Forest Home Library Selection Raises Questions

By Robert Miranda 

Editor, Wisconsin Spanish Journal

Editor’s Commentary

Part 1 of 2 part series

In January of this year, Jorge Franco, CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – Wisconsin (HCCW), announced at their 25th Annual Awards Banquet held at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, a partnership endeavor to produce a publication called “Vision” with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

This announcement started a war of words on Facebook when the publisher of the “El Conquistador” newspaper, a member of the HCCW, criticized the partnership as another example of the HCCW ignoring its mission to the Latino community for not working with Latino owned small businesses.

Joining in on the criticism, among many others, were Jessica McBribe an independent journalist who said “I would think the “Hispanic Chamber of Commerce” would support Hispanic-owned businesses, not help non-Hispanic businesses compete against them. That’s pretty shocking, really.”

Another member of the HCCW who criticized the partnership was Julio Maldonado, César E. Chávez Drive Business Improvement District (BID) executive who said, “I actually said the same thing to my wife while at the banquet, wow another Aqui! Then again, this move from Franco, is not surprising to me. The only business that is gained from the HCCW is that from the board themselves!…maybe it’s time to revive Hispanic Entrepreneurs of Wisconsin! He did ask me this last summer “why don’t we merge”? I laughed, as I read right through that…. He wanted our membership numbers and to say they “actually” help out small businesses! What a joke!”

And another who expressed dissatisfaction towards HCCW was Olivia Villareal, one of the owners of El Rey Grocery Stores located on Milwaukee’s south side.  She posted on the Facebook page of the publisher of the newspaper critical of HCCW this comment: “This would NOT be first time Mr. Franco kicked a Hispanic business or Hispanic organization in the teeth! Ask him why he made the Cesar E Chavez library NOT HAPPENED ON Cesar E Chavez Drive?…El Rey is tired of lip service and no positive action from this organization for us Hispanic businesses but they’re the first to put out their hand for donations!”

Tough words from Ms. Villarreal, a woman known to be reserved and very business-like. When she made this comment, she set into motion my curiosity as to why she would post this comment.

What I found out during my research is that what Olivia Villarreal was referring to was a Milwaukee Public Library decision to relocate the Forest Home Library on Milwaukee’s Southside.

The Milwaukee Public Library Building & Development Committee selected the winner between two proposals. One submitted by Gorman & Co., seeking to relocate the library and develop property known as the Hill Building on 9th & Mitchell St.  The other was Cardinal Capital Group / Journey House, seeking to relocate the Forest Home Library on to S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive.

The Cesar E. Chavez Drive site is property owned by Olivia Villarreal and her husband, Ernesto Villarreal.

Ultimately, Milwaukee Public Library selected the Gorman & Co. Proposal. Gorman & Co has representatives who have contributed to Mayor Tom Barret’s reelection machine, records show.

Although the decision has been made, questions regarding the role of certain players in the matter, and the manner in which the selection process was conducted are now surfacing.

This Cesar E. Chavez Drive proposal had overwhelming community support.  At a public hearing held by the library’s Building & Development Committee at the Forest Home Library on Tuesday, December 2nd, supporters overwhelmingly attended the meeting. In addition, support for this proposal was reflected in a survey conducted by the Milwaukee Public Library. However, efforts by the Spanish Journal to obtain the Milwaukee Public Library survey have been arduous.

Sources familiar with the library’s survey say that close to 80% of respondents to the survey supported the library proposal submitted by Cardinal Capital Group / Journey House, which was the proposal to place the library on Cesar E. Chavez Drive.

The disregard shown towards the comments made by the public and the public’s support for any public funded project is counterproductive and goes against the ideas of our democracy.  The public’s wishes should be respected by government bureaucrats.

Review of documents the Spanish Journal received under the open records law (several documents were redacted and others requested were not released), revealed overwhelming support from the community for the Cesar E. Chavez Drive proposal by Hispanic leaders and community residents.

Why did the Milwaukee Public Library disregard the public input it requested?

Before December 2, 2014, Alderman Jose G. Perez was a staunch supporter of the plan to place the library on Cesar E. Chavez Drive.

However, during the Library Building & Development Committee meeting on December 2, 2014, Alderman Perez failed to speak in support of the Cesar E. Chavez Drive proposal.

Why did Alderman Jose G. Perez clam up and not speak a word of support for the Cesar E. Chavez proposal, when before this meeting, he told the community he was all for the library being placed on Cesar E. Chavez Drive?

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