Mayor’s vetoes the result of poor leadership
|Waukesha Freeman 11/07/2013, Page A08|
| Mayor’s vetoes the result of poor leadership
Scrima’s grandstanding creates unnecessary tension
On Tuesday night the Waukesha Common Council voted to override Mayor Jeff Scrima’s vetoes of the increases in salaries for the mayor and the aldermen. The increases will not take effect until a new term in office.
In defending his vetoes, the mayor explained that household income in the city has been going down in each of the last several years. He said now wasn’t the time for the increases.
The council members challenged the mayor to follow through on his logic. Was he planning on vetoing the income increases for city employees? Scrima attempted to have City Attorney Curt Meitz throw him a lifeline to avoid answering the question, but Meitz said the question was allowable.
Of course, the city attorney having any say over what is acceptable debate at the Common Council meetings is an absurdity, but nonetheless the question remained in play and Scrima conceded that no such veto was planned.
Another alderman asked why the mayor did not veto the salary increases for the city attorney and the municipal court judge. Scrima explained that despite the elected nature of their offices, the positions require special skills.
Fortunately for the mayor no special skill is required for his position, a point he made during the debate.
But it was Alderman Kathleen Cummings who probably made the most relevant points of the evening. She raised the question of whether the mayor valued the contributions of the council at all.
Cummings turned Tuesday night’s debate to the process. She said that the mayor could have raised his objections at the committee level and even could have spoken at the Common Council meeting when the pay increases were passed.
Scrima did not, and instead of a collaborative process working with the Common Council, the mayor had turned the process into a publicly adversarial one.
Alderman Joan Francoeur echoed the point about the process, and later took pains to remind everyone that Common Council President Terry Thieme recused himself from the debate regarding the mayoral salary. (Thieme is a declared candidate for mayor.) Scrima answered Francoeur by pointing to the sheets of paper in his hand with the latest census data on wages in Waukesha, saying, “Going to committee meetings does not mean you’re in touch with the real world.”
No, but digging up some last-minute census statistics to justify grandstanding at the last minute doesn’t put a politician in touch with the real world, either.
However, attending a few committee meetings would put the mayor in touch with the members of the Common Council and staff. As the only full-time elected official on the Common Council, the mayor certainly has more time than the aldermen to attend the meetings.
If he attended the meetings, Alderman Vance Skinner would not have to wonder if Scrima read the statistics comparing the aldermanic pay with other communities. Scrima could even have raised his supposed concerns about the lack of income growth in the community.
Perhaps Scrima was afraid that some council members might ask him some uncomfortable questions if he attended the committee meetings.
They might have asked him if he still thinks a mayor should only be paid half of what Scrima is being paid now. Maybe they would have taken him at his word and cut the salary accordingly.
The council members on the Human Resources Committee might also have asked Scrima if he thought using his office’s travel and conference budget to pay for educational seminars at Harvard Business School was more than enough extra compensation from the taxpayers that he did not need the raise.
(I hope he declared that money on his income taxes.) Later in the meeting, as if in answer to Cummings’ question about whether Scrima values the Common Council, the mayor could not even remember on what committee Alderman Cory Payne served. So much for the time and consideration Scrima gives to his appointments.
Perhaps the mayor is right. Perhaps now is not the time to be increasing the salaries of our elected officials. Perhaps.
But the case against increasing the salaries needed to be made before the council voted, not after. Scrima may not see the council members’ full monetary value, but he owes his fellow elected officials at least that much respect.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)