RACINE — The city has released the cost, to date, of the study Mayor Cory Mason ordered after allegations of racism, sexism and low morale were revealed by a survey of the Racine Police Department.
The total so far: $118,088.73. That’s how much the city has paid to Milwaukee-based MWH Law Group between May 2018 and the present. City Administrator James Palenick said he expects that number to grow, although he isn’t sure by how much, as the city awaits at least one more billing from MWH.
The study is almost done, Palenick said Monday. He expects the completed study to be presented at a meeting of the Police and Fire Commission in March, although no meeting has yet been scheduled, according to the city’s official calendar.
The amount spent thus far was revealed Monday after The Journal Times received a response from the city regarding an open records request. The figure was also discussed at a Finance and Personnel Committee meeting Monday evening.
Sixth District Alderman Sandy Weidner said she has been requesting this information for months from the Office of the Mayor, but claimed that the mayor has been ignoring her emailed questions.
She said that her inquiries have been running into “an iron curtain.”
“It shouldn’t be this hard for an alderman to get information,” she said, referring to her communication to the City Council last week, which led to Monday’s discussion within the Finance and Personnel Committee.
While Palenick said that the vast majority of the work on the study is done, the city is presently conducting a “fact check” of MWH Law Group’s findings, in order to ensure that everything detailed within the to-be-published study is entirely factual. This is especially important and worth the waiting for, Palenick said, because of potentially sensitive personnel matters encompassed by the study.
“There are some very serious issues involved here,” Palenick said.
The city administrator is confident the study would not be postponed further. Palenick added that he, Mason and City Attorney Scott Letteney are frustrated by how long it’s already taken to get to this point.
Why no bids?
Weidner believes that the decision-making process to identify who would carry out the study should have come before the City Council and included a bidding process, not been solely approved by Mason and given to MWH.
Last June, the bidding process for a separate study of management of the Police Department was waived by the City Council at the request of Police Chief Art Howell, Weidner said, and she wants to know why that didn’t occur with the study conducted by MWH.
Letteney pushed back against this viewpoint during Monday’s meeting, pointing out how the allotment was legally allowed via city ordinance.
Usually when it comes to the “procurement of professional services,” City Council approval is needed if the cost of the professional services exceeds $50,000 in a given year. However, since MWH Law Group was paid via hourly rate for its attorneys and not a predetermined fee, then council approval wasn’t necessary, Letteney said.
Weidner claimed that this explanation was merely “a spin” executed by Letteney and the mayor to keep the City Council out of decision-making.
“Just because it doesn’t have to go to the council, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t,” she said.
Attorney’s fees for a police study
Weidner also argued that the funds used to pay for the study have been misused. The $118,088.73 spent so far came out of the City Attorney’s Office’s budget, which is set by the City Council. Weidner said the allotted money is supposed to be used when the city faces litigation and needs additional legal aid, not to be used for paying for studies of the Police Department.