Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Edlund’s threat to reduce council size ignores history, facts

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:2011 Jun 09; Section:Opinion; Page Number: 10A

Edlund’s threat to reduce council size ignores history, facts

Paulson’s part-time mayor idea requires careful thought

Waukesha School Board member Steve Edlund threatened Tuesday night that if he and a few others like him don’t get what they want, they will use the direct legislation process via petition to reduce the size of the Common Council to seven members.

Edlund, who probably has better things to do like worry about what’s happening with the school district, wants the Common Council to put the mayor in authority over the city administrator. Later in the evening, Edlund goofily held his hands straight in the air like he was signaling a touchdown, with seven fingers showing for emphasis.

Good thing Edlund didn’t have to count to eleven.

What is lost among the Scrima supporters like Edlund is that the mayor was removed from his tiny amount of authority over the city administrator because of a complaint made to the city’s Human Resources Department. That’s what caused the closed-door meeting where Scrima was questioned about his behavior toward City Administrator Lori Luther. The council members determined that the mayor was not fit to oversee Luther.

Scrima’s supporters, who still can’t get over this issue from last summer, also don’t understand that the city administrator was always an independent position that could only be fired by the Common Council. She’s not the mayor’s chief of staff.

Her predecessor, Jim Payne, was even more independent than Luther. It was only when Luther was hired did the council make the position accountable to a majority vote instead of the two-thirds that was previously required.

Meanwhile, Alderman Duane Paulson has made a thoughtful suggestion to reduce the mayor to a part-time position. Unfortunately, Paulson did not refer the matter to committee as expected Tuesday night.

What everybody needs to remember is that reducing the mayor to a part-time position would not apply to Scrima in this term of office. It would only apply if, by some natural disaster, Scrima manages to win re-election.

Scrima himself opened up this debate when he ran for mayor by promising to only take half his pay. He has since broken that promise and now accepts his full pay while donating half to a charitable fund that has raised conflict-of-interest issues. Still, it was the mayor himself who made it clear that he did not think the position was worth the paycheck for a full-time mayor.

If the city of Waukesha did make the mayor part time it would be a continuation of a process begun when the city administrator position was first created. It’s a process that’s been accelerated by the current mayor’s unwillingness to act in the best interests of the city on the water issue.

The council again took another step forward in asserting its role as the voice of the community when they denied the mayor a seat on the water negotiating team.

Making the mayor part time would enhance the role of the Common Council. It would also mean an increasing reliance upon professional staff.

Government is the product of our human experience. We adapt our governments to circumstances while trying to maintain a representational form. Without being too pedantic, many of the points made in the Federalist Papers in support of the Constitution were references to the experiences of self-government in the colonies.

It is very important that the decision to make the mayor part time be made independent of what the aldermen and the public think of the current mayor. Scrima’s time in office is limited and what follows him is what is important.

As for reducing the size of the Common Council, someone should remind Edlund just how popular the idea was when former state Rep. Ann Nischke ran for mayor. She floated the idea only to watch it crash like the Hindenburg. People like their alderman, or at least having a local alderman they can yell at.

Ironically, Edlund serves on the School Board in a school district with a very strong administrator. On the whole, I think the community is grateful that we have a professional like Todd Gray as the superintendent, and even more grateful that the administration of the school district isn’t left to Edlund.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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