Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Mayor not the only one allowed to talk to strangers


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: May 27, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

Mayor not the only one allowed to talk to strangers

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

I have a confession to make. Last Saturday I attended the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s state convention in Milwaukee. I didn’t even notify Mayor Jeff Scrima. I just went ahead and did it.

Even worse, I talked to people at all levels of government. Some of them worked in the state Legislature, some of them worked in the state attorney general’s office, and some were candidates for federal office. I even spoke to two candidates for governor, and one of them is from Milwaukee.

I also spoke to a mayor of a city on a Great Lake. OK, it was the mayor of Superior, Dave Ross, who is running for lieutenant governor, but who knows where Waukesha will get its water?

A funny thing happened. The world did not come to an end. The Fox River did not dry up. A plague of locusts did not descend on the Moor Downs golf course. Frame Park was not suddenly turned into a high-speed rail hub.

I actually learned a few things. Mostly I learned that people outside the city can’t wait to hear what our mayor will do next.

Did he really tape record a meeting with the city attorney and the city administrator, I was asked. Usually the person asking me rolled their eyes like it was the silliest thing they ever heard.

I had to confess it was the silliest thing I’ve heard this year, and I followed the story of Democratic Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan explaining how his relationship with a lobbyist had nothing to do with how he treated a bill in the Legislature.

Yes, I explained, Mayor Scrima really did record the meeting. “But you’ll be happy to know he doesn’t think it’s newsworthy,” I told them.

“So far nobody has claimed yet that the mayor has an enemies list, although it is fair to say he is supported by a lot of (water softener) plumbers,” I added cheerfully.

“At least you’ll have plenty to write about,” was the most popular reply.

Which may explain why the mayor was not too fond of the idea of aldermen venturing east of 124th street and speaking to some of their counterparts. Aside from being away from the mayor’s recording devices (although not the FBI’s, as many have pointed out), who knows what they said about him as they conspired?

Scrima’s reaction, of course, was silly. People from local governments talk to each other all the time. Sometimes formally, sometimes not. It’s something to be encouraged rather than discouraged.

We even forget how talking to other local governments is a built-in feature around here. When Alderman Rick Tortomasi talks to County Supervisor Jean Tortomasi, should he ask the mayor’s permission first? When County Supervisor and Alderman Duane Paulson or County Supervisor and Alderman Kathy Cummings write themselves a note, should they run it past the mayor to make sure the city of Waukesha is speaking with one voice?

When Mayor Scrima speaks to the one public member of his team of smart people, should he notify the council he spoke with the City of Pewaukee government?

Protesting when some Waukesha aldermen dare to take it upon themselves to see what the Milwaukee aldermen think of the idea of selling us water is just counterproductive. It’s not like the aldermen broke the embargo of Cuba. More contacts between Milwaukee and Waukesha now just might mean easier negotiations later.

Instead of complaining, the mayor should have said, “Great. Let me know what you hear and whether it is worth our time to negotiate with Milwaukee. Next time, invite them to Waukesha.”

I know the complaint that the mayor was elected in a landslide. But the aldermen were elected, too, and sometimes they have minds of their own.

Perhaps someone among the really smart people advising the mayor can convince him to take a deep breath, relax for a moment, and figure out how he’s going to work with the Common Council going forward. That means putting away the recording devices, not issuing orders to the Common Council president, and working through the committee system.

Because the alternative is for the Common Council to run the city without the mayor. It’s up to him.


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