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Editorial: Good for Abele, bad for public

The seven people who work in Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office should be grateful.

They have a boss who will go to even inappropriate extremes to make sure vengeful supervisors cannot seek retribution for his support of the state’s proposed Milwaukee County government reform.

In fact, state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, who introduced the Assembly bill, said Abele’s only request during the drafting of the legislation was that it protect his budget and, by extension, his employees.

And Sanfelippo obliged.

The Senate and Assembly bills include a provision that would prohibit the County Board from messing with Abele’s employees. The board would not be able to cut their salaries or terminate or eliminate their positions unless the change affects all county workers. But the true twist of the knife for any revenge-seeking supervisor is that the prohibition sunsets as soon as supervisors who are elected in spring 2016 take office.

The provision clearly is crafted to thwart the current supervisors.

Those seven employees should be thrilled. The rest of Milwaukee County should be appalled.

Abele made the request, according to his spokesman, because three supervisors threatened that they would seek retribution during the 2014 budget cycle if Gov. Scott Walker signs the bills into law.

A true leader sees such threats as the meaningless playground prattle that they are. He would note the threats and then move on with doing the best he can for all of his constituents.

But not Abele. He takes steps to prevent revenge and walks straight into the land of lousy public policy.

It is a narrow-minded political move. The greater good has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Any legislation designed to directly inconvenience a targeted group, any policy that takes into account only the people currently in specific positions, is either poorly conceived or petty.

There is no way to predict how the provision could backfire. Certainly, there is no protection if Abele, for instance, chose not to fill a vacancy but did not adjust his budget accordingly. He would have the freedom to direct that money wherever he chooses, and the board would have no way to stop him.

Perhaps Abele has decided he warrants a greater level of trust than other public officials. He does not.

The checks and balances are there for a reason, and the sunset on the provision proves Abele understands that. He just does not want this particular board providing the checks.

If lawmakers grant him that option, an option he had no business requesting, they are saying that a civil servant they like, Abele, occasionally deserves a favor that is bad for those he serves.

Sure, Abele protects his people. He just does not protect all of them.

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