Monday, October 24th, 2016

Dissolving the BID almost inevitable


Dissolving the BID almost inevitable 

Mayor needs to justify school expense

Waukesha Freeman 2/7/13 Opinion Page A6

Hard to imagine that anyone at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Common Council was surprised when a group of downtown business owners petitioned to shut down the downtown Business Improvement District. As I explained last week, the property owners downtown faced an ugly choice.
They could either go along with a change in the BID’s mission even though they perceive it is not in their best interests, they can try to mitigate the damage, or they can dissolve the BID. Since the property owners, and not the downtown business owners, are the ones that pay the bills, they have the final say on what happens with their money.

The right decision would have been for the Common Council to postpone any action on the BID budget until after the dissolution process was completed. The council chose instead to approve the BID budget and bylaws.

Alderman Duane Paulson is correct in saying that in approving the BID budget, any hope of getting the property owners to change their minds is now lost.

I understand those aldermen who were asked by downtown property owners to fight to keep the BID going, and they fought hard to get Mayor Jeff Scrima to finally appoint some board members.

Now those aldermen are being asked to reverse course. I understand the frustration of those aldermen that approved the BID operating plan. They want the work and time invested in the process to have some results.

But the BID board and the city administrator decided to take the BID in a new direction, one contrary to the desires of those who pay the bills.
There is a lot of good a BID could be doing for the downtown. It could be recruiting new businesses. It could be cleaning up graffiti. It could even be shuttling downtown business employees to and from the parking ramps rather than have them fill the precious street parking.

Instead, City Administrator Ed Henschel saw the BID’s special tax money and the reserves as a piggy bank for promoting special events downtown, some of which were in direct opposition to the desires of some of the property owners and their tenants.

Regardless of what happens to the BID, it’s likely most people will not notice when they attend events downtown. The art crawls will go on. Waukesha’s Freeman Friday Night Live will still close Main Street. Somebody will run a Christmas Parade that the mayor won’t attend. We’re even promised a Guitar- Town 2.

Supposedly, owners of 62 percent of the property value downtown have signed the petition to disband the BID. That should be enough of a majority for the dissolution of the BID to actually happen. Instead of the BID’s money doing some good for the downtown, it’s going back to the property owners. It’s not want anyone wanted.

* * * Mayor Jeff Scrima returned home from Harvard Business School after furthering his personal education at a seminar there. He told the Waukesha Freeman that he couldn’t tell them what his course work was about because it was copyrighted. He then told The Freeman, “the atmosphere was very open two-way communication, and also very challenging.”

If Waukesha residents had any doubt the mayor has trouble with communication, he just erased that doubt.

He also said, “I’m just one of many Waukesha public school graduates who have furthered their educations to give back to the community.”

He may be just one of many, but he’s the only one to use $3,677 of the funds from his office for such personal enrichment and résumé enhancement.

Alderman Terry Thieme made a referral at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting asking the mayor to justify the expense for this year and last year by reporting the benefit to the taxpayers. Scrima’s response ought to be interesting.

The council really needs to press Scrima on what possible benefit there could be for the taxpayer. Then they should remember this use of taxpayer money when it comes time for setting the budget for the mayor’s office next year.

What would have really benefitted the taxpayers is if Scrima took a course in ethics in government. Then he might have learned to at least feel guilty about using city funds for his personal growth.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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