MILWAUKEE COUNTY, WI – Don Tyler, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s top aide, had a simple request: Could Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. and his staff try to work cooperatively on shared concerns, on such things as courthouse security and reports of a cockroach infestation in the sheriff’s administrative offices at the Safety Building?
“It is very difficult for us to have effective coaching and training from these events if your office chooses not to work with us directly,” Tyler wrote in an email Wednesday to Sheriff’s Inspector Richard Schmidt. “Any movement on this front would be of great benefit.”
Clarke chose to respond directly:
“Mr. Tyler, I started reading your email and I stopped because, to be honest, you bore me,” Clarke replied. “Save your Management 101 bull—- for someone else . . . the only thing that matters to me is results,” Clarke said.
The dispute appeared to be triggered by roaches and played out in an email exchange last week.
Schmidt complained of “large, disgusting bugs crawling on the floor, getting into desks, lurking in bathrooms, crawling up (sheriff’s employees’) legs and popping out from under documents. It is demoralizing and disgusting to work in a public office building with this type of infestation,” Schmidt wrote.
He called for immediate action on roaches by a licensed exterminator, specifically focusing on the sheriff’s administrative offices at Room 107 of the Safety Building and nearby hallways, staircase, garage and storage rooms.
Gary Waszak, the county facilities maintenance manager, said Monday the wet spring and old sewers under the Safety Building may have created some short-term cockroach problems. The county has a contract with a commercial exterminator, which sprays for bugs every two weeks, he said.
Employees of Batzner Pest Management, which has been paid nearly $47,000 by the county since 2009, paid a call to the Safety Building on Friday as part of their regular rounds. They found two cockroaches in traps. None of the many sheriff’s employees they spoke to complained of any cockroach sightings, according to Brendan Conway, a spokesman for Abele.
“So it appears the sheriff is misinformed,” Conway said.
Clarke, in a written statement, said: “It appears Abele is lying again. It is his nature to go into denial mode any time a problem exists.”
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin said cockroaches have been a long-standing problem and there’s been a definite surge in roach sightings this spring. They weren’t visible when Batzner came around Friday because sheriff’s employees kill roaches when they encounter them, she said.
“It’s not like we’re making it up,” she said. One staffer in the sheriff’s reception area found a roach crawling on her chair, McLaughlin said. Bugs found on floors, desks and staircases have been stomped, not preserved for evidence, she said.
Clarke’s and Schmidt’s pointed messages were issued last week after an earlier message from the sheriff’s office got no reply, McLaughlin said.
Periodic roach problems at the Safety Building are nothing new, McLaughlin said. She provided a copy of a 2004 letter Clarke had sent to then-County Executive Scott Walker in which the sheriff said “the current strategy of periodic spraying is not working.”
“Successful organizations invest in their employees by paying attention to the physical quality of their workplace,” Clarke wrote to Walker.
Schmidt, the sheriff’s inspector, in an email blamed turnover in the county’s Facilities Maintenance Division for a work backlog. Jim Burton left as head of that division in late March, after eight months on the job.
Schmidt also said the sheriff’s office was expecting a quick response on an updated courthouse security plan, after the sheriff’s announcement March 6 that a plainclothes deputy had been able to pass through six security checkpoints with a hidden gun without the weapon being detected.
Those checkpoints are staffed by county security guards, but Clarke has assigned deputies to oversee the checkpoints since reporting the breach.
Tyler said the matter was of high importance and called on the sheriff’s office to cooperate in a county work group on improving courthouse security.