Milwaukee Common Council Rejects Mayor's Pick For Fire And Police Commission

Aug 1, 2018

There’s a power-play going on between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and aldermen about who's on the Fire and Police Commission, a citizen body that oversees the city’s police and fire departments.

At stake, some say, is how police officers interact with the community.

Mayor Barrett nominated retired Deputy Police Chief William Gielow to the citizen oversight panel, for a five-year term. Gielow spent 41 years on the Milwaukee police force.

But on Tuesday, when it came time to confirm Gielow to the post, many members of the Common Council didn’t think he was the right person for the job. The majority voted against him, a 9-5 vote.

Alderman Nik Kovac said he didn’t want to meet with or approve any new commissioners until aldermen vote on another term for two current members of the Fire and Police Commission. Steven DeVougas and Marisabel Cabrera’s terms are up, but they can continue to serve until a re-appointment is made by the mayor.

"Both of them have led the charge to hold the department accountable in a way, frankly, that the mayor has never shown willingness to hold the department accountable. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the Fire and Police Commission, we’d still have Chief Flynn," said Kovac.

Flynn retired in February. In the year leading up to his departure, the Fire and Police Commission exerted pressure on Flynn to change some of his policies.

Alderman Russell Stamper also voiced opposition to Gielow's nomination. Alderman Terry Witkowski indicated that a letter came in from a community group complaining about Gielow's response to 'what are the issues facing the commission?' The letter stated that Gielow said he'd have to confer with the executive director of the commission and the only knowledge he had was what he reads in the media.

"He could have at least said ‘police and community relations,’ that is in the paper every day. He didn’t do no homework? The budget, we just hired a fire and police commission director, we’re missing commissioners, litigation, anything! There are a plethora of issues, and he does not know any of them," Stamper said.

But Witkowski backed Gielow for the position. He tried to delay the vote until after more Common Council members had a chance to meet with the nominee. 

Witkowski said he met Gielow in 1989 when he was a captain and praised his character. "He was very open-minded. He listened, and he listened to all sides. If there was a decision needed, he would make it, but was extremely fair about what he did," Witkowski said.

Once the Common Council rejected Gielow's nomination, the mayor had choice words for aldermen and how they’ve handled the process. “I nominated Mr. Gielow February 6. They took six months. Many of them refused to meet with him, a man who served this community for 41 years, and then they voted him down. I think they owe him an apology,” Barrett said. 

Barrett also responded to Kovac’s position that the mayor must first re-appoint Marisabel Cabrera to get Gielow approved. Since Cabrera is currently running for State Assembly, Barrett said he doesn’t want her to use the commission as a stepping stone for a political career. He added that the commission is a quasi-judicial body, and he wants to keep politics out of the police department.