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County reform helps communities

April 19, 2013

I have had the great privilege of serving as president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin and working with Milwaukee's Hispanic community for almost a quarter of a century. This year will be my last at the helm of the chamber, and I fully intend to use every last day of my tenure to help move my community and all of Milwaukee forward.

If you've heard me speak about the chamber, you've heard me say that the "difficult" we do immediately, but that the "impossible" takes a little longer. We are a community that does not give up, that works hard and reaches our goals.

For many years, I have seen the challenges Milwaukee County is facing and the effect it has on the Hispanic community. I make it my No. 1 priority to care for and provide support to the communities the chamber serves, and, for that reason, I have made Milwaukee County reform a key focus of our efforts. Without reform, I fear for the future of Milwaukee's Hispanic population and all Milwaukee residents.

The community members served by the Hispanic Chamber rely on the county to deliver the services they need. Services such as transit, social services, behavioral health and public safety are vital to my community, and they are severely threatened by Milwaukee County's fiscal crisis. We need smarter, more effective and more cost-efficient government if we are to protect and enhance these key services that make our community a great place to live, work and play.

Many have said that county reform is impossible; I disagree. It certainly takes time, studies and reports, but that work has been done and we are now in a place that we can make it happen. After many years, we have an opportunity before us to reform Milwaukee County governance in a way that will have a dramatic, positive impact on Milwaukee County and give our residents a direct voice in how they want to be governed - all while maintaining the current number of supervisors, ensuring proper representation.

The time is right to empower citizen-legislators, rather than career politicians, by instituting a part-time County Board just like every other county in the state. There is legislation being considered by the state Legislature that would do just that.

The legislation would strengthen the future of Milwaukee County by restoring functionality and balance to the governance structure. The legislation would limit board compensation to a level that would still be significantly greater than the next highest-paid county board in Wisconsin. Most important, voters would be empowered to choose whether they prefer to be represented by a part-time board by direct approval through a referendum on the April 2014 ballot.

Making the County Board part time, and bringing overall board spending in line with state and national norms, would quickly and effectively change the county's culture, foster good governance and effectively meet the needs of taxpayers. It would reduce the county budget by millions of dollars annually and free up much-needed resources for transit, parks and other key county services, services my community depends on. It also would focus the board's attention on broader policy and fiscal issues, fostering a healthier division of responsibilities between the legislative and executive branches of county government.

The board would maintain important checks and balances, including the ability to set and approve budgets. Currently, costs associated with the County Board are two to three times higher than peer counties across the nation. This legislation would bring the cost of the Milwaukee County Board closer to its peers in Wisconsin and nationally.

This is my last year as president and CEO of the award-winning Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but it is not my last year as a member of this community. The changes outlined in this legislation would have a lasting effect on our communities as well as current and future Milwaukee residents.

The legislation will be considered by the Assembly's Government Operations and State Licensing Committee on April 10. I encourage you to join me in supporting this legislation and asking your legislators to do the same.

Maria Monreal-Cameron is president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin and part of a broad-based coalition supporting the Make it Your (MY) Milwaukee Initiative. For more information on the initiative and to learn more about the legislation, go towww.MakeitYourMilwaukee.com

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