Marina Dimitrijevic added yet another misstep to her clumsy tenure as Milwaukee County Board chairwoman when she walked into the Tuesday hearing 32 minutes late.
If anyone should have arrived early at the Washington Park Senior Center for the hearing on the Legislature’s proposals to reform Milwaukee County government, it was Dimitrijevic. She has chastised state lawmakers for failing to conduct such a hearing in Milwaukee County, and she should have been waiting for them when they finally stepped onto her turf.
But Dimitrijevic has proven repeatedly she stumbles whenever she should be standing strong, the way a competent leader does. Why, for instance, was she late for the hearing?
“Nothing held me up,” she said. “Well, a little bit of traffic.”
At this point, there is very little propping up the perception that Dimitrijevic is fit to lead. Her actions the past few months are those of someone who has no proper response to a political quandary, and if she cannot handle that, she would be disastrous in a crisis.
In early January, state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, announces he will propose sweeping reform for Milwaukee County government, and Dimitrijevic responds by calling for county listening sessions in February and March in all 18 districts to gather local opinions for local reform.
By early May, only 10 supervisors have held sessions, and Dimitrijevic still has not scheduled one for her own district.
On April 10, Dimitrijevic travels to Madison to testify before an Assembly committee in opposition to Sanfelippo’s proposal, saying that local reform must come from local listening sessions. Eight days later, after only two more sessions, she announces a competing reform proposal.
On April 25, the County Board approves the new proposal, even though the county’s corporation counsel points out the reform package would violate two state laws relating to withholding wages and deductions from paychecks. Dimitrijevic rams it through anyway, vowing she will work out the kinks before the resolution becomes an ordinance.
According to an April 25 press release comment attributed to Dimitrijevic, “This is indeed a new day on the County Board, and we have shown leadership in approving this reform package.”
On May 2, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele vetoes the board’s resolution, citing, among other things, the reform package’s violation of state law.
Now, five county supervisors are circulating a petition that would trigger a special election during which the board would vote on removing Dimitrijevic as chairwoman. Those supervisors say they have lost faith in her leadership, at least partially because there are allegations a county committee, under her watch, illegally negotiated with a decertified union.
There is no evidence Dimitrijevic is corrupt or has acted maliciously. She simply has created the perception of someone who is always two steps too late and unprepared in responding to every challenge.
But she still has a chance to take the lead, to show she can arrive on time with the right answer. And she should not miss this next step.