Going back to the recall of state Senator Dan Kapanke, La Crosse area Republicans have become quite familiar with reports of property damage and even attempted acts of violence against supporters in the community.

Of course, damage to and theft of yard signs is pervasive and doubtlessly both sides are guilty of their share of this. However, during the Kapanke recall, swastikas were spray painted on several Kapanke yard signs. Numerous people – many times, the same ones – dropped by the GOP field office for new signs after theirs were repeatedly stolen. Clearly, the work of certain anti-Republican individuals.

King among such anecdotes is when Dan Kapanke’s wife, returning home late at night from her nursing job, stepped out of her car to find roofing nails in the Town of Campbell driveway. Well, a recent court case and admission of guilt finally put the problem at large in the black and white of news print.

The La Crosse Tribune reports:

A La Crosse man admitted throwing roofing nails into driveways of residents who supported Republican candidates after someone stole his lawn sign supporting a Democratic candidate, according to La Crosse police reports.

Martin Sellers, 59, of 2126 Hoeschler Drive, told police he “has done some stupid things” during his arrest Sunday for criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct, reports stated.

Five homeowners on Lincoln Avenue, Ward Avenue, Elm Street and Springbrook Way for three years reported nails in driveways. One homeowner reported eight incidents.

Sellers said he periodically targeted driveways of homes that displayed signs supported Republicans “out of anger for the political system,” reports stated. One homeowner stated the vandalism resumed after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

A homeowner who installed a surveillance system caught Sellers’ vehicle on camera. One victim reported having to replace four tires on his car.

“Both sides do it…it’s just one person” someone ostensibly trying to defend the behavior might claim while simultaneously claiming to not be defending the behavior. No, both sides don’t spend their time throwing nails in their neighbors’ driveway, and no, it’s clearly not the behavior of just one guy. I can assure you that having worked in or spent considerable time in five different local GOP offices over the years.

This one just happened to have gotten caught.

The Wisconsin Left’s dishonesty – indeed, seeming eagerness to straight-up lie – could be the theme of a publication unto itself. Once again, they’ve been caught with their pants on fire by claiming Wisconsin ACT scores plummeted to 41st in the nation. This is of course a total lie.

In a news release (that’s still up on the DPW website as long as the link works), the party breathlessly exclaimed:

Newly released information from the Department of Instruction shows a dramatic decline in student ACT results in the past year. Test scores dropped Wisconsin from 2nd in the country to 41st in the nation among states where more than half the students took the exam.

Without getting into the weeds of how ACT test scores are calculated and can legitimately be analyzed, the truth is that the state’s scores stayed the same as the previous year, 22.2 on average. That puts Wisconsin second among states where more than half of graduating seniors took the ACT.

Not 41st.

Basically, the DPW claim compares apples to oranges to wring the worst possible number out of the data.

Politifact, to its credit, called this a “pants-on-fire” lie – the lyiest lie rating they give:

For years, Wisconsin leaders have expressed pride in how the state’s high school students perform on the ACT exam, which assesses students’ academic readiness for college.

From 2008 through 2014, with Minnesota ranking first, Wisconsin has battled, usually with Iowa, for second or third.

That is, among states where more than half of the students take the ACT.

So, it was a surprise on Jan. 14, 2016 when the Wisconsin Democratic Party issued a news release declaring that Wisconsin’s ACT rank had plunged to near the bottom.

“Newly released information from the (Wisconsin) Department of Instruction shows a dramatic decline in student ACT results in the past year,” the news release stated, blaming Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“Test scores dropped Wisconsin from second in the country to 41st in the nation among states where more than half the students took the exam.”

Such a free-fall should have produced blaring headlines.

There were no headlines because it wasn’t true, and news outlets typically avoid reporting outright lies.

A DPW spokesman issued a quasi-mea culpa, claiming the party “flubbed” the data. But this is dubious given their history.

The DPW also straight-up lied about Scott Walker’s early exit from Marquette University. At the time, as is the case now, they didn’t even bother taking down the lie. A webpage peddling their fictional narrative that Walker was expelled for trying to rig a campus election persisted at least through the 2014 election.

