Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

City Administrator defends delaying indefinitely the appointment of new BID Board members

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The city of Waukesha’s relatively new city administrator Ed Henschel has issued a memo to the Common Council explaining his actions in taking over the functions of the Business Improvement District and attempting delay forever the appointment of new board members. The memo was included as a late addition to the Common Council packet for Tuesday’s meeting. (I’m sure there will be more information in Saturday’s Waukesha Freeman, still just 75 cents!)

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It’s clear from this policy memo that Henschel and Scrima have no intention to re-appoint BID Board members despite the wishes of the Common Council (as expressed at the last meeting by several members) and the property owners downtown. I have also been told that owners of at least 51% of the property in the BID district want new board members appointed and are bring that to the council’s attention for discussion on Tuesday.

The memo’s claim that the BID Board is dissolved is in direct contradiction to the opinion of the City Attorney, who wrote to me, “Any statement that the BID Board is dissolved is not an accurate characterization.” It’s a reminder that Scrima is lying when he says that he got an opinion from Meitz saying that the BID Board is dissolved. It’s very disturbing that Henschel is now complicit with that lie, and the Common Council should question Henschel’s participation in the attempt to deceive them.

If Henschel was ordered by Scrima to issue that statement, the Common Council needs to hold Scrima accountable. If Henschel acted on his own in defending Scrima’s lie, then the Common Council should begin the search process again for a new city administrator. The lie and it’s repeating cannot be tolerated by the Common Council.

As for whether new BID Board members can be found, that would require the mayor to actively seek out new members instead of hoping that he can just run out the clock.

The third point in the memo is especially disturbing:

Openness in government is not a problem to be avoided but a principle to be embraced at all levels. The biggest controversies that have been caused by the open records and open meetings requirements is when Scrima’s allies violate the law, such as Alderman Roger Patton deleting emails, BID President Norm Bruce attempting to overcharge for emails, BID Board members violating walking quorum laws, etc. This is on top of the mayor’s active attempts to discourage cooperation with the media inquiries into his activities, including the clandestine passing of New Day funds through the BID coffers or attempting to “re-brand” the city with a Gibson Guitar Company approved logo without authorization from the Council.

Unfortunately, we apparently have a new city administrator who is not committed to openness in government and sees it as a problem. If that’s the case, Henschel is going to have a very rocky tenure as city administrator, whether his tenure is long or short.

One more disturbing point, Henschel invites the aldermen to meet with him and the mayor if they have any questions about the memo. Henschel does not just answer to the mayor, but it’s clear that, at least on this issue, Henschel is sacrificing the independence of his position to serve the mayor’s bidding. The Council is being deprived of independent, unbiased advice. I realize that when Henschel was a consultant he was used to providing whatever answer his client wanted. But his position, as long as he holds it, is supposed to give the best professional advice to the elected officials and not just act as the mayor’s majordomo.

The Common Council should reject Henschel’s memo and make it clear to Henschel that it was unacceptable.  They should also make it very clear to Mayor Scrima that unless he fulfills his responsibilities that the council will be forced to take action. They should also demand an explanation why the mayor is lying to the public and the city administrator is lying to the Council about the current status of the BID Board.

What a disappointment Henschel is already becoming.

 

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