Ten Stories That Changed Our Lives: #6 Milwaukee Co. Pension Scandal
Tom Ament. | Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
On February 26, 2002, embattled Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament stepped down from office, more than a year after the County Board quietly approved a generous and extremely controversial pension plan. The plan included "sweeteners" for thousands of workers and totaled millions of dollars.
Before resigning, Ament admitted the board and his administration were negligent in analyzing the pension changes. Ament, by the way, was set to receive a lump sum payment of more than $2-million.
"In purely statistical terms, this was the biggest political scandal in Milwaukee history," recalled Bruce Murphy, the reporter who broke the story on MilwaukeeWorld.com.
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"I spent a considerable amount of time running the numbers," Murphy told Newsradio 620 WTMJ. "I started with Ament's pension and once I got to $2-million, I thought, 'I don't think this guy is going to get re-elected.'"
In the months following Ament's resignation, seven county supervisors who voted for the pension plan lost recall elections.
"They have only themselves to blame," said Murphy.
The scandal resulted in the down-sizing of the County Board and led to the special election of State Representative Scott Walker (R-Wauwatosa) as County Executive.
Nearly eight years later, the millions of dollars lost in the scandal can still be felt by taxpayers.
"It's had massive consequences. They've had to cut costs everywhere," Murphy explained. "You've got declining parks, you've got a courthouse that's often unclean, you've got services and employees being slashed."
The scandal also blew away the clean image of Wisconsin government and began to shed light on the "cronyism" in Milwaukee County. A culture that Murphy believes still exists.
"A lot of (the cronyism culture) has been rooted out as a result of the pension scandal," Murphy said. "But I doubt very much that it is completely gone."