They’d hate to let the truth, or even a variation of it, derail their attempt to portray Walker as a nefarious dolt.

They also straight-up lied when they edited a video of Walker nodding, juxtaposed against a question of whether he’d been involved in a “criminal scheme” to make it seem like he was admitting wrongdoing. Walker has an unnerving tendency to tacitly acknowledge (by nodding along or just being nice to the reporter) the premises of questioners, which hurt him during the presidential campaign when he seemed to endorse a wall along the Canadian border.

In that case, the DPW was peddling a narrative that Walker was the head of a nefarious criminal enterprise teeming with evil mustache-twirling conservatives. Like the defunct, discredited John Doe probes that pumped out misinformation to advance the “criminal” storyline, it’s always full speed ahead, truth be damned.

Both lies also earned the pants-on-fire rating from Politifact.

Sure, both parties stretch the truth and even lie. But the ongoing, relentless bald-faced lies by The Left in Wisconsin never cease to amaze, especially in a state like Wisconsin, where decorum and honesty are still valued. Maybe their dishonesty is the cause of the beat-down Republicans have put on them in recent years, not the cure.

It appears that even with failed former DPW chairman Mike Tate off the party payroll (and on the payroll of the Bucks, oddly) and new, doe-eyed new chair Martha Laning, nothing has really changed on the other side. The professional Left in Wisconsin seems born and bred to constantly lie.


In case the DPW actually takes down the press release, I’ve kept it for posterity below:

Wisconsin ACT scores plummet

Newly released information from the Department of Instruction shows a dramatic decline in student ACT results in the past year. Test scores dropped Wisconsin from 2nd in the country to 41st in the nation among states where more than half the students took the exam.

“The latest information released today is another glaring failure of the Walker Administration to make sound, smart policy decisions to improve education in our state,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning said on Thursday. “As a parent with children who have recently graduated from high school I’ve had a front row seat to the destructive changes that have short-changed our children and their futures. When budget cuts force schools to do more with less it’s no surprise that the quality of the education our children receive inevitably declines.”

In last year’s State of the State address, Governor Scott Walker claimed his education policies were working, boasting that “ACT scores are up and Wisconsin now ranks second in the country.” Now, five days away from Walker’s next State of the State it’s clear that the policies of the last six years have failed schools, students, and parents.

Out of a top score of 36, the average test score in the state dropped from 22.0 to 20.0, which pulls Wisconsin to dead last in the Midwest and tied with Kentucky for 41st in the entire country. Due to funding cuts, damage has been made to Wisconsin’s traditionally high-quality education system and now our kids, businesses and communities will suffer. Nationally, Wisconsin saw the fourth largest cut to K-12 general school aid funding in 2015-16 according to the nonpartisan research policy institute, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While Wisconsin has traditionally ranked above average in terms of ACT scores, these latest numbers place Wisconsin dead last in the Midwest and among the bottom ten states nationally.

“I can only empathize with the parents across the state who see this news and grow ever more concerned with the direction of our state. Our kids deserve the same high-quality education we had as kids and the choices the legislature has made is stealing that from them..” said Laning. “The state of education in Wisconsin is not strong. The newest numbers should be a wake-up call to the governor and the Republican legislature that their misguided priorities are hurting our education system and, therefore, our kids, businesses and communities.”

Plans to move the offices of La Crosse County’s administrative center have been in the works for some time. But the word plan implies something predictable and well-run. For La Crosse, the plan has been a boondoggle and a joke, the butt of which is the La Crosse County taxpayer. But you’ll have to read this whole piece to reach the punchline.

By way of background…

The current La Crosse County Administrative Center (the interior of which is pictured above, someone pointing out what we must assume is a nest of asbestos bees) was built in the 1960s. Like many buildings from that era, its walls and ceilings cover beams and pipes sprayed with asbestos, a carcinogen that’s no joke. The asbestos currently sits undisturbed and is a relatively benign problem in a building that’s seen recent renovations and boasts more modern amenities that most of the buildings at UW-La Crosse. Across the street is the county jail, and lying diagonally to the administrative center is a large parking lot covering a city block. Also located nearby is an office building owned by Associated Bank. Ok, got it?

