Citizens group wants new Milwaukee chief

(MILWAUKEE, Wisc.) -- The standoff between Police Chief Art Jones and his boss, the Fire and Police Commission, is quickly moving toward a showdown.

And the first real salvo is expected to be launched this week, fittingly, on Pearl Harbor Day.

On Thursday, the five-member commission will take up a request from a community group demanding that the panel, for the first time ever, issue an ultimatum to the chief about how to run his department.

Specifically, the Southside Organizing Committee, led by Jack Szymborski, wants the commission to tell Jones to add cops to two south side police districts that it says are short-handed. The group will be busing supporters to the meeting to put pressure on the commission.

"We hope that we either get more officers or a new chief," said Szymborski, who sat on the mayor's crime task force with Fire and Police Commission Chairman Robert "Woody" Welch. "That's my hope."

Welch said he and the other commissioners are taking the request seriously and will probably turn to City Attorney Grant Langley for advice on just what authority the commission has.

Though Welch said it's never been done before, state law allows the panel to issue directives to the city's fire and police chiefs, and they are required to follows those orders. But Welch said it's unclear what the commission can do if they balk.

"The commission has an obligation to fully understand its powers and to assert them when needed. We're not simply the equivalent of a second signature on a check," Welch said. "We actually are held accountable for the operations of these departments."

Jones, who's adopted a bunker mentality in response to the rising tension, didn't return our calls Friday.

The request by Szymborski's group comes at a particularly crucial time in the ongoing feud between the chief, Mayor John Norquist and the commission, which is hand-picked by the mayor.

Norquist's relationship with Jones, his former pal and bodyguard, began to sour before the mayor's re-election last spring and bottomed out over the summer when the two got into a shouting match outside a Milwaukee church over crime- fighting strategies.

Shortly thereafter, the commission hit Jones with a poor report card, infuriating the chief to the point where he wouldn't even sign it, and ordered him and the city fire chief to undergo informal reviews each quarter.

Jones countered in October by sending what has been gently described as a "screw you" letter in response to commission requests for information on crime rates and gun seizures.

Welch began saying last month that the commission soon would begin asserting itself more aggressively.

All signals suggest that time is fast approaching.

Szymborski's letter arrived, conveniently, just as some commissioners happened to be looking for the right opportunity or issue with which to confront the chief. The community group's letter -- which even cited the proper state statutes -- provides the commission political cover to lay the groundwork for a confrontation with Jones.

"It's coincidental," Szymborski contended.

What's unclear is what form the commission's ultimatum will take. It could use Szymborski's request, its own earlier call for a new strategy on gun confiscations or a broader demand that Jones adopt the proposals from the mayor's task force.

What is known is that the commission and the chief are engaged in a high-stakes game in which the rule book is still being written.

"The statute contains sufficient ambiguity that it would need some clarification by the appropriate legal authority," Welch said.

Read: It's feeding time for the lawyers.

Bench-warmers: The bill creating a new federal judge's post in Green Bay hasn't even landed on President Clinton's desk, but the speculation about who would get the plum assignment has already begun.

Names drawing early attention include Greg Conway, a prominent Green Bay trial attorney, and John Byrnes, Milwaukee's assistant U.S. trustee.

Insiders say they expect other applicants to include Brown County Circuit Court judges, perhaps a state Appeals Court judge or two and possibly James Sickel, the U.S. magistrate currently in Green Bay.

Tom Schneider, the U.S. attorney in Milwaukee, is taking credit for helping push the proposal but has already taken himself out of the running for the job. Many doubt he would be selected even if he reverses himself and applies.

Seeking the true value: Things may be getting a little hotter for veteran bankruptcy lawyer Jack Shlimovitz, who's been under an FBI microscope for much of this year.

The feds have been investigating since Shlimovitz and his bankruptcy client, Terry Serwatt, said in a court hearing that Serwatt's 10-acre Germantown property was worth about $70,000 -- a claim that Byrnes labeled as ridiculously and maybe even fraudulently low.

Unfortunately for Shlimovitz and Serwatt, the home just sold for $155,000.

The lower the estimated value, the better the chance that Serwatt had at hanging on to it. Conversely, the higher the stated worth, the more likely a court would sell the property to recoup cash for creditors.

Shlimovitz, who was once one of the state's biggest bankruptcy lawyers, was indicted in 1993 on a charge of lying to the court. The charge was dropped in a plea bargain that resulted in his pleading guilty to contempt and forfeiting $21,000 in fees.

Cary Spivak and Dan Bice can be contacted by phone at (414) 223-5468 or e-mail at sb@onwis.com.

Citizens Group Pushing For New Police Chief Cary Spivak And Dan Bice Of The Journal Sentinel Staff December 4, 2000 Monday Final Edition Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel December 4, 2000 Monday Final Edition Terms and Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

Back to previous page