Car allowance scrutinized

Collection by jailed alderman prompts measure to halt it in some situations

After reports that former Ald. Michael McGee was collecting his car allowance from jail, another Milwaukee alderman has introduced a measure to cut off the payments for Common Council members who can’t perform their duties.

Ald. Terry Witkowski’s ordinance would halt an alderman’s transportation allowance – currently $337 a month – if “the member is incapacitated for an entire month by illness, injury or otherwise fails to discharge the duties of the office.”

Sitting in jail would fit that definition, Witkowski said.

McGee was arrested last Memorial Day and charged with shaking down business owners for bribes, buying votes and conspiring to have a man beaten. He has been held in jail since then awaiting trial. But because he has not been convicted of any felonies, he remained in office and on the city payroll until his term ended April 14.

While in jail, McGee tried to handle some city business by phone, even introducing legislation and running unsuccessfully for re-election. But he couldn’t attend any council meetings and council President Willie Hines Jr. kicked him off all the committees on which he had served.

The Journal Sentinel reported last month that McGee was paid $67,023 behind bars. That included $3,443 for the car allowance, even though the state had revoked his driver’s license before he was arrested.

All aldermen receive the car allowance without filing any mileage reports or gasoline receipts. Even if an alderman doesn’t drive, the money could cover bus and taxi fares, Witkowski noted.

“We can’t create a law retroactively, but we can make sure that if, God forbid, something like this should happen in the future . . . we can do something about it,” Witkowski said.

The measure will be considered Thursday by the council’s Finance & Personnel Committee.

In an unrelated development, an ethics statement filed by McGee shows that he reported receiving three cell phones, worth a total of $150, from Magic Foods, the store that prosecutors have alleged was the center of McGee’s vote-buying operation during a 2007 recall campaign.

Magic Foods owner Jack Kheirieh is now a key witness in the case against McGee and ran unsuccessfully for his seat in the Feb. 19 primary. Kheirieh declined to comment on the cell phones, citing the criminal case.

The ethics statement was filed by McGee in late December, along with other papers required for his re-election bid. It was supposed to cover his financial interests in 2006, but the cell phones were not mentioned on the 2006 ethics report he filed as an incumbent alderman.

McGee and former Ald. Mike D’Amato were among a small group of current and former city officials who failed to file required ethics statements about their 2007 financial interests by late April, according to city Ethics Board records.

If they don’t file the reports before the board’s May 21 meeting, the board could lodge formal complaints against them, Ethics Board research assistant Nola Devereaux warned in a letter to D’Amato, McGee and the others. But the threatened penalties – withholding paychecks and informing the people who gave them their jobs – would appear to have little impact on aldermen who are no longer in office.

D’Amato, who did not seek re-election, said his failure to file a report was an oversight and he would comply by May 21. Devereaux

source: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=749488

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