I’ll make the implied explicit: I am a cynic when it comes to ostensibly unassailable estimates, costs, and projections presented by any political leadership. My chronic inability to believe the “facts” and “figures” proffered by County Board chairwoman Tara Johnson, former chairman Steve Doyle, county administrator Steve O’Malley, and others is informed by a basic distrust of those in power and my assumption, born too often from experience, that these people hold some level of disdain for the intelligence of the people they represent, and thus a disrespect for their rights as taxpayers.

Now back to the story.

The La Crosse Tribune reported that the supposedly intransigent asbestos has actually been removed in some areas of the building in this persuasion piece from November of 2013, discrediting the argument that an entirely new building was needed. But the basic proposition of renovation rather than razing was apparently not the focus of extended consideration by any official; instead that boring option was the target of a propaganda-driven effort to justify building anew. Eight-figure numbers are thrown around in this piece like an out-of-control tennis ball launcher, but the basic idea was that renovating the current building while removing all remaining asbestos would run about $23-24 million.

In that same story, that same firm, River Architects, estimated the cost of building a brand new building in the aforementioned parking lot at several million less than remodeling the otherwise-fine current building, for a total cost of $21.2 million. Shocker. That the preferred outcome of those in charge would just happen to cost out cheaper isn’t the question, the question is who in the county knew who at River Architects.

I remind you: I doubt these numbers’ core veracity not only out of the agony of a chronic cynicism, but because the liberal majority has never produced any competitive bids or even offered proof that such bids were solicited; they have refused to prove the numbers undergirding their arguments have not been rigged, or at least slanted to fit the purpose of a new building. Someone at the county made a call to River Architects, brought in a guy, and cranked out some numbers with sufficient specificity as to sound credible for presentation to the newspaper. That’s most likely what produced these figures – because to assume a half-asked job was done on behalf of using a patsy newspaper to report slanted figures is simply to err on the side of realism.

Shiny and new.

The decision to remodel or move wasn’t agonizing for the County Board, particularly because it’s controlled by a large spend-happy majority who no doubt would love to start new rather than remodel the current building. That’s just what liberals do, and the 6 or 8 conservatives – some of whom have themselves been some combination of wet-waffle and a patsy in supporting this scheme at one turn or the next – are powerless to stop them. So to build new is where they started.

The plan initially was to build an entirely new administrative center in the parking lot, which spanned (it’s now a hole full of cranes) the entire block across the street from both the current administrative center and the county jail, which itself was recently nearly doubled in size. Facing headwinds as to the need for a new building, the loss of parking, and the concurrent loss of City of La Crosse property tax base by not putting something private-sector on the parking lot, the next option was to buy and move into the Associated Bank building mentioned at the top of this piece.

As for the current county administrative center? It was sold for nearly the average cost of a single family home in Onalaska: $250,000. It will be redeveloped into student housing by a partnership of local developers with whom the county has gotten too cozy. To this cynic, the low price sounds a lot like back scratching that throws the interests of the taxpayer, yet again, under the bus.

In an undue haste, a deal was made that forced county leadership, and, less-wittingly, city leadership, into a very tight and financially risky timetable.

Banking on Plan B.

The county decided to buy the nearby Associated Bank office building for $4.6 million, remodel it, and move in – at a cost of about $19.4 million. The bank building promised to be modern, right-sized, and – most importantly – free of asbestos. It’s also near the current county campus of buildings including the jail and relatively shiny and sound Health and Human Services building.

A complex series of deals and digging has ensued in which the parking lot (formally called Lot C for the sake of convenience) is being redeveloped by local businessman Don Weber. A strict timeline that Weber’s organization is strictly holding to is necessary to make sure Associated Bank can move into new digs at that development site before the county moves into the bank’s old place. The parking lot will also host additional developments, from retail to office to residential.

I’m the last to argue that turning a weed-strewn old glob of pavement into a new development is anything but good for downtown La Crosse, but a very important question was kicked down the road by a listless county board: where will all those people park? That’s a huge parking lot that’s being eliminated. To put it briefly, the answer is still elusive. The new development will feature some underground parking to replace the surface lot it’s supplanting. Now, Weber’s organization may be forced to purchase another nearby property and build another parking ramp, potentially exposing the City of La Crosse (a unit of government we must distinguish from La Crosse County; the two have been at odds) to financial risk.

