Mayor Tom Barrett backed by suburban officials to keep leading Milwaukee workforce development

Mayor Tom Barrett backed by suburban officials to keep leading Milwaukee workforce development

By Mary Spicuzza

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

August 2, 2017

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has received the backing of suburban officials from throughout Milwaukee County to continue serving as the leader of area workforce development efforts.

The group, known as the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council, voted overwhelmingly last month to keep Barrett as the chief elected official. 

The 13-2 vote, which was taken during a July 20 ICC meeting, came after a battle for control over worker training between Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. The ICC is made up of the mayor, village president or administrator from each of the 19 municipalities in Milwaukee County.

"The mayors and village presidents elected me to continue in my role as the chief elected official and I'm very pleased with that," Barrett said in a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Barrett and Abele in June went before a state panel known as the Governor's Council on Workforce Investment to argue their cases.

And in July, Ray Allen, the state's workforce development secretary, wrote a letter urging local officials to attempt to reach an agreement about who should lead job creation in Milwaukee "in an effort to build county and regional collaboration which meets the demands of employers and job seekers" in the area.

The mayor said the 13-2 vote showed that a clear agreement had been reached.

"From our standpoint, having an election makes the decision," Barrett said.

It's not yet clear whether state officials agree. Spokesmen for Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the state Department of Workforce Development had no comment about whether Barrett will continue leading Milwaukee's worker training efforts. 

Employ Milwaukee, an agency that teams up with companies to expand recruitment and training for workers in southeastern Wisconsin, has been at the heart of the tug of war. 

Ten years ago, former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle took control of the agency away from the county and gave it to Barrett. In late April, Abele wrote to Walker, asking him to return it to the county.

Abele said state officials suggested the shift, but added that he thinks it makes sense.

In a statement Wednesday, Abele said: "Given the news that a global employer will set up a massive operation in southeastern Wisconsin — one that will surely mean jobs for Milwaukee County — it's going to be more important than ever to take a regional approach to workforce development. Transit and housing will be a part of the equation as well. Regardless of the oversight of this agency, as the largest provider of these services in the area, Milwaukee County must be included in the conversation in order for these efforts to be successful."

Barrett has strongly fought moving the program to the county.

"We're going to continue to have Employ Milwaukee really address the needs of the entire Milwaukee County area and even beyond that," Barrett said last month. "We think that there are going to be more opportunities for workers beyond Milwaukee County, and we want to make sure that all people who live in Milwaukee County have an opportunity to be part of that."