What to know about Gerard Randall, GOP official who MPS paid for vague projects

Anahi Palacios, majoring in computer science gets her diploma from Gerard Randall, the co-chair of the Cardinal Stritch University board of trustees, at the last commencement ceremony for Cardinal Stritch University at the Wisconsin Center Milwaukee on Sunday. The Fox Point university announced last month it was closing its doors for good at the end of spring semester.

Gerard Randall, a key GOP official who helped clinch the Republican National Convention for Milwaukee, is under scrutiny as the questionable history of his nonprofit comes to light.

Randall was on his way to win another $75,000 contract from Milwaukee Public Schools in September when Superintendent Keith Posley pulled it off the school board agenda, saying he “got some inquiries” and was “looking at it.”

Questions arose about Randall’s nonprofit, the Milwaukee Education Partnership, after a new Milwaukee School Board member, Missy Zombor, took a closer look at contracts MPS had awarded the group over the years. She noticed the language was vague, with deliverables that were hard to measure. The group’s website was outdated, and the phone number was disconnected.

A Wisconsin Public Radio report report unveiled more problems. One of the most alarming findings: Randall claimed his nonprofit board previously included state Superintendent Jill Underly, who said she had nothing to do with it. 

Other officials who have been listed as board directors, including Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and state Gov. Tony Evers, have said they were not directors. Universities that worked with the Milwaukee Education Partnership in past years have cut ties.

Now, some school board members are calling for a closer look at the Milwaukee Education Partnership. Two school board members sponsored a resolution, scheduled for discussion Thursday, that asks the district’s accountability office to review whether Randall’s organization violated a contractual code of conduct by falsely claiming people were on its board.

Who is Gerard Randall? 

Randall is the first vice chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin and chair of the group’s African American Council. He was a key figure in selling Milwaukee as a host city for the 2024 Republican National Convention, and he coordinated the host committee. 

Randall serves as secretary of that host committee. According to a 2022 tax form, Randall was paid about $23,000 for that job in 2022.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin's field office on Milwaukee's north side reopened on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. There to celebrate the ribbon-cutting were, from left, Gerard Randall, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party's African American Council, U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Kathryn

Randall grew up on the south side of Chicago and moved to Milwaukee to attend Marquette University, where he earned a degree in political science, according to Journal Sentinel reports. He went on to teach at Dominican High School and MPS’ former Bell Middle School, now Wedgewood Park International School. 

At age 40, while still teaching at Bell, Randall was appointed by former Gov. Tommy Thompson to the UW Board of Regents in 1994. The two became friends. In 1995, they traveled together to southern Africa on a Governors Association trip funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris, accompanied by a company lobbyist, the Journal Sentinel found. At the time, Thompson said he didn’t know the funding came from the company.

Randall soon jumped full time into politics, working for former Milwaukee County Executive Thomas Ament, who then appointed him as CEO of the Private Industry Council in 1998. Thompson had passed welfare reform requiring employment, and the Private Industry Council was tasked with overseeing the Wisconsin Works agencies that were supposed to help people find jobs.

Randall raised eyebrows early in this new role, when he organized a retreat for the agency leaders at the American Club, a luxury resort near Sheboygan. After criticism, he moved it to the council’s Milwaukee office.

Randall has a long history of questionable contracts

Randall ran into bigger trouble a couple of years later, in 2001, after an audit found the Wisconsin Works agencies were improperly spending funds on restaurant meals and parties. It found Randall’s council’s own monthly claims for reimbursement “did not correspond to activities performed.” Randall blamed staff vacancies, the Journal Sentinel reported. 

In 2007, citing numerous reports criticizing the leadership of the council, then-mayor Tom Barrett told the council that if it didn’t replace Randall as CEO, he would form his own workforce development agency. The city then took over the council, ousting Randall and renaming it the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board. 

Randall pivoted. A few months after losing his job with the council, the Journal Sentinel reported he started getting paid by the county for a similar job — through his new consulting firm, the Lazarus Group. 

The county paid him about $12,000 a month in no-bid contracts to be a consultant for its new Task Force on Work Reform for Men. Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Bice found Randall’s reports about his work had gotten thin, no longer including the number of hours he worked and reflecting fewer activities with little detail. 

That came to an end in 2009, when then-County Executive Scott Walker vetoed his contract, saying his work duplicated what was done by other agencies. 

What is the Milwaukee Education Partnership?

In 2012, Randall turned to Milwaukee Public Schools.

He revived a dormant organization, the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, a coalition of school and business leaders formed a decade earlier. Randall had been a core member of the organization when it began, representing the Private Industry Council. He called group members to his aid in 2007, when Barrett was working to oust him from the council.

In the early 2000s, the Milwaukee Partnership Academy was celebrated for landing multimillion-dollar grants to improve reading and math education in MPS. It then went “all-but invisible for years,” the Journal Sentinel reported in 2011, until Randall revived it.

When the organization asked the Milwaukee School Board for $100,000 for the organization in 2012, its services were said to “support MPS in efforts to enhance the quality of teaching and learning,” with the contract showing no other details. The contract wasn’t approved until March 2012, well into the term of the agreement, which covered services from July 2011 through June 2012.

It was a no-bid contract, meaning other organizations weren’t given the opportunity to compete for the funds.

The organization wasn’t incorporated, making it unclear who else might have been involved in the group. The Journal Sentinel reported in 2013 that Randall was the “lone man” behind it as the executive director, though he had many high-profile “volunteer partners,” including the UW-Milwaukee chancellor and the president of the Milwaukee teachers union.

Since 2012, board members have approved near-annual no-bid contracts with Randall’s organization, totaling more than $1.2 million. Randall incorporated his organization in 2013 as the Milwaukee Education Partnership, state records show, and gained tax-exempt status as a nonprofit in 2017.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson discusses the Republican National Committee's move to bring the 2024 national convention to Milwaukee during a press conference July 15, 2022, at City Hall. With Johnson are (from left) Paul Farrow, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party; Peggy Williams-Smith, president and chief executive of VISIT Milwaukee; and Gerard Randall, Republican Party of Wisconsin vice chairman.

What is Gerard Randall’s relationship with Mayor Cavalier Johnson?

Johnson is listed as a board director on the MEP’s most recently available tax form.

Johnson told the Journal Sentinel he has “only been nominally involved there with some of the happenings.” He said he hasn’t attended board meetings.

In August, the Milwaukee Education Partnership posted a YouTube video of Johnson promoting the Milwaukee Connects program. Johnson told the Journal Sentinel he didn’t recall the video. Asked whether he had seen evidence of the program in progress, he said he knew the Milwaukee Education Partnership had been working to expose young people to opportunities with historically black colleges and universities.

Johnson also appointed Randall to the board of the Wisconsin Center District, one of the host venues for the Republican National Convention.

What’s next for Randall?

It’s unclear if Randall’s organization will have a future with Milwaukee Public Schools.

If the board passes the resolution sponsored by board members Zombor and Henry Leonard, it will hold off on considering any further contracts with the Milwaukee Education Partnership until a review is completed by the Office of Accountability and Efficiency.

“I think the board needs an opportunity to discuss what we do know about the partnership and decide, as a board, if we want to end that relationship,” Zombor said.

A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Wisconsin declined to comment about Randall’s organization and whether there are any discussions about changing his roles with the party.

Journal Sentinel reporter Alison Dirr contributed to this report.

Contact Rory Linnane at rory.linnane@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane

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