One thing’s clear thus far: were it not for the leadership of Weber (in other words, if the county was handling this by itself), the unnecessarily complex and tight timeline that hasty decisions by the county necessitated would have devolved into unmitigated failure.


Another option considered early was to expand the nearby county Health and Human Services Building and convert the building into a nexus of county operations. That option was quickly nixed in favor of buying the bank due to its size and smaller impact on the already-short parking situation.

As it happened, the bank was never big enough to meet the county’s needs, despite earlier reporting that the current asbestos-ridden hellhole was actually too big. Reported the Tribune early last year, “While the bank’s drive-through area would be enclosed and converted to offices, the approximately 50,000-square-foot building still doesn’t have enough space to completely meet the county’s needs.” So the HHS addition will be needed, anyway.

An old restaurant saying goes, “proper prior planning prevents pisspoor performance.” Perhaps if county admin Steve O’Malley, whose current contract essentially shovels a million dollars into his early retirement/yacht fund, bought into this crude phrase, homeowners in La Crosse County wouldn’t have tire tracks on their face.

So in an article entitled “Firm Recommends HHS Building Addition,” the paper reported that millions more would need to be spent to expand the HHS building, in part to support jobs that are currently at the whim of temporary federal grant money, risky money which is somehow portrayed by the paper as a financial windfall, like a desperate job-seeker who buys a new Tesla after getting a temp job at a concert venue.

Oh, and the firm cited by the article is a familiar one: River Architects.

Taxpayers pay the price.

The County Board recently voted to more than double the county’s debt load to more than $100 million to fund this interlocking series of hasty decisions and boondoggles that will continue until Don Weber and La Crosse mayor Tim Kabat figure out a way to solve the parking disaster the county has created.

Just a few weeks ago, the Tribune again pressed the plunger on the morphine syringe, reporting a relatively manageable impact on taxpayers from these projects “The $23 million in bonding for the three projects will raise the county tax rate by 6 cents in 2016 and 2017, then another 8 cents in 2018. It will add about $20 to the annual tax bill on a $100,000 home, officials said.” That sounds like a good deal!

I urge La Crosse taxpayers to adopt my suspicion of numbers proffered by officials interested in self-promotion and the retention of their own jobs. Figures presented don’t take into account recently relieved debt service on the first jail addition; it doesn’t account for the tremendous expenditures at the county landfill; it doesn’t account for the pressing need for road improvements, which is now spurring its own new tax, a wheel tax surcharge on vehicle registration. These and others were potential inflection points for tax rates – up or down? The current leadership chose the upward trajectory.

More importantly, in a region in which municipal, school, county, and technical school property taxes have continued to rise far faster than wage inflation, area districts are referendum-happy, and tens of millions disappear without notice into unquestioned projects like the Hillview Nursing Home revamp, the real lost opportunities are 1. Tax savings by adopting fiscal restraint and 2. The itinerant financial flexibility such a course opens for frivolities like filling potholes.

Rather than take regional growth for granted, La Crosse County needs to adopt a more fiscally responsible modus operandi. Nay – simply a more responsible one.

The punchline.

Brad Williams of WIZM recently reported that asbestos has been found in the bank building; this, the bank building whose purchase plunged La Crosse County taxpayers into a debt spiral because it would be the right size, and because it didn’t have the asbestos.

Asbestos is a bad thing. But when an incompetent local government sets out to fix it, it manages not to do so, make a huge mess that others must clean up, all the while spending tens of millions, doubling taxpayers’ debt load, debt which today’s first graders will still be paying when they’re looking for their first house in La Crescent.

La Crosse taxpayers: this is a joke, and it’s on you.


The Democrats and their allies in the media were quick to pile on when a few Republicans misguidedly tried to drastically change the state’s open records laws earlier this year. But as the legislature considers another matter of clean government – much-needed reforms to the GAB – The Left has shown its hand.

