Friday, May 24, 2019

Winnebago County's top prosecutor for violent crimes resigns, citing chronic low pay in Wisconsin system

Updated with new details, complete text of resignation letter.

By Miles Maguire

Scott A. Ceman, the deputy district attorney for Winnebago County and the lead prosecutor for violent crimes, has resigned his position, citing the chronic problem of low pay for public lawyers in the state's criminal justice system. 

"I can no longer justify staying in a job I love while my family goes without," Ceman said in an interview. Last year he earned $69,820, after 14 years in the district attorney's office, where he supervised eight other prosecutors. 

By contrast, Oshkosh patrol officers, who do not need to have a college degree, can make up to $71,000, according to the city's website.

In a letter to Gov. Tony Evers and Rep. Gordon Hintz, Ceman explained why he had tendered his resignation. "This is a profession I simply can no longer afford to be a part of."

Ceman is a veteran of the U.S. Army who grew up on a farm and spent seven years as an ironworker. "I appreciate first-hand the struggles of good, working-class people because I've been one my whole life," he wrote.

He said he recognized that many citizens do not have much sympathy for state prosecutors and public defenders.

"Admittedly, back when I was an ironworker, I could have cared less how much they made," Ceman wrote. "However, having prosecuted numerous intentional and reckless homicides and sexual assaults of adults and children, kidnappings, human trafficking and all sorts of other violent and serious crimes over the years, I can attest then when someone's loved one is charged or falls victim to these types of crimes, they suddenly care, as they should."

UW Oshkosh by the numbers: Campus opens its books on sexual assaults, enrollment, parking tickets, more

Photo by Patrick Flood. Copyright UW Oshkosh.
UW Oshkosh is apparently the first public university in the state to provide a detailed look at operations.

By Miles Maguire
Forty-four cases of sexual misconduct and 11 cases of discrimination or bias have been reported at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh so far this academic year.

This information is just one set of data points released as part of a university initiative to demonstrate transparency across a wide range of activities. This new effort has resulted in a Quarterly Finance and Administration Report that provides information on everything from how much tuition has been collected to how many campus parking tickets have been issued (and voided).

Other statistics cover such topics as the value of outside grants, work orders for repairs to campus facilities, the number of staff retirements, types of police incidents and unaudited revenues and expenses.  

“This is another important step forward in our efforts to modernize and become more transparent in university practices and finances,” said UW Oshkosh Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration James Fletcher in releasing the report May 15. “My understanding is that we are the first institution in the University of Wisconsin System to publish such a report.”

“This is a great move to improve transparency,” said Stephen P. Bentivenga, a biology professor who is president of the school’s Faculty Senate. “Faculty senators were very appreciative when Provost [John] Koker announced to us that financial statements would be made available.”

Like other schools in the UW System, Oshkosh has been struggling to deal with budget cuts, falling enrollment, reports of sexual misconduct by faculty and staff, and a campus climate that is viewed as hostile to minorities. University officials hope that by sharing more information they can show their commitment to addressing these issues and unify the campus community in implementing solutions.

UW Oshkosh is in the process of integrating with two-year UW System schools in Fond du Lac and Menasha, but the report appears to cover only the main campus.

The new report provides far more information that has traditionally been shared but does not provide a complete basis for evaluation. For example, the sexual misconduct and bias section does not include comparable figures from previous periods,  information about how the complaints turned out or how long it took to investigate.

Here are some highlights from the third-quarter report:

  • For the first three months of the fiscal year, the university took in $213.4 million and spent $175.3 million. 
  • The spring enrollment was 9,184, compared to 9,736 in March 2018, a decline of 5.7 percent.
  • Total full-time employment was 1,3022, down 2.4 percent from 1,354 the year previous. 
  • The campus Sustainability Office has raised concerns about plans for the new dining hall operator to partner with Chick-fil-A, which has been criticized for funding groups that oppose gay rights.
  • Parking Services has been issuing fewer tickets over the last two years, with only 1,986 written in the third quarter of fiscal 2019, compared to 3,020 in the same period of 2017.
  • The campus police have sharply increased the number of safewalks and saferides they provide, from 76 in fiscal 2018 to 567 in fiscal 2019.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Oshkosh Corp. remains optimistic about JLTV future despite budget cut, some negative early reviews

Photo by Sgt. Quanesha Barnett/U.S. Army
This March 2019 photo shows two JLTVs going through during an after action review at Fort Stewart, Ga.

