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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alexander Orlowski: The Aftermath

by capper

Over the last two days, I've written of the life and the way-too-early death of Alexander Orlowski, an inmate who died from an accidental drug overdose at the House of Correction.

So what happens now?

As I mentioned yesterday, the Alexander's parents, Gary and Patti Orlowski, have a claim against the county, as a precursor to a lawsuit for the County's negligence in ensuring his safety. County Board Supervisor Mark Borkowski, whose district includes the HOC, feels that the Orlowskis have a pretty good chance of winning any lawsuit.

The Orlowskis realize that a lawsuit won't bring their son back. But they also feel that those responsible should be held to some sort of accountability.

The inmate that "sold" the Methadone to Alexander, Samuel Fitzpatrick, is facing charges of reckless homicide, under the Len Bias Law.

Despite a continuous series of crises at the House of Correction, including massive overtime payments due to being excessively short staffed, Alexander's death, and a damning audit done by the feds, Superintendent Ron Malone was fully endorsed by County Executive Scott Walker for reappointment after the elections this spring. After a lot of argument and delay, and with a lot of lobbying by Walker and his Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli, the County Board finally affirmed the reappointment.

All of this, only to have Walker throw Malone under the bus in the 2009 budget proposal, in which the County has decided to take the House of Correction, the Community Correctional Center, and the work release program and put it under the auspices of the Sheriff's Office.

Supervisor Borkowski told me that he has problems with the way that Walker and Nardelli so strongly commended Malone for supposedly turning around the HOC after the audit, only to turn on him months later with the budget proposal. The cynical side of me believes that Walker was planning for a long time to dump Malone, and thought it better to just keep him for a few more months than to put someone else in his place until he could foist the whole mess onto Clarke. I also recall Supervisor John Weishan arguing against the transfer of the HOC, stating that it would only allow Walker to walk away from the mess he created, without holding him accountable.

Clarke wasted no time and went down there to check things out. It does not appear that Malone did a lot to fix things after all, if one can believe Clark that is. His reputation appears pretty questionable as of late. I do know from inside sources that Clarke has already kicked Malone out of his own office and took it as his own.

It is questionable on what kind of effect that this change will have on things. Vanessa Allen of the Public Policy Forum had written a post a while ago, raising some interesting questions on how this might effect sentences issued by judges and other issues.

Borkowski told me that while he has no confidence in the current administration, he is not so sure that Clarke will actually improve things. He described the switch as being a panacea to the HOC's woes, but thinks it could turn out to be more of a placebo.

Borkowski goes on to point out that there might be some strife at the HOC between the COs and the Sheriff. One must concur when they think of all the lawsuits that were filed by the deputies' union. Clarke lost almost every one of them to boot.

It is also important to remember that Clark, about three or four years ago, lost a major lawsuit alleging that the Sheriff's Office and the Milwaukee County Jail were infringing on people's rights due to filthy living conditions and extraordinarily long waits, just to get booked. Clarke's incompetence cost taxpayers millions of dollars on that one alone.

For what it's worth, I have mixed feelings about the change.

Part of me agrees that it is only logical that the Sheriff's Office and the HOC be combined, since their work is already fairly symbiotic. It should help things go smoother and eliminate a level of unnecessary bureaucracy.

I do have concerns with putting the Sheriff in charge of 48% of the tax levy. Given his propensity of getting sued and losing those lawsuits, is it really wise to give him a chance to pick up even more lawsuits and lose more of our tax money?

Overall, I do think that while it is unfortunate that Walker will again get off without being held responsible for the disaster he created at HOC, that the merger is a good thing. It just points out that we need to get Walker and Clarke out of office, and put in people with at least some rudimentary understanding of what's going on and how to do things the proper way. And the sooner we do that, the better we will all be for it.

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