Over at Right Wisconsin today, I wrote about the subject:

During the fiasco over the open records language, Jon Erpenbach claimed that “just the fact that they even tried to do this in the first place should bother everybody in this state.” Erpenbach was right – Wisconsinites ought to have been bothered by those changes, which would’ve endangered freedom of speech in Wisconsin and allowed government to create its own definition of ethics.

But the people of Wisconsin should be bothered for the same reasons when it comes to the GAB. First, the bureaucracy tasked with defining ethics in our elections unconstitutionally persecuted (using police) outspoken conservatives and Republican donors. Second, people should be bothered by the Democrats’ eagerness to prop up the GAB despite its blatant violations.

The open records and CCAP changes set heads spinning across the conservative grassroots, media, and much of its establishment because those changes were wrong and would have damaged the integrity of Wisconsin’s government.

Reforming the GAB, which the Republicans created, by the way, is imperative to open government. The media likes to refer to the GAB as a “non-partisan” panel. Such a panel is like a Yeti: often talked about, and it’d be cool if they really existed. But they don’t, and never will.

Proposed reforms to the GAB reflect the reality that everything has to do with politics, and a lethargic panel of geriatric old judges can’t and won’t control a staff of lifelong liberal bureaucrats with agendas.

The reform creates a bi-partisan panel – which dispenses with the imaginary unicorn of a non-partisan entity.

Whole thing here.

The La Crosse County Board has passed a new 4-year contract for administrator Steve O’Malley, which I had correctly claimed was a fait accompli.

I was right, but the size and quality of the dissent was heartening. That in a minute.

The contract entitles O’Malley to annual increases in “deferred compensation” and other provisions like a guarantee of the same salary increase as other county managerial staff. Though he has reached the fourth “step” increase outlined in his previous contract of just over $180,000 a year, other fringes from his previous contract continue for the next four years.

The deferred compensation bonuses (which get socked away in a retirement account) add $1,000 annually to the $12,000 he currently receives. So by the time O’Malley, now 59 years old, hobbles across the finish line of this new contract, county taxpayers will be stacking $16,000 a year in bonuses into his account.

The La Crosse Tribune also reported a comment by O’Malley that he’ll be ready by the end of this contract to hang it up and retire to a leisurely life not so encumbered by the heavy burden of negotiating himself lavish new contracts and burning through tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on frivolous projects that Steve Doyle wanted. Obviously I dolled up the quote a bit.

The most interesting fact wasn’t reported by the media. During yesterday’s meeting, Supervisor Hubert Hoffman requested the total compensation of O’Malley under the new terms – including salary, retirement, benefits, and so on. The figure is just north of $230,000 a year.

That means Steve O’Malley will be paid by La Crosse County taxpayers nearly a million dollars over the four years of this new contract. Eight other fiscally conservative supervisors opposed going to closed session, others proposed amending the contract’s lavish terms (which Doyle protested), and in the end a respectable eight voted against the deal.

My esteemed partner in lambasting the misdeeds of lefty crooks has also weighed in, describing the failure of genuine economics to support the kind of pay O’Malley will be enjoying for the next four years. He makes a great point in saying that cronyism neuters market forces, rendering meaningless a free market argument in favor of deals like this.

O’Malley and Doyle last night championed a plot to nearly double the county’s indebtedness – for his part, Doyle (O’Malley’s benefactor) argued that the sky will literally fall and asbestos will rain down if supervisors didn’t approve $51 million in new borrowing.

For their $1 million in outlays to O’Malley, La Crosse County taxpayers got in return $51 million in new debt that we’ll still be paying off when a 79-year-old O’Malley is sipping Metamucil Screwdrivers on a modest yacht named “Thx Lax” on Lake Minnetonka in 2036.

When a ROI is eight figures with a negative sign in front of it, you know something doesn’t add up.