By Miles Maguire

Oshkosh Corp. officials remain optimistic about the future of the company’s Humvee-replacement vehicle in the face of budget cuts and some negative early reviews.

The Trump administration announced in March that the Army is cutting its 2020 order for the company’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV, by 505 vehicles, a nearly 17 percent decline from previous projections.

Trump officials have given mixed signals about the long-range outlook for the program. As Oshkosh CEO Wilson R. Jones pointed out, “the Army has not reduced its acquisition objective,” which “is still 49,000 vehicles” over several years. He said next year’s drop in funding is just a matter of pushing purchases into future years. 

But Ryan D. McCarthy, Trump’s undersecretary of the Army, has signaled otherwise. In a story published by the official Army News Service, McCarthy was cited as saying that the service planned to cut $800 million from the program and take delivery of 1,900 fewer JLTVs.

"The JLTV is a new vehicle--more survivable than a Humvee, more maneuverable than a [mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle]," the news service quoted McCarthy as saying. "There's no doubt the Army needs it in the future, just not at the numbers of the original program of record when the requirements of a high-intensity land conflict are considered."

Oshkosh hailed its 2015 contract award as a “historic win” for the company, and the JLTV was widely described as the replacement for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee. The Humvee was criticized for its poor performance in protecting soldiers from roadside bombs in Iraq.

But based on McCarthy’s remarks it now appears that the military plans to maintain a roughly equal mix of Humvees and JLTVs. Last month the Army put in an order for $185 million worth of Humvees outfitted to serve as ambulances, just a few weeks after Oshkosh said it would start building an ambulance version of its light vehicle.

While the Army appears to be shrinking its projections for the JLTV, the Marines have other ideas. “The Marine Corps has raised their objective from 5,500 to 9,000” units, Jones told stock market analysts last month. He said the JLTV’s order backlog now stretches into 2021.

The company is “hearing good customer feedback,” Jones said.

"It's a top-notch vehicle compared to what we used to have," Sgt. Richard Saunders said in an article on the Army’s website. 

"I noticed a lot of positive differences between the Humvee and the JLTVs, like the turning radius, braking system and it being more high-tech,” added Spc. Kourtney Patton. “It allows us to be more capable in doing more operations." 

Oshkosh has also heard, however, some negative comments. The most recent were contained in a May report from the Government Accountability Office. JLTVs were found “not operationally suitable because of their high maintenance needs, low reliability, training and manual deficiencies, and safety shortcomings,” the GAO said. This criticism echoes an earlier report from the Army, which Oshkosh officials have said they are addressing. 

That Army report also raised the possibility that the JLTV, designed at a time of desert operations in the Middle East, may not be ideally suited for battlegrounds in Europe or Asia because of its size and the noise it makes. As the Army evaluators put it, “The JLTV has large visual and loud aural signature increasing detectability.”

Some of these issues are to be expected with any new weapons system, and the Humvee was also criticized when it was initially deployed. But another factor, facing all military contractors, is that the Defense Department is looking for savings across almost 100 weapons systems so that it can finance a modernization program. 

For now the Army has delayed giving Oshkosh the go-ahead to ramp up production to full speed, which had been expected late last year.

“We're optimistic about the full-rate production here in the next few months,” Jones said in late April.

“Really what delayed [the ramp-up] was the modifications that our customer decided to add, which are good mods. But as I mentioned, too, the fielding is going really well,” Jones said. “We're getting these out with the Marines and with the Army, and the feedback has been very positive.”

The JLTV issue is apparently a sensitive one. The company did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the United Auto Workers local that represents Oshkosh employees. Also nonresponsive were Rep. Glenn Grothman and Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican lawmakers in Washington who represent the Oshkosh area and the state, respectively.