Letter from State Police Union Executive Draws Fire

The consensus amongst several of SF’s readers is that James Palmer, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Officers Association (WPPA), is a man whose tactics have disgraced that organization’s rank-and-file members.

Palmer, and other so-called law enforcement professionals, drew the ire of some for sending a letter to Mr. Tom Ellis, the President of the Marshall and Ilsely (M&I) Corporation. 


“As you also know,” Palmer writes in the letter to Ellis, “Scott Walker did not campaign on this issue [limiting collective bargaining for public employees] when he ran for office. If he had, we are confident that you would not be listed among his largest contributors.”

Then comes the quid pro quo shake down.

“The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker’s efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin.  While we appreciate that you may need some time to consider this request, we ask for your response by March 17. In the event that you do not respond to this request by that date, we will assume that you stand with Governor Walker and against the teachers, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, and other dedicated public employees who serve our communities.

“In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company. However, if you join us, we will do everything in our power to publicly celebrate your partnership in the fight to preserve the right of public employees to be heard at the bargaining table.”

Palmer’s letter caused a collective gasp from many law enforcement veterans.

In fact, Glenn Frankovis, a retired Milwaukee Police Department captain, mentioned that several of his law enforcement contacts view Palmer’s threats as extortion. 

For the record, James Palmer is not and has never been a law enforcement officer.  Those familiar with the inner-workings of the WPPA describe Palmer as a dyed-in-the-wool Madison liberal and an ally of former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

On February 5, 2009, Doyle appointed Palmer to the Higher Educational Aids Board.  Palmer also provided political cover by standing at Doyle’s side when the then governor announced an early release program for felons from Wisconsin prisons.   Since Milwaukee bore the brunt of the burden, Police Chief Ed Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett took issue with the state’s catch-and-release initiative.


Now Palmer’s letter to the M&I executive has law enforcement veterans questioning his ethics and his regard for the WPPA’s overall membership.

One current officer provided this behind-the-scenes view.  During a February 19, 2011, rally in Madison, the WPPA established a reception area at the Concourse Hotel on Dayton Street so that officers on break from capitol security could stop-in for food and water.  While at the reception area, Palmer was beaming after meeting the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  “He [Palmer],” according to the officer, “was clearly star-struck.”  

Another law enforcement veteran took issue with the content of Palmer’s letter to Ellis.

“Palmer et al were untruthful in their letter to Mr. Ellis. Police officers and fire fighters received an exception in the budget repair bill [from Gov. Walker].  Palmer appears more intent on turning the dues collected from WPPA members into a funding mechanism for the Democrat Party than in doing what is in the best interest of his members.”

Others noted the tactics used by Palmer and his fellow co-signers.  

“State and local union leaders blew it,” wrote another. “E-mails released by Walker show that he was willing to remove the cap on wages to get the missing 14 Democrat state senators back to the capitol to vote. Increases in wages would have off-set some of the required contributions to pensions and health care — a win for those in the state pension system, since retirement benefits are determined by averaging the highest three years of earnings.  Over time, continued wage hikes might increase pension payments several thousand dollars a year.  Instead, Mr. Palmer and the 14 Democrat senators listened to their masters from Organizing America.  This ploy resulted in the union workers being used as pawns while walking away from the table empty handed.”

“Palmer and the leaders of the local firefighter and police union in Madison,” another notes, “belong to a group of ingrates more interested in hocking the wares of the Democrats than protecting their members.”

And two weeks ago, John Balcerzak, the former president of the Milwaukee Police Association—the collective bargaining unit representing rank-and-file Milwaukee police officers and detectives—e-mailed WTMJ radio to distance sworn law enforcement officers from the WPPA executive director.  “Jim Palmer is not a police officer,” Balcerzak noted.  “He is a lawyer.”

As SF noted in an earlier post, during heated political discourse, labor unrest, or civil strife, law enforcement officers become the uniformed arbitrators of fairness.

One section of The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics reads, “I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships to influence my decisions,” which is why some law enforcement veterans find a Youtube video of one Madison officer’s rants particularly troubling. 

Police Sergeant Dave McClurg pays homage to the protestors by identifying himself as an officer with the Madison Police Department.  Most law enforcement agencies have rules prohibiting their members from using their position to advance causes and/or political positions.  But McClurg, who portrays himself as a former Republican, conveniently fails to mention that he is the Vice President of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association—a group that openly opposes Walker’s budget repair bill. 


