The Land of Misfit Toys

The other day David Blaska’s lawsuit was settled, but Blaska won his war back in May.

Blaska and the conservative nonprofit law firm WILL went after the Madison City Council for requiring that its new Police Oversight Board be made up of various racial and gender identity groups most definitely not including straight white guys, of which Blaska is one. He applied for a position on the Board, predictably didn’t get appointed and sued on the basis of race discrimination.

In May, in response to the suit, the Council repealed its specific discriminatory language in favor of a general goal of diversity. In other words, he won and so did the cause of justice. As Chief Justice John Roberts has written, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This week it was revealed that WILL got its legal fees of $46,000 and Blaska got a token settlement of $100 from the city’s insurance company.

That would be a happy ending except that the Board still exists and still keeps messing things up. The Board was created amid the genuine concern (but also some hysteria) following the police murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd and the police shooting in Kenosha of Jacob Blake. While there certainly are cultural problems in police departments in other cities, Madison’s department is not one of them. An oversight board that might make sense in Minneapolis or Milwaukee makes none here. It’s an unnecessary committee in a city that has too many and a waste of about a half million dollars a year in taxpayer funds.

I wish I could be happy to say that that half million dollars hasn’t actually been spent, but I would like even a senseless committee to function professionally. The reason most of that money has been saved is because the unneeded committee has not been able to do the one main thing it was supposed to do: hire an unnecessary “police monitor.”

Created in September of 2020, the Board first met in November of that year. It spent an inordinate amount of time just getting organized, but when it did it hired a search firm, which found 30 candidates. Of the two finalists one dropped out and it turned out the second had a sketchy past (why the search firm hadn’t found that is a good question) and he dropped out as well.

So, the Board started over and searched for another search firm. Only none applied. Now, let’s stop right here. Search firms make money by taking on contracts like this one. Just how bad was this Board’s reputation in the search firm world that not a single one thought it was worth the aggravation?

Let’s move on. Having been shut out by the firms, the Board plunged ahead on its own. It now has several finalists and we might get a hire someday soon — almost two years after the Board started.

Oh, and along the way, for all this great work the Board voted itself bonuses of up to $20,000. The Council and Mayor wisely lost that request somewhere.

Look, I don’t think the Board or the Monitor should exist in the first place. I suppose I should be pleased that two years of dithering has saved the city some money, a lot more than the city’s insurance company had to pay out over the discrimination suit. I’m fine with the board being made up of diverse people, although a diversity of opinion would be a good thing in addition to a diversity of races and gender identities.

But even people asked to do a senseless job should do it professionally. The Police Oversight Board is a bad idea, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it has turned out to be if its members could just get their act together.

C’mon people. Hire a great person for the Monitor job. Make the net result an even better department than the one we already have. Justify a half million dollars in expenditures. Prove me wrong. Please.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “The Land of Misfit Toys

  1. PCOB just needs a fresh start. I recommend a new acrohym:

    C ivilians
    H ave
    A nother
    O fficial
    S capegoat

    And rather than race, maybe an IQ standard?

    Honestly I don’t know what decent person would be able to do the police monitor job for any length of time in this city.

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  2. “An oversight board that might make sense in Minneapolis or Milwaukee makes none here. It’s an unnecessary committee in a city that has too many and a waste of about a half million dollars a year in taxpayer funds.”

    I’m sorry, are you saying there should be no independent oversight of the police department, or is there already some person/office serving this function that I’m unaware of.

    All police departments need civilian supervision. I did not get the impression in my brief venture into police reporting in Madison that MPD is an exception. I remember the case of that idiot cop who shot that unarmed musician dead outside of his apartment abut a decade ago…the same cop had already cost the city tens of thousands of dollars for needlessly beating the crap out of some college kid and shooting out somebody’s tires for no good reason. Slap on the wrist, slap on the wrist…

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    1. There should be civilian oversight and there is already plenty of it. The Madison department is overseen by the Police & Fire Commission, by the Public Safety Review Board, by the citizen City Council and by the Mayor. I never understood why, if there was some idea that more oversight was needed, the Council didn’t simply give more responsibility to the PSRB. There was no need for another committee in a city that already has over 100 of them.

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  3. I think the board as imagined by the commission that suggested by the extensive long term study that recommended it be created was a great idea. The PFC has always been a barrier to real accountability. However after 2020 activists got the qouta’s and the appointment process taken out of the hands of our elected representatives. This has doomed it to failure, it has been entirely captured by a small group of left wingers. Many of whom don’t even like each other, it’s completely unable to function and unpopular. The Mayor should appoint who they want and the council should approve or deny them based in the usual process city committees are chosen. We should also get rid of some committees they are a waste of resources.

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