As Milwaukee County supervisors wrangle over the fate of O’Donnell Park, the debate has raised a number of important legal questions.
The Milwaukee County Board delayed action Thursday on several dueling park-related resolutions, amendments and substitute resolutions so that Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren could resolve several issues presented. Among the matters needing an answer was whether a request for proposals on all or a portion of O’Donnell Park might elicit responses that conflict with each other, and how the county would handle evaluating handling such responses.
“Are contractors going to bid on just the parking garage, or a shared ownership structure of the plaza?” asked County Supervisor Pat Jursik. “How do you compare these proposals? We face potential liability if our decision is considered ‘arbitrary’ in selecting one RFP over another.”
There was also a call for clarification of the legal relationship between Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Art Museum, to which the county may enter into discussion over a possible lease or sale of the park. Corporation counsel was asked to decide whether a resolution could allow the art museum to own the improvements made to the park with any lease or sale, while still promising to keep the park open to the public.
“If we are the art museum’s biggest donor, and if they’re going to own the park, aren’t we essentially still owning it?” asked Supervisor Steven Taylor. “I wonder how that works. They also just went through a long fundraising effort to get their expansion done. Will they now raise more money to fix the park? And would we contribute revenue to help them out as well?”
On both sides of the issue was a sense that a response from the county’s legal counsel will help clarify the debate.
“Once the questions are answered,” Taylor said, “people will be more comfortable with what the RFP is, and whether the art museum can do what is requested.”
“I’m sympathetic to contractors and developers,” Jursik said. “If they’re going to spend the time and effort submitting a proposal, we better have a good process in place.”
Officials from the Milwaukee Art Museum and Corporation Counsel declined to comment. Follow @MatthewTaub1