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Mayor’s book deal raises ethics issues

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Apr 28, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A    

Mayor’s book deal raises ethics issues

Council, city attorney need to investigate

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

 

    I don’t think I’ll be asking Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima for advice on what to read this summer. I’ll probably get a list of books published by his political campaign contributors.

    Scrima got himself into trouble again recently when he decided to take a break from painting the halls at City Hall and designing welcome signs. Our mayor found a book to read, “Sequencing: Deciphering Your Company’s DNA” by Michael Metzger. He liked it so much he decided to assign it to the staff, using city funds to purchase 30 copies.

    Not so far removed from school himself, the mayor probably didn’t see an issue with handing out assigned reading.

    Waukesha’s Police Chief Russell Jack, who probably has something better to do with his time than book reports, thought the book was inappropriate because of a perceived religious subtext.

    I haven’t read the book so I’ll leave it to others to judge the religious content. That’s just another human resources issue in the reign of Jeff Scrima.

    Once Jack raised an objection you would have thought Scrima would show some common sense and decide to drop the matter.

    Unfortunately for Waukesha, the book is published by Gary Lato, a campaign contributor to Scrima. Adding to the conflict of interest, Lato is also a substantial giver to Scrima’s “New Day in Waukesha” fund, Scrima’s shelter for his excess salary that he plans to use to possibly add some bike racks.

    For those of you coming in late to that story, we’ll turn back a few pages.

    Scrima promised during the campaign for mayor last year that he would refuse half his mayoral pay. It was an absurd promise, but public pressure made Scrima do something about his pay. Rather than give it back to the city, Scrima created a “charitable” fund conveniently named after the theme of his political campaign. Scrima sits on the board of this little fund and solicits contributions to it.

    It all sounds neat and tidy, even civic-minded, until these all-too-predictable conflicts of interest appear.

    Lato sits on the fund’s board, too, and contributed $16,500 to the New Day in Waukesha fund for Scrima to play with. If nothing else, a sense of gratitude might make Scrima think that Lato’s publications might be worth promoting with city funds.

    Here is some reading that the mayor might undertake. It is from the city’s ethics code:

    “No person may offer or give to a local public official or employee directly or indirectly and no public official or employee may solicit or accept from any person either directly or indirectly anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence the local public official or employee’s vote, official actions or judgment or could reasonably be considered as an award for any official action or inaction on the part of a local public official or employee.”

    Scrima might also want to read this paragraph from the city’s ethics code:

    “…no local public official or employee may: (1) take any official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official or employee or member of his or her immediate family or an organization with which the official or employee is associated has a substantial financial interest. (2) use his or her office or position in a way that produces or assists in the production of a substantial benefit direct or indirect for the official or employee, one or more members of the official’s or employee’s immediate family, either separately or together, or an organization with which the official or employee is associated.”

    Somewhere sometime someone may have discussed ethics with Scrima or Lato. Perhaps at church. But surely it occurred to one of them that promoting a book published by Lato’s company using city funds is just a huge ethical problem, one that the city attorney and the Common Council should take very seriously.

    In the meantime, I want to know to whom I would have to give money to make my columns assigned reading for the mayor. At fifty cents a copy, it would be a bargain for the city.

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