Certainly, the political rift amongst law enforcement officers concerning the governor’s budget repair bill runs deep.  But politics aside, those who use questionable and unethical tactics should heed the words of our nation’s 16th president.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” 

WPPA Executive Director James Palmer and those who co-signed the letter to Tom Ellis have failed Honest Abe’s test miserably .


Steve Spingola is an author and former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective

© Steve Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011

65 Responses

  1. Sarah

    Hey, Michael Moore McClurg, I don’t believe the government should direct anyone to spend THEIR money in any manner, especially since the government didn’t earn the money. Why do government workers believe that our money that we earn is somehow theirs and we should be grateful that they are letting us keep what WE have earned? You know, before this debate, I was of the opinion that police officers and firefighters deserved all these great benefits. After all, when I go to bed at night, they’re the one’s putting their butts on the line while I rest peacefully. But after seeing how ungrateful the Wisconsin state police union is for their exemption and your whine on YouTube that, “We work hard,” I’m having second thoughts. It is nice to hear that Milwaukee officers are greatful for their benefits, especially since they work in the most dangerous conditions in this state. By the way, I work hard too, and I bet a lot harder that you do. So why aren’t you paying for my health care and giving me a pension?

    March 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

  2. Dave McClurg

    I’ve tried to be reasonably respectful but I really think you show how morally bankrupt you are by continually insulting me. I come into your forum to defend myself and Palmer and what happens I’m Michael Moore, weak minded, ect,ect. Come on people have you forgotten how to discuss things without insulting? Look in the mirror at yourself, would your momma be proud of the way you talk?
    If you’re religious would your God approve? As I said earlier I have a fairly strong sense of right and of wrong and their isn’t anything right about this forum except the politics. 10-42 from this page. Flame on and convince yourselves how righteous you all are, I tried, which is more than any of you can say.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm

  3. Larry

    McClurg, buddy. When you talk like Michael Moore concerning the seizure of individuals’ wealth; speak as if the hard-earned money of others belongs to politicans and your union; and believe a majority of the legislature passing a bill is somehow corrupt, people will respond. About 70 percent of the people in this state would disagree with what you have posted. I know that is hard to believe when you reside in Dane County — miles and miles away from the reality that is the rest of Wisconsin. Funny thing how Jim Doyle raised taxes by $2 billion wihout ANY debate in the last bi-annual budget. Did his party stop to ask what affects this massive tax increase would have on working families? Not at all, since there was NO debate allowed in the Democrat controlled legislature. And why is the state police union leading this boycott when your members are not even touched by the budget repair bill? Why isn’t WEAC or AFSME leading the boycott? The teacher’s union isn’t stupid. WEAC will continue running their commericals about how teachers supposedly care about the kids while they watch the WPPA makes asses of themselves and tarnish police officers’ reputations. Your union is being used like a tool to advance Jim Palmer’s idelogical agenda and the WPPA board is either too stupid or too inept to realize it.

    March 23, 2011 at 12:15 am

  4. Brian

    I sit on the WPPA board of directors. I was one of two (2) NO votes when the issue of boycotting was put to a vote. Several directors (for reasons I cannot fathom) elected to not vote. Overwhelmingly and quite disappointingly the vote was to send the letter. I firmly believe that a Police Association should NOT engage in this type of “Corleone” antics to further their cause. I believe that a simple “thank you” letter should have been sent to the Governor for exempting us from the Bill. The protesting, sleep overs and the boycotting not only drew negative attention to LE, it may be the harbinger for public safety INCLUSION. I had thoughts of resigning from the Board in protest, however my remaining on that board brings some conservative input and common sense to a board that is not acting, (in my opinion) in the best interest of our brothers and sisters on the street.

    March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

  5. Glenn Frankovis

    Hang in there Brian in spite of the obvious stress you have to face by remaining a member of this Board. YOU’RE doing the right thing for the right reasons. It’s important for the rest of us to remember that the membership of any union does not always agree with the decisions made by the union Board, and it is equally important for those members in disagreement with those Board decisions to speak out publicly when those decisions result in an adverse impact on the profession. To say nothing when you disagree is the same as giving tacit approval thereby lumping you in with them in the court of public opinion.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm

  6. Larry

    Brain, the Wisconsin officers represented by the WPPA need you on that board. A couple of us had discussion about the state union the other day. Some believe Palmer is auditioning for bigger things within the Democrat Party and using 11,000 hardworking cops as his spring board. Palmer stood by Doyle as prisoners were released early and now he is going to have the WPPA endorse Kloppenburg. Two strikes against Palmer on issues linked to officer safety right there. The man has got to go. Why the WPPA is letting him use their organization like a tool is puzzling to many.

