David Clarke astride his horse in one of many Milwaukee-area parades

David Clarke is seeking his third term as Milwaukee County Sheriff, still running as a Democrat even while his philosophies and public appearances make you think he is a Republican. The GOP candidate, Steven Duckhorn, has had a difficult time getting traction in this campaign and Clarke says his opponent’s problem is not having the experience, education or training necessary to be Sheriff.

Clarke took time to answer some questions for me, via an email exchange, about what he would like to accomplish and continue doing in a next term.

What are your plans for the county’s correctional facilities, and how will you use rehabilitative programming – like boot camp programs, religious programming and worker training classes?

Clarke promises to run both facilities in a safe, efficient and effective manner as he has for the last seven plus years.

“When I took over responsibility for the South Facility in Franklin in 2009, it was a disaster, according to the National Institute of Corrections” Clark said. “One year later, Dr. Jeffery Schwartz, who did the first assessment, returned to do a follow-up assessment.  He described the turnaround, in such a short period of time, as ‘nothing short of miraculous.’  At the same time we eliminated a $5.5 million deficit.  That helps the county tremendously as it faces serious financial difficulties.

“The new re-entry into the community program going into effect in December is the Discipline, Order, Training and Structure (D.O.T.S.) program.  The current disorganized model is outdated, expensive, ineffective and not reducing recidivism.  The D.O.T.S. model is evidence-based and currently being used by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) and the Michigan Department of Corrections.  My opponent’s criticism of this evidence-based model is due to his lack of basic understanding about human and criminal behavior.  Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board opined that the program deserves a chance.”

What is the role of the county sheriff in a major metropolitan area that has numerous other law enforcement agencies, and how will the Sheriff’s Department interact with the MPD and suburban police departments?

“The role of the sheriff is codified in the state constitution, court decisions, state statutes and opinions from the attorney general.   My opponent believes that he can shove this aside and create his own description of the role of sheriff.  It’s a fundamental difference we have.  I believe in the rule of law.  My opponent’s view is simply due to his lack of executive-level experience and understanding of the history of the office of sheriff in the United States.  The sheriff  is the top law enforcement officer in the county.  My opponent wants to cede this responsibility to others.

“Gen. Colin Powell says that (for people in leadership positions), wanting to simply get along with everyone and always looking for consensus instead of taking charge are signs of weakness.  He says that when you exercise leadership it makes others uncomfortable and they may even get angry at you.  You have to be willing to and have the courage to disappoint people sometimes.  It is undoubtedly going to happen.  Having served in this leadership position for seven years, I know. I agree with General Powell.

“A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision has made it clear that a sheriff cannot remove (county) law enforcement services from a city within the county simply because it has its own municipal police force.  This is where my executive level experience serves citizens in Milwaukee County well.  Before I became sheriff, this organization continually turned in multi-million dollar deficits.  I have balanced every budget I’ve been given, and in fact have turned over budget surpluses for six consecutive years, because of my elimination of duplicate services and my focus on reducing costs while increasing safety.

Violent crime was down 10% in Milwaukee County in 2009, our lakefront and parks are safer places, and a bus ride is safer for transit riders.  Assaults against bus drivers are down 67% and assaults against passengers are down 81%. Our drunk-driving task force has removed more drunks from the county freeway system than ever before, which has led to some of the lowest crash and fatality rates in the county’s history.  To date in 2010, we have not had one drunk-driving-related fatality on the freeway system in Milwaukee County.  By this time in both 2009 and 2008 we had five each year.

What is your management philosophy in regards to deputies and civilian employees?

“My management style is to take charge and be decisive.  As sheriff I represent the public at large, the voters of the county.  I learned this about our representative democracy in the third grade.  A fundamental difference between my opponent and me is that he wants to represent special interests.   The county has a labor negotiator that negotiates with the unions.  My opponent’s position would leave the voters and citizens without representation.  It’s anathema to our representative democracy.  My opponent wants to be liked and well thought of by the employees.  Being liked is not high on my priority list.  Again, General Colin Powell describes my opponent’s philosophy as a sign of weakness.  He says the hard truth is not everyone deserves to be with an organization and when a leader recognizes this, they have to have the courage to fire them or it will deflate the high performers.

“My message is clear.  This is public service, it sometimes calls for sacrifice.  Employees are expected to perform at a high level every day and will be judged on that performance.  Nothing but one’s personal best will be accepted.  Under performers will be notified of such and if performance does not improve they won’t be here.  Our citizens and taxpayers deserve nothing less.  Public employees are well compensated for the responsibility they have.  They are not being held here against their will.  If they feel that the bar has been set too high they are free to find employment elsewhere in an economy where 17 million people are looking for work and would probably love to get the opportunity to serve their community in this capacity!  I have no tolerance for whiners.”

What cost-saving measures would you implement during your term to reduce the tax burden of the department, and what areas of the department need more funding and why?

“I have balanced six consecutive budgets, after years of multi-million dollar deficits from previous administrations.

“My opponent talks about my ‘budget cuts.’  His lack of understanding about the public agency budgeting process is evident,” Clarke said, moving into a lengthy explanation of the county budgeting process.   He noted that the Sheriff must live within the boundaries of the county board-approved budget and that he has no authority to “cut” budgets budgets.

“That authority is vested in the legislative and executive branch.  My opponent, because of his lack of executive level training, education and experience, wrongly believes that he can do whatever he wants with the budget after it is passed.  His approach is what led to the multi-million dollar deficits of the past.

“It’s important for the sheriff to continually reduce costs by increasing employee productivity, outsource if cost savings can be gained, and eliminate work that no longer needs to be done.  I have instituted a mindset of efficiency into this organization.  My opponent’s approach is what leads to the increased cost of government.  He wants to be liked by the special interests and maintain the status quo.  I have never received an increase in my budget except for the rate of inflation and have enhanced public safety each year.  I’ve done more without receiving more.  It’s not about having more resources; it’s about being more determined.”

What makes you the most qualified person to be Milwaukee County Sheriff?

“I have the experience of currently being the sheriff for the past seven years.  There is no substitute for experience.

“There is a reason that my opponent hasn’t emphasized his qualifications, his education, training and experience to even hold the position of sheriff.  His motivation is purely political.  Instead he resorts to the politics-as-usual approach of discrediting my education, training, experience, and leadership capability.  People are tired of his style of politics.  My opponent is a rank and file beat officer.  He has never been in a supervisory position let alone a middle manager or command officer.  He wants to forgo the necessary process that prepared me to be the chief law enforcement executive of the largest sheriff’s office in the state of Wisconsin in a county of just under one million residents, with an annual budget of $165 million, 1,400 employees and responsibility for 3,000 inmates.   Gone is the day of Milwaukee County voters electing the town good ol’ boy for sheriff.  It is a professional position that requires education, training and advanced preparation.”

Bonus Question: Will you run again for Milwaukee Mayor or seek the County Executive position, depending on the outcome of the gubernatorial race?

“I learned a long time ago to take life one day at a time.  My only goal is to get re-elected sheriff and continue serving the people of Milwaukee County in this capacity.”

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