Friday, December 9th, 2016

A couple of misconceptions that are out there

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As long as we’re on the subject of Waukesha and it’s interesting mayor, let’s clear up a few misconceptions that I have heard on Mark Belling’s show and elsewhere.

1) Tuesday on Belling’s show, he said the mayor was elected to stop the Great Lakes water application, and now he’s surprised that residents of Waukesha are no longer supporting the mayor on this point.

I’m a big fan of Belling’s show. He’s fun to hear, and he’s often informative. But he’s wrong on this point.

I’d like remind Belling and his listeners why Belling (and Charlie Sykes) supported Jeff Scrima over Larry Nelson. It’s because Jeff Scrima wasn’t Larry Nelson. Belling’s tepid endorsement of Scrima was solely on the basis of opposition to Larry Nelson and Nelson’s support for things like regional cooperation on transportation. There was a big fear that if Nelson got re-elected, he would support making Waukesha part of the proposed RTAs. We could then all ride the light rail train from Shorewood to Waukesha to attend the latest Democratic fundraiser with Governor Jim Doyle and President Barack Obama. Afterwards we could tour the Croc factory.

I know because I raised these same points myself for years. I can tell you it was hard for me to vote for Nelson just because he had been such a partisan Democrat, and so it was no surprise when many Waukesha residents decided to vote for Scrima. (You know it was even harder for me when I received an e-mail following the election from Jeff Christensen of the Waukesha Democratic Party reminding me to pay my membership dues.)

Whether it’s because Nelson didn’t dress appropriately or that he was going to do his best to plant the Democratic banner in our city, the vote for Scrima was a vote against Nelson.

In fact, I ran some numbers and would make the point that the water issue actually hurt Scrima.

It’s also worth reminding Belling and his listeners that during the campaign Scrima’s opposition to applying for Lake Michigan water continuously shifted as it was apparent public opinion was not on his side on the issue. His position shifted so much that by the time Scrima took office he actually supported the Common Council moving ahead with the application for Lake Michigan water, a position he now says was a mistake.

Since Scrima took office, his theories of how and why we should not apply for Lake Michigan water have an ever-increasing level of irrationality that is certainly discrediting his arguments. Is it any wonder then that residents are reconciling themselves to the idea of running the pipeline to the East when it’s main opponent is looking less credible with every public utterance?

So when Belling says he doesn’t understand why Waukesha residents are turning on the mayor for doing what he said he would do during the campaign, perhaps Belling should remember how close he came to endorsing Nelson.

2) I understand that during the public comment section of last night’s Common Council meeting a few words might have been said about our city administrator Lori Luther. In addition, some things have been said about the Council’s action to clearly set up the line of responsibility on talk radio, in Jessica McBride’s column, and elsewhere.

The city administrator now reports to the Common Council and they are responsible for her performance review. That is not the big change some are making it out to be.

The city administrator has always been independent. I know because when Jim Payne was our city administrator I actually wrote columns and blog posts suggesting that the city administrator be made less independent, that he should be answerable to the mayor. I made the case again during the process to replace Payne, the process which resulted in Lori Luther coming to Waukesha.

Some others supported the idea, too, or at least supported getting rid of Payne. During the mayoral election that resulted in Nelson’s election, each candidate was asked about Payne and the independence of the city administrator. Nelson was elected and that temporarily settled the issue.

When Payne left, the issue was raised again. Alderman Kathleen Cummings actually pushed the issue at a Common Council meeting. A small concession was eventually made. Instead of a super majority being needed to fire a city administrator, it was changed to a simple majority.

There was practically no stir in the public on this issue. If anything, I was asked why we have still a mayor, a question of some salience right now. If there is any public sentiment on the issue, it leans toward further reducing the role of the mayor to part-time, even eliminating the position entirely.

Meanwhile, Luther might be the only bureaucrat in Wisconsin reluctant to spend money. Her predecessor believed it was his job to spend every penny that the state allowed, and even stated so in his budget memo to the council. Luther, on the other hand, has negotiated wage freezes for city employees two budgets in a row. That’s the kind of record that drives liberals crazy about Scott Walker. Yes, taxes have gone up, but it could be far worse. We could have someone like Payne back again.

When confronted with a choice between Luther and the unknown, and the unknown getting picked in a talent search led by Mayor Scrima, the council chose Luther, continuing its policy of having an independent city administrator.

I suspect that come budget time this fall their confidence in her will be rewarded and there won’t be any tunnels dug under the road near Carroll University.

By the way, Scrima was asked directly during a debate about Lori Luther and the city staff, and he refused to comment at the time. Four years earlier every mayoral candidate did answer the question of whether they would retain Jim Payne. Perhaps if Scrima had announced his intention to get rid of Luther during the campaign, the Common Council would have been more active in the mayoral campaign. As it is, he has no mandate to change the existing order, and the Council acted accordingly.

If you want to accuse me of being hypocritical on this issue, I would remind everyone that the governments of men are the products of their experience. In this case, what we’ve experienced so far with our current mayor.

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