This week my esteemed colleague brought to light the cronyism at play to protect Steve O’Malley’s lofty position as La Crosse County Administrator. Chris’ reporting revealed that County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson sent e-mails to strongarm board members into saying nice things about O’Malley to help through a vote to renew his contract, which provides for healthy raises over the next four years and other benefits. The primary issue is not only how much O’Malley would make when his new contract is approved, it’s also the process to approve it. Chris writes,

The question of giving O’Malley yet another pay raise has not been done in the light of day, which is the modus operandi of County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson and the predecessor to whom she is loyal, now-state-rep Steve Doyle, who created the position and hired O’Malley for it in 2003.

The details make clear a network of public sector paper pushers protecting an old boys’ club without important and necessary checks and balances. Chairwoman Johnson’s principal argument to keep O’Malley is that he’s gotten hefty offers elsewhere and the County should redouble efforts to be sure they keep him.

The simplest equation to justify retaining O’Malley is this: Does the salary and benefits package provided to retain his skill set create efficiencies and provide value to La Crosse County, the Return on Investment for which is greater than the Return on Investment from a smaller salary and benefits package provided to retain the skills of someone else with comparable skills to get comparable results?

Chris’ answer to this convoluted question, in prose more eloquent than mine, is No.

Ostensibly the market is at work to keep O’Malley where he is in La Crosse. But that’s a ruse. Cronyism distorts the market demanding his services in this case.

It’s a liberal predisposition to assume that the government will act more beneficently than a corporation, on the assumption that government is not fueled by profits. If only it were.

The faces of government are elected officials working on the People’s behalf whose directives are executed and regulated by faceless bureaucrats who enjoy healthy compensation, generous benefits, and loads of time off. They have no incentive to treat people like people. (And anyone who counters by complaining about customer service at internet and cable or insurance companies can look up which private industries are the most heavily regulated.)

Until Gov. Scott Walker steamrolled in with is reforms, Wisconsin was a poster child for mindless spending on government without protecting results and outcomes. Just because an institution is funded or subsidized by public money does not remove its obligation to protect budgets and bottom lines. This theme has governed outcry over proposed reforms to the UW system in the next state budget.

This week UW Associate Professor for Educational Policy Nancy Kendall decried the Republican legislature’s initiative to corporatize the state’s highest education system.

Kendall and other hair-on-fire/save-the-tenure loons fear that real budget obligations and real-world market scenarios would make some particularly masturbatory curricula disappear. In particular, the more obscure liberal arts classes attended by six geeks a semester who pen dissertations proposing an end to the suffering of bi-racial transabled migrant Namibian workers who travel by skiff through unregulated waterways on alternating cloudy days, or whatever social justice issue might be en vogue that week. In the same breath, they’ll bitch about debilitating and un-payable student loan debt because students can’t get jobs.

The public sector should not be entitled to carte blanche, unfettered exploration of dull, boring, uninteresting social experiments.

Public sector institutions should be held to tighter, restricted budgetary and operational standards than any corporation. We’re stuck with one government. You can boycott it, but then you’ll go to jail or pay fines. Businesses, on the other hand, live and die at the hand of the market. They’re not stewards of taxpayer dollars, which is more reason to never, ever, give government bailouts or grants.

Market participants aren’t required to consume the products or services of companies whose practices they don’t like. That’s why paying Steve O’Malley’s absurd compensation through 2019 is such malpractice. There’s no alternative administrative body that can provide rules and regulations for La Crosse County citizens to follow. Couched in terms of the cronyism protecting O’Malley’s position, this is one bureaucrat rubbing another’s shoulders. Working in government is no longer a service and it hasn’t been for a long time.

In the market, disruption and new ideas lead to changes and innovation. In government, that’s called a coup.

This weekend, I wrote about the salary of La Crosse County Administrator Steve O’Malley, whom I described as the most overpaid bureaucrat in the state with a salary of more than $180,000 per year. In this post, I’ll make my own (tongue-in-cheek) case to be hired as County Administrator at a rate of $40,000 per year.

I obtained O’Malley’s contract and re-posted it here; it also includes a resolution re-authorizing the contract through Dec. 31, 2019.

