McGee Prosecutor: City Should Review Aldermanic Privilege
MILWAUKEE – The jury in the federal trial against former Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee deliberated just six hours before convicting McGee on charges that he shook down business owners in his district.
The prosecutor in the case urged the city to review something called "aldermanic privilege,” a powerful tool that McGee abused.
Aldermanic privilege is an unspoken agreement between aldermen that each alderman should have the final say in what happens in his or her district.
When you talk to members of the common council they won't even acknowledge the privilege exists, but Wednesday, the mayor said it does exist and he says we need to get rid of it.
Common Council President Willie Hines says he's never experienced any aldermanic privilege.
“There's no such this as aldermanic privilege. There's aldermanic input yes, no privileges,” Hines said.
Alderman Tony Zielinski says he hasn't either.
“There's no such thing as aldermanic privilege,” Zielinski said.
The politicians insist their jobs don’t give them any special privileges or power over their constituents.
Federal prosecutors disagree. In fact, they believe the alderman’s unspoken power over lucrative liquor licenses in their district is what allowed former alderman Mike McGee to shake down business owners his district for thousands of dollars in cash and goods.
“Based on this verdict it's clear that there has to be changes,” Mayor Tom Barrett said.
Barrett says he thinks the common council should revamp the role the alderman play in the licensing process to avoid even the appearance of corruption.
“It became clear during the trial this privilege exists and I think for those who deny its existence are flat out wrong,” Barrett said.
Hines says despite the verdict against McGee, there's no reason to change anything.
“The system was not put on trial, an individual was on trial and it was the individual acts that were found guilty, not the system,” Hines said.
The mayor has agreed to work with the common council on a new system to grant licenses, but it doesn't appear the council wants or thinks it needs his help.