County Executive Chris Abele's decision to give his annual State of the County address at the Oak Creek Police Department was no random choice.
As disagreements regarding the direction of county government abound, Abele hearkened back to the days following the Aug. 5 mass shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh temple, when residents throughout the county united around the Oak Creek and Sikh communities.
In particular, the thousands of people who descended on Henry Miller Park for a community vigil left lasting images and showed "the Milwaukee County I'm proud to represent," Abele said.
"Too often, the disagreements we all have get the attention," Abele said. "Everyone in this room, regardless of our political parties, have a lot more in common than we have to disagree on. We all want Milwaukee County to be the best place it can be."
Abele praised the leadership of Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, who introduced Abele, and Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards. He also recognized a few of the Oak Creek police officers who were first on the scene of the shooting and in attendance for Monday's address.
"The heroes across the county that responded that day ... demonstrate the best of what government can do," Abele said.
What Milwaukee County government will do in the coming weeks and months remains to be seen, but Abele laid out what he will push for.
Abele announced a plan to move all patients in long-term care units at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex into community-based care within the next three years. The groundwork for aggressive mental health reform was laid in last year's budget and the county is now moving into the next phase, he said.
"This is about doing the right thing by allowing people with mental illness to live in the least restrictive environment, close to their loved ones and receive the care they deserve and that they need," he said.
Consolidate and improve efficiency
Officials will look closely at consolidating and improving efficiencies in county facilities. The county could save millions of dollars in maintenance costs and sell off property it doesn't need, Abele said.
Milwaukee County has 1,000 properties totaling 14 million square feet. "It's safe to say, we don't need all of that space today," Abele said.
Reform the County Board
With many county supervisors in the front row, Abele said he will continue to push for a reform of the county board. He has previously said he supports a bill in the state Legislature that would make supervisors' pay part time.
"The current system does not best serve the constituents. We can do better," he said.
"There are a number of supervisors here today, and I truly thank you for taking the time to be here. I know many of you don't agree with me on this issue, but I also hope that we can put aside that to work together on the many, many other important issues facing Milwaukee County today, and in the next months and the next years. That is what the people we represent deserve."
Build on successes
Abele also noted several success stories, including a lakefront high-rise that is moving forward, the Milwaukee County Parks Department's plan to hire 100 veterans for seasonal positions and the continued strength of Mitchell International Airport.
County Supervisor Steve Taylor, who represents Hales Corners, Franklin and Oak Creek on the county board, said he agreed with most of what Abele said and is optimistic solutions can be found on county government reform.
"At the end of the day, we have to do what's best for Milwaukee County and its residents, and we'll come together and do the people's business," he said in an interview after the speech.
Scaffidi had high praise for Abele in his opening remarks and voiced his support for the executive's efforts to reform Milwaukee County government.
"It's encouraging to see Chris be one of those leaders not worried about the politics of the change, but to focus on policies which can improve the efficiency and the process of local government, ultimately making it better for our residents," Scaffidi said.