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Vince Vitrano: Not For Broadcast



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If you're worried that asking permission will not yield that answer you like, maybe what you're trying to do just isn't right.

It sounds like that's the fear that prevented Milwaukee County officials from reporting their overly generous, if not illegal, pension activities to the IRS a decade ago. We don't need to ask... because they might say no.

Although it's rare anyone at the newspaper has anything nice to say about we folks here in television, I'm going out of my way here to praise the work of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Journalist Dave Umhoefer for exposing another pension scandal in Milwaukee County Government. Here's a link to the JS coverage, in case you missed it over the weekend. Read it, and then come on back and finish the blog.

I met Dave, oddly enough, in 2002. He was new to the County beat, and I was spending a lot of time down there covering the pension scandal that swept Tom Ament, and a host of officials and supervisors from office. I remember thinking, like so many of us at the time, that we couldn't believe this happened.

I know a lot of good people who work for Milwaukee County. I believe they're entitled to fair pay and good benefits. I deny no one that.

That said, this is ridiculous. Stories of people selling popcorn for 10 minutes 30 years ago and boosting their pension payouts by thousands of dollars a year. Okay... that's an exaggeration... but not by much.

We ask ourselves how come the parks are not in the condition we'd like. We wonder why the county is closing pools. County workers complain the Courthouse is poorly kept. The garbage isn't picked up. The floors are dirty. They haven't gotten a raise.

This is why. 

It's because some in County Government over the years have apparently believed their primary purpose was not to serve the people of Milwaukee County, but rather to serve themselves. That came first. Take care of me, my pension, my wife's pension, my kid's pension, my buddies' pensions, then I'll take care of the business of the people.

The fact that there are people quoted in Dave's article who still don't seem to get what's wrong with this picture is astounding. I truly can't believe the same mentality that nearly caused the collapse of County Government in Milwaukee could still bring about its demise. That jolt was a wake-up call that apparently didn't take. We're not out of the woods yet. Every year the pension scandal cuts deeper. Taxpayers are spent, costs are rising, and the county finds new deficits every year. Meanwhile supervisors are asking for a pay raise, and a wide new sales tax to help balance the budget.

As a guy in the news business, I need you to do a couple things to help make sure watchdogs in the media continue to stay on top of this sort of thing. First... please read Dave's articles, and follow this closely in the paper and online. If you appreciate the coverage, take the time to email Dave's editors and let them know. Respond to online questions. Write letters to the editor. And on our side, when we follow up with television coverage of this story... watch it. Write my bosses and tell them you're interested.

If you don't do these things... editors and news managers will assume you're not interested in this kind of coverage. They make decisions about covering news that you want. JS wants people to read the paper... that's why they put it out. We want people to watch the news... that's why we cover certain stories.

If you the reader and the viewer show no interest in these watchdog reports, they'll disappear. Who knows what these guys will do then?




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