    April 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm

  7. Sean

    I personally congratulate Dave McClurg and Jim Palmer and the Fire Fighters for taking a stand against the greed and corruption of Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald. While you call it extortion, it is plain and simply a choice. The business that is supposed to serve you is not, you have every right as a consumer to take your business elsewhere. Just because we are not all drinking the same ‘tea,’ does not mean we have to subscribe to your ideals. As always, the information Lori provided was only one sided and embellished so as to paint an unfavorable picture, much like FOX News does. She forgot to add, that only did Sumi hear the case on Friday, but she also heard it on that Monday, and clarified her ruling twice that week and heard the remainder on Friday. She had to clarify her ruling because Scott Walker, Fitzgerald, the Attorney General and the Secretary of DOA was saying it wasn’t really a real ruling. Our elected officials refused to obey the judges ruling. Who by the way was appointed by a 4 term Republican Governor. There are so many fallacies contained in Lori’s writings that it would take hours to correct, not that any of you would listen. Everything that you whine about the Democrats have done or their supporters, are all things the Republicans have done, including one of the greatest Republicans of all times – Abraham Lincoln. He crawled out of a window to escape having to vote on a bill.

    April 3, 2011 at 3:00 am

  8. Brian

    @Sean, citizens do have a right to take their business elsewhere. It is not the role of Police Association to openly call for the boycot of these businesses. There is no positive benefit for the union or its members, period. Is this where you chant “fox lies, fox lies” like that Lefty Levenhagen the school teacher??
    For clarification, the WPPA did not (thankfully) endorse Kloppenberg. The decision by the Madison Police Association is extremely short sighted and focused solely on the budget repair bill. As it has been pointed out above, putting Kloppenberg on the bench significantly and negatively impacts public safety. It is disappointing that these coppers can’t see beyond 2011!
    I also agree that Palmer is looking for a political position on the Democratic side of the isle. I for one, hope he does not attempt that at our expense!

    April 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm

  9. Lori

    Sean, saying that “it would take hours to correct, not that any of you would listen” really indicates you you can’t find substantial arguments to contest what I wrote. Also, you should note that my post above was written two weeks ago and was prior to Judge Sumi’s return from her vacation. The case was filed by DA Ozanne on Wednesday, March 16th, Sumi pushed arguments for it to Friday, the 18th, issued a TRO two hours into it and then left on vacation.

    It was after her return on the 29th she issued her second version of the TRO: http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thewheelerreport.com%2Freleases%2FMarch11%2F0329%2F0329sumiamendedorder.pdf&h=b7147 with the second page stricken through, and then her third: http://www.thewheelerreport.com/releases/March11/0331/0331sumi.pdf with the second page not-stricken through.

    I actually don’t watch FOX news, and choose to read and research information before I give my opinion. Perhaps you should do that too. To help get you started, here are some articles that support what I wrote above:

    Ozanne received two letters of support before his appointment by Governor Doyle:
    Ozanne’s campaign contributions:

    Madison Mayor’s emails regarding the delaying of publication to the Secretary of State:

    Here are some of the examples of labor unions pushing through contracts, and to the credit of those finally negotiating on behalf of the taxpayers, many include the 5/12 concessions:

    A great publication on the sustainability of public sector benefits:

    More letters ‘asking’ for union support:

    Regarding the death threats made against Republican Senators:
    Criminal Complaint Against Katherine Windels:
    DOJ Concerned by Lack of Action on Threats:
    Cross Plains Woman Charged With Making Death Threats to Republican Senators:
    In Brooklyn, NY a woman made comments to fellow teachers that she was going to do a “Columbine”. THAT day she was arrested and hauled off. Here in Wisconsin, Madison’s DA has taken over 3 weeks to pursue the death threats made against the Republican Senators.

    You should spend the hours refuting this information, Sean. I’d be interested to see what factual support for yours you can come up with and hope that you would actually learn something in the process.

    By the way, Lincoln was a Whig party member in 1839 when he jumped out the window in an attempt to avoid a quorum, not a Republican. It is also said that he was “embarrassed” by that event in his early political life.

