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Wanted: A competent Milwaukee County clerk of courts

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Milwaukee County is looking for an interim clerk of circuit court after long-time clerk John Barrett — former Mayor Tom Barrett’s brother — hastily announced his departure in pursuit of “unprecedented” free health benefits.

Barrett’s last day was Sunday, just 11 days after announcing he planned to leave the elected position he’s held for more than 20 years. He departs a court system in disarray, with a mountain of case backlogs and a reputation for playing a key role in cheaply setting free repeat violent offenders. His brother, Tom, had presided over the mess that is Milwaukee for 17 years before bailing late last year to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

Before retiring, John Barrett, 64, returned to his former position at Milwaukee County Department of Child Support Services for just one day in an attempt to take advantage of the county’s free retiree health insurance benefits and to rake in sick time and vacation day payouts. Barrett began his county career with Child Support Services in 1995 as a staff attorney. He hasn’t worked for the department since 1998, when he was appointed to run the clerk’s office.

“In moving back to the department, he is seeking the fully county-paid health care benefits available under county ordinance to certain members of the union representing county attorneys,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“My wife has Alzheimer’s, I have heart disease, and I would like to have the health insurance, especially because it was something that I thought was there the whole time that I’ve been working at the county,” Barrett told the publication.

Barrett claims he’s been on leave from Child Support Services since he took the clerk’s post, something county officials say is a stretch under state law.

“In terms of other elected officials that might have sought or done something similar, I am aware of no precedent for this at all, and I would also add from the perspective of the child support agency, based on the statute, we have no choice in this at all,” Jim Sullivan, director of Milwaukee County Child Support Services, told the newspaper.

Now the county is looking for a replacement. An ad seeking a Milwaukee County interim clerk of Circuit Court was posted on was posted this week on the job site Indeed. It pays what Barrett was making, $124,999.89 a year, and comes with some tasty benefits.

Basic functions include: “To plan, direct and supervise record keeping for the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, manage the court’s jury system, plan and prepare the annual budget, supervise staff, provide administrative support for the court system, collect money on court ordered obligations, and perform other duties set forth in the Wisconsin Statutes, including Chapters 59, 753, and 814.”

The interim clerk is being appointed by the county circuit court judges pursuant to Wisconsin statutes for the remainder of Barrett’s term, which runs through Jan. 1, 2023.

“If the appointed candidate wants to remain in the position past this date, the candidate will need to run for election in the November 8, 2022 general election for the new four-year term beginning on January 2, 2023,” the job post states.

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