The contract provides for the following highlights:

  • A step 4 base salary of $180,245. As noted, I’ll do the job for less than one-quarter that.
  • A $200/month car allowance. My car payment is less than this, but I’ll just pocket the difference.
  • Professional development opportunities (nothing extravagant here, except for the fact that in the past such opportunities included a free Masters degree). I have a bachelor’s in Business Management, but I would be eager to obtain a free master’s degree in public administration.
  • Generous vacation, personal leave, and sick leave days. I’d take half – mathematically, even that is infinitely more than I have now.
  • A $3,000 quarterly “retention” bonus paid simply for not quitting, which is increased by $1,000 each year of the contract. In essence, Steve will be paid an additional $12,000 in bonuses the first year and $16,000 in 2019 for NOT QUITTING HIS JOB or being fired. I’ll keep the bonus – daddy needs a new transmission in his Jetta.
  • O’Malley is required to join, at his own expense, one local civic club or organization. I’ve already served on a number of local boards, executive committees, and organizations.
  • He gets an office and a secretary. Can’t really criticize that.
  • Six months’ salary plus extended benefits should he be terminated; the definition of “Termination” includes “A decision by the County Board to make substantial changes in the authority of the position, or reduce the Administrator’s compensation.” Any effort to cut the position’s pay constitutes termination? I’d take that kind of deal in a second.

An interesting passage in the contract that will be the subject of further commentary is a provision of the contract that says, “The County Administrator agrees to and shall be required to use his best efforts at all times to coordinate, streamline and make efficient County operations.”

A streamlined, more efficient government implies less spending and lower taxes. Taxes have not gone down in La Crosse County since O’Malley was hired, to use whatever is the opposite of hyperbole.

The County Board votes on the contract changes tomorrow night.

PS – Having taken a class in negotiation, I know everything there is to know about negotiation. With that in mind, I’m changing my bargaining position to $60,000. There’s obviously fertile ground here for robbing the shop.

La Crosse County Administrator Steve O’Malley is by a gaping chasm the highest-paid county administrator in the state of Wisconsin. In fact, he makes considerably more than the governor, the state’s top bureaucrat, and any other county administrator – and now he’s up for a raise.

According to this analysis comparing county administrator salaries conducted in 2011, the average salary at that time was $110,481 among the counties that reported their county’s salary data. That year, O’Malley in La Crosse was paid a salary of $167,314, which included 67.37 compensated days off under categories vacation, sick, holiday, and personal leave days, which is more than 13 work weeks.

O’Malley’s salary is $56,833 more than the average county administrator. His salary is much more than triple the pay of a state representative, who makes about $50,000 per year – and about 3.5 times more than the median household income in La Crosse County.

Sometimes, the population of the region a bureaucrat oversees is a factor in determining the amount of money taxpayers are forced to fund the bureaucrat’s position. Since our comparative data is from 2011, we’ll use that year for our comparison.

The population of La Crosse County in 2011 was 115,291. By contrast, the county administrator in Rock County – which in 2011 had 160,026 residents – earned $123,935, or $43,379 less than O’Malley in La Crosse County, which had at that time just 72 percent the population of Rock County. The comparative population today is virtually identical.

In 2015, O’Malley’s salary on the same basis was $183,454 – that’s a pay raise since 2011 of $16,140. O’Malley makes far more than the Governor at $147,328 and the state’s top bureaucrat, Secretary of Administration Scott Neitzel, who makes about $128,000.

The La Crosse Tribune now reports that the La Crosse County Board next week will consider a generous pay raise that will go into the 57-year-old O’Malley’s retirement account:

The new contract, which takes effect at the start of 2016, will increase the annual deferred compensation bonus to $13,000 in 2016 and $16,000 by the end of 2019.

The question of giving O’Malley yet another pay raise has not been done in the light of day, which is the modus operandi of County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson and the predecessor to whom she is loyal, now-state-rep Steve Doyle, who created the position and hired O’Malley for it in 2003.

That the terms of O’Malley’s contract would be revised did not come up in last Monday’s planning meeting, according to a La Crosse County Board supervisor with whom I spoke but who, by my own choice, I will not name. Instead, a cryptic email was sent around to the county board asking supervisors to rate O’Malley’s performance, without mentioning that the evaluation would be used as propaganda justifying giving O’Malley a contract extension and pay raise.

(The evaluation was not anonymous and opens by asking supervisors for “Any positive feedback that you have to offer on Steve’s performance.”) 

