Bay View resident questions legality of Dombrowski estate funds for Art Stop
July 6, 2012
TO: The Honorable City of Milwaukee Common Council Members
FROM: Marisa Kasriel, resident of Aldermanic District #14 (Bay View)
DATE: July 5, 2012
RE: Concerns Pertaining to Resolution #110946 – Dombrowski Bequest
Resolution #110946 could violate City and State laws and should not be adopted.
Resolution #110946 (the “Substitute resolution authorizing the acceptance of a bequest from the
estate of David John Dombrowski”), which will be put before the City of Milwaukee’s Common
Council on July 6, 2012, could violate existing City and State laws and should not be adopted.
David John Dombrowski worked for the Department of Public Works (DPW) in its Forestry and
Sanitation divisions for 36 years. He passed away at age 63, only a few short years after he retired.
Upon his death on May 30, 2011, it was discovered that he had willed the entirety of his estate to his
former employer, the DPW. The plot of this story thickened when approximately $220,000 in cash was
discovered hidden in the basement of the home Dombrowski had shared with his late mother. So many
years, so many DPW paychecks, and his intent was simply to give it all back to where it came from.
However, resolution #110946 threatens Dombrowski’s one wish. Resolution #110946 is an
attempt to take half of Dombrowski’s $330,000 estate away from the DPW and reroute it into the
checking account of the Kinnickinnick Ave. Business Improvement District (BID 44) to fund its
extravagant “Bay View Art Stop” project. This project is highly contested by area residents due to a
lack of opportunity for public input on its design and functionality, as well as its ever-growing price tag.
Despite the project’s lack of a solidified budget, interested parties have secured $50,000 from the
County and now, with resolution #110946, they seek approximately $165,000 in City money. A
gratuitous, quarter-million dollar bus stop sure seems like an odd memorial to a man who saved the
better part of every paycheck he earned. But as you might notice when you read on, this is just one of
many red flags that resolution #110946 raises.
Resolution #110946 lacks the necessary accompanying documentation that
is required by City law.
Resolution #110946 does not adhere to Milwaukee City Ordinance 304-24(4)(b), and, therefore,
if passed, would violate Milwaukee’s municipal law.
City of Milwaukee Ordinance 304-24(7)(b) states, “[d]ocumentation relating to restrictions
specified by the donor or donors of a contribution, such as a will, letter of intent or similar document,
shall be included in the common council resolution accepting the contribution or made part of the file as
it becomes available.” City Ord. 304-24(7)(b), available at http://cctv25.milwaukee.gov/netitcode81/
As of the evening of July 5, 2012, no such documentation relating to the restrictions specified in
Dombrowski’s will has been included in Common Council resolution #110946. Therefore, Common
Council resolution #110946, as it is put before the council on July 6, 2012, does not comply with the law.
See City Ord. 304-24(7)(b).
Because funds from David Dombrowski’s estate will not be expended in the
manner specified in Dombrowski’s will, resolution #110946 could violate
both City and State laws relating to contributions left to the government.
Resolution #110946 does not comply with Milwaukee City Ordinance 304-24(1)(a) or
Wisconsin Statute section 62.12(6)(b)(1) and, therefore, could violate City and State law.
Milwaukee City Ordinance 304-24(1)(a) defines a “contribution” as “a gift of cash or other
assets from any person to the city or any city department or employee to be expended for a specified
municipal purpose, activity or facility.” City Ord. 304-24(1)(a), available at
http://cctv25.milwaukee.gov/netitcode81/volume3_/ch304/CH304.pdf. City of Milwaukee City
Ordinance 304-24(5)(d) mandates that the “[e]xpenditure of contribution funds must be for the purpose
specified by the donor. Expenditure for a different purpose shall require approval of the donor . . . ”
City Ord. 304-24(5)(d), available at http://cctv25.milwaukee.gov/netitcode81/
volume3_/ch304/CH304.pdf. Wisconsin Statute section 62.12(6)(b)(1) states, “[t]he [common]
council shall not appropriate nor the treasurer pay out: (1) Funds appropriated by law to a special
purpose except for that purpose.” Wis. Stat. § 62.12(6)(b)(1), available at
David Dombrowski’s will “specified” a particular “municipal facility” (the “Department of
Public Works, 841 North Broadway, Milwaukee Wisconsin”) that he wished the contribution funds from
his estate be spent on. Resolution #110946 could fail to comply with these laws by allocating half of the
Dombrowski estate to BID 44 to be spent on the Bay View Art Stop – a facility that’s a far cry from the
one expressly indicated in Dombrowski’s will. See City Ord. 304-24(1)(a), (5)(d); Wis. Stat.
Under State probate law, resolution #110946 could carry substantial legal
liabilities should it be wrongly adopted.
Resolution #110946 involves a will in informal probate proceedings and, if the resolution passed,
it could subject the Common Council, DPW, and BID 44 to legal liabilities under Wisconsin Statutes
Wisconsin Statute section 865.17 states that “[a]fter assets of an estate have been distributed . . .
an undischarged claim . . . may be prosecuted in a proceeding against one or more distributees of
property from an estate administered under this [Chapter 865 Probate – Informal Administration].” Wis.
Stat. § 865.17, available at http://docs.legis.wi.gov/statutes/statutes/865/17?view=section.
Wisconsin Statute section 865.031 warns that, “[w]henever fraud has been perpetrated in connection
with any proceeding or in any statement filed under [Chapter 865 Probate – Informal Administration] or
if fraud is used to avoid or circumvent the provisions or purposes of this chapter, any person injured
thereby may obtain appropriate relief against the perpetrator of the fraud, including restitution from any
person, other than a bona fide purchaser, benefiting from the fraud, whether innocent or not.” Wis. Stat.
§ 865.031, available at http://docs.legis.wi.gov/statutes/statutes/865/031?view=section.
If the Common Council wrongly adopts resolution #110946 with the knowledge that it is a
misappropriation of the Dombrowski estate, it could violate both City and State laws and thereby subject
itself, the DPW, and BID 44 to the legal consequences arising therefrom and the liabilities associated
with the acts contained therein. See Wis. Stats. §§ 865.17, 865.031.
David J. Dombrowski was just a regular guy who happened to leave behind an incredible legacy.
The best way you could honor his memory is to simply honor his last wishes.
Beyond that, resolution #110946 is worrisome because it lacks necessacary documentation,
disregards the intentions that Dombrowski specified in his will, and could create liability issues for the
City. For these reasons, resolution #110946 (the “Substitute resolution authorizing the acceptance of a
bequest from the estate of David John Dombrowski”) should not be adopted.
*Disclaimer: This memorandum is solely intended to create awareness of potential issues
associated with resolution #110946, and it does not purport to be offering legal advice.
Its author, Marisa Kasriel, is not an attorney.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.