wisconsin municipalities.

Potential job candidates will see Taffora stepped away from the position after supervisors changed the title from economic development director to director of county economic development, a farcical technicality that would require Taffora reapply for the job he has held for a year and a half. They will note that supervisors claimed it was all about Taffora’s failure to comply with residency requirements.

But those candidates will know the supervisors were ousting Taffora as payback for perceived slights by County Executive Chris Abele.

And they will hear Taffora saying that being a pawn in a political battle was “just personally, for me and my family, I just don’t want that anymore.”

Still, there will be applicants. County supervisors might hit the candidate lottery with someone who is perfectly qualified and has a vision for the Milwaukee region. They might even find someone who already lives in the county.

That probably won’t happen.

The county probably will find candidates who are searching for ways to move up in their careers. Those people might see Milwaukee County as a step up, but they also will see bosses who get their way through blatant trickery.

Those candidates would stay for a couple of years to build up their resumes and then move on to something bigger, or at least more stable, as soon as they caught a whiff of the fuse burning beneath them.

That is not what county politicians mean when they talk about a vision for long-term growth, nor does it give the county credibility in the midst of negotiations with the developers of such major projects as The Couture in downtown Milwaukee.

The supervisors’ actions have contributed to Milwaukee County’s being the equivalent of a mid-major college football program that hires a great coach but has no chance of keeping him.

The top brass at those mid-major schools could give Milwaukee County some time-saving advice: After you make your next hire, don’t throw away the want ad.

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