Fundamental problems with New Day fund
Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Jun 24, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 10A
Fundamental problems with New Day fund
Too much potential for trouble with Scrima’s new charity
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)
The temptation with Mayor Jeff Scrima’s new charity, the New Day in Waukesha Fund, is to congratulate the mayor on finding a clever way of giving back to the community. Indeed, the normal reaction is to praise all acts of charity and not to “look the gift horse in the mouth.”
However, had Troy examined their gift horse more carefully, the cleverness of the Greeks might have been undone. So pardon me while we give this pony a good going over.
Let us recall that the mayor had frequently promised during the campaign to cut his pay in half until such time as he faced the voters again. Then we, as the voters, could decide whether the mayor was entitled to the full pay as currently established in the law. He would work hard and get paid less while the city would benefit.
As even tepid Scrima supporter and talk show host Mark Belling has pointed out, creation of this charity is weaseling out of the campaign promise, not fulfilling it. Scrima is still receiving full pay and full benefits, and half the aftertax net salary is going to the mayor’s pet charity instead of being returned to the city’s coffers. The taxpayers are not getting more service for less, and not one additional pothole is being filled. He is not even making an offer to pay for the painting of his office.
If the mayor wanted to he could keep his campaign promise without all the trouble. There is nothing to stop him from writing a check back to the city every payday.
Setting aside the issue of the mayor breaking his campaign promise, there are other real issues concerning the creation of this fund.
Let’s start with the obvious, the fund’s name. “A New Day For Waukesha” was Scrima’s campaign theme. It adorned every Freeman ad, every piece of campaign literature, his campaign website, and even his campaign Facebook page. It’s the Scrima brand, and its promotion is really Scrima self-promoting rather than the promotion of charity.
Then there are obvious conflict-of-interest issues. The fund has an unusually broad mandate, from the arts to education to beautifying the gateways to the city. Never have so few dollars been asked to do so much by one mayor. The fund can do almost any act under the sun and still meet its objectives.
By serving on the fund’s board of directors, the mayor will still direct the use of the fund for whatever purpose he desires. The discovery by The Freeman that the direction of the fund’s expenditures will be conducted in secrecy is troubling to those of us who support openness in government. The public will have no idea in whose interests the fund will serve.
It also presents clear ethical issues in that anyone seeking to influence city policy could simply dump unlimited amounts of money into the fund. Already a question could be raised about what the donors of $26,700 hope to accomplish or receive in kind.
Making matters worse, the mayor will not divulge the names of the current donors until the annual report. The public cannot know whether any action by the mayor from this point forward may have been influenced by the donations he solicited for his pet fund.
All of this is contrary to the transparency the mayor claims to support.
Forget the corrupting nature of campaign donations. At least those are currently limited in both dollar amount and the purpose for which they can be used. The New Day in Waukesha Fund has real potential of corruption for unlimited sums of money with almost no controls on its use.
The mayor can correct the flaws in his plan. Scrima could announce that he has decided to change the name of the fund, he will not serve on the advisory board overseeing the fund, the city council will decide the membership of the advisory board, all donations will be immediately transparent on the website, and he will cease all attempts to personally solicit donations to his new charitable fund.
If he does not take these steps, I foresee terrible trouble for the city, and the mayor, in the near future.