In fact, the four-year pay raise for O’Malley was never on any agenda. Instead, following her asking the County Board to evaluate O’Malley’s job performance, Johnson gave an interview to the La Crosse Tribune in which she praised his performance, described the terms of the contract and pay raise, and justified the move as part of a retention effort. An agenda for the executive committee meeting that was posted on June 4 and held on June 10 stated that the meeting was to go to closed session to discuss the terms of the contract, but no communication on the matter was sent until the story had already posted to the Tribune website, meaning supervisors found out when everyone else did.

In a wee-hours-of-Thursday-morning email to County Board supervisors, Johnson wrote:

Thursday’s La Crosse Tribune will have an article about the Executive Committee’s decision on Wednesday to recommend extending Steve O’Malley’s contract and the details of its terms…Although I am not a consumer of it, I assume this message is lagging the on-line version of the Tribune.  However, hopefully it is a heads-up, albeit brief, in advance of the publishing of the print version…The Executive Committee will hold a special meeting at 5:30 next Thursday to vote on the resolution that will be on the County Board agenda that evening…I look forward to our discussion next week on this important matter, and, as always, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

The email came out at 2:48 a.m. this past Thursday, after the Tribune article had posted, and was the first that supervisors not included in the closed-door executive committee meeting on the matter had heard the details of the contract changes.

An additional meeting to consider the contract changes will occur immediately before the next meeting of the County Board, where the changes will be voted on and will almost certainly pass. “We were not told about this in any of our meetings,” the supervisor I spoke with said. The supervisor confirmed that it’s fair to say no county board supervisor was told about the plans for O’Malley’s contract prior to the Tribune article being posted and Johnson’s email being sent just after bartime.

O’Malley has always had a cushy gig; when he was hired in 2003, he did not have a master’s degree, usually a prerequisite for such a job, let alone the highest-paying one in the state. As part of the deal O’Malley’s master’s degree was paid for by the county.

In 2011, under the leadership of Chairman Steve Doyle, the County Board considered new language for O’Malley’s contract that replaced the term “as per contract” with “indefinite” granting O’Malley essentially a lifelong gravy train and, should he be fired, a golden parachute entitling him to exhaust the contract.

The Tribune story dutifully repeated the pleas of Johnson that nobody but O’Malley can do the job he does, and La Crosse County should pay him whatever he wants to keep him from leaving:

County board Chairwoman Tara Johnson said O’Malley’s level of expertise and experience merits making sure he’ll stay. He regularly is approached about other jobs, she said, and in 2013 was a finalist as administrator for Hennepin County, which has the highest population in Minnesota.

The option to leverage oneself into a massive pay raise simply by entertaining an equally lucrative offer from another county closer to home must be nice. But the truth of the matter isn’t that the world lacks public admin graduates with experience as flacks in county administrators’ offices, but that leadership in La Crosse County likes having O’Malley around, and is too ineffective to even successfully find a deputy administrator for nearly $100,000 a year.

(My guess is that the search for a deputy administrator, for which I could’ve recommended several outstanding candidates, was insincere and an effort to establish justification for deals like this.)

As a matter of basic economics, if Hennepin County (ten times the size of La Crosse County with a population of 1.2 million) can pay O’Malley considerably more money than La Crosse County can, he should turn in his keys and pack up the station wagon. O’Malley’s salary should be dictated by the market, even if he’s really the best thing to happen to La Crosse since the World’s Largest Six Pack. If he’s eminently qualified to manage a much larger county and they’re lining up to pay him commensurately, then that’s what he should do.

The insinuation that nobody but Steve O’Malley can or will do the job at a rate that’s fair to taxpayers is absurd, and if he truly would leave but for the largesse available on the backs of La Crosse taxpayers, I hope he doesn’t let the door hit him on the way out.

Simply as a share of the La Crosse County budget, Steve O’Malley’s lavish salary is a raindrop in a downpour. But as a symbol of the cronyism and corruption of his benefactor, Steve Doyle, he’s both a jewel and a monument to the rotten state of our county government and the spectacular failure of La Crosse’s media.