    April 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm

  10. Sean

    Lori, there are substantial arguments to counter your false claims. You claim the DA bought his post, if he did at least he was qualified to do it. What about Deschane who is 27 years old, no college degree, and 2 OWI’s and was appointed to an $81000 a year state job by Governor Walker? He was appointed because Daddy Deschane donated $30,000 to his campaign. The moral deficits of Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald is disgusting and this is what you are defending.

    What about the Hero of the Hudson? He made a very public display of pulling his money out of M&I Bank as well? Why? Moral deficits of Walker and his cronies.

    The Dane County board agreed to extend the contracts through 2012, they passed it. It was voted upon democratically something Walker and Fitzgerald tried to abridge. In each case you cite of the contracts passing, the county boards all agreed to the contracts. There was nothing hidden, no secrets at all.

    Lori, you have yet to explain how standing up for the right to collectively bargain tramples constitutional rights? I don’t see it. It is pure rhetoric espoused by the right.

    How does putting Kloppenburg on the Supreme court jeopardize public safety? That is like saying electing a democrat will get your guns taken away. How many democrats have actually come up and said hand over your gun?

    I see Craigslist was running an ad looking for people to push the agenda of the right. Lori is this you?

    April 6, 2011 at 2:22 am

  11. Barry

    Sean, if you believe Kloppenburg will not give criminal defendants the benefit of the doubt, you’ve been smoking too many blunts with the leaders of the police union in Madison. Progressive Dane is an anti-police group, and Kloppenburg endorsed one of their field directors for Assembly. He was a Green Party member. I guess the Madison Democrat he was running against from Dane County was too conservative for Kloppenburg. Sure, your DA in Dane County is in the tank — bought and paid for by the union mob bosses. Judge Sumi’s son works for the SEIU as well. Why not just stuff the ballot boxes like Jesse Jackson’s pal, Daniel Ortega. At least your side could steal the 2010 elections will a lot less effort.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:41 am

  12. Lori

    Collective bargaining is done behind closed doors without the public. I would offer that if everyone is so amicable at these meetings, and everyone is acting in good faith, that they should allow them to be open to the public. I doubt we’d see 16.5% pay raises over three years like the Hudson district “bargained” for their teachers, or $700,000 a year insurance coverage for Viagra, or getting rid of young, enthusiastic teachers with lay offs to gain higher wages and benefits for the more senior members of the unions. Taxpayers and the media are only privy to what’s in the contracts after they’ve been agreed to, not during the process- nothing is “open” about them. I could almost forgive the over-reaching of the unions to commandeer over 80% of a school district’s budget in wages and benefits including the outrageous portions that allow for abuse, if it’s sustainable, I have no issue with what people make.

    However, when a minority of people disrupt the Government, and more specifically, when their union leaders, some who are not even in Wisconsin, disrupt the Government for their own political agendas, they are violating the rights of every American who votes. I didn’t vote for Jim Palmer to be Governor, I didn’t vote for any of the labor union leader’s to be in my legislature or senate. There is no reason Trumka should be at the White House three times a week, there is no reason why AFSCME’s officials in Washington D. C. should be sending talking points to the Democrats hiding in Illinois. There is no reason why they should be funding recalls or paying people to canvass neighborhoods to push one supreme court candidate over another. There is no reason why any of these people should have more control over our future’s in this state than the people who elect our representatives.

    April 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

  13. Sean

    Barry, again your information is incorrect on all accounts. Manski the Green Party member you refer to lost his bid to the 77th district. At no time was he ever endorsed by Kloppenburg.

    Ismael Ozanne was picked by Doyle between terms. He is up for re-election in 2012. Both Ozanne and Kiefer donated similar amounts to Doyle and both were qualified to do the job. There were no endorsements or contributions for Ozanne from any union.

    Sumi was appointed to her judgeship by Tommy Thompson who was a staunch Republican and handpicked by George Bush to serve a top coveted post. Whether her son is a nurse or not has nothing to do with who appointed her

    Man get your facts straight, oh that is not the purpose of this blog.

    April 6, 2011 at 9:44 am

  14. Barry

    Sean, read and heed. Even a lefty rag in Madison says Kloppenburg endorsed Manski. How about an apology for misinforming the members of this blog.


    April 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

  15. Pingback: Spingola Files » Dane County Sheriff Gives Police Professionalism a Black Eye

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