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In May, in response to the suit, the Council repealed its specific discriminatory language in favor of a general goal of diversity.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.