Monday, October 24th, 2016

No wonder Luther’s looking for an exit


Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Mar 17, 2011; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

No wonder Luther’s looking for an exit

Scrima doesn’t look so good in profile

While our attentions were consumed by the events in Madison, City Administrator Lori Luther’s attentions were drawn to another city. We learned recently that she is a finalist for a similar job in another city far, far away from here.

It doesn’t matter that it’s Columbia, Mo. If Luther does not get this job, then it will be the next one. Another city with more money, more challenges, and less likely anyone like Mayor Jeff Scrima.

The long-overdue profile of Scrima by Milwaukee Magazine is out. I am not sure of the picture it presents of the young mayor, but it does include new anecdotes of the mayor’s erratic behavior.

For the first time, we learned, according to Department of Public Works Director Fred Abadi, Scrima actually considered firing and then rehiring the entire DPW staff.

For comparison, Caligula is widely believed to have appointed his horse as a consul of Rome. Fortunately, aldermanic appointments are approved by the Common Council.

Scrima denied wanting to fire the entire staff, while Luther and Common Council President Paul Ybarra confirmed Abadi’s account.

Isn’t it funny how, whenever something Scrima said might get him into trouble, all of the other people involved must be lying?

The article also revisits the budget battle from last year. The city administrator presented a budget with zero increase in the tax rate. The budget went through the committee process and was about to be approved.

At the last minute, Scrima announced that he thought the capital budget was spending too much money, and that he wanted no increase in the tax levy. He then failed to offer any concrete proposals, and vaguely suggested taking the money from the transit system.

It took the Common Council to achieve the mayor’s goal and fix the mess the mayor had caused. For their trouble, Scrima told Milwaukee Magazine, “If they had done their jobs better, I wouldn’t have had to give them recommendations at the end.”

That kind of language probably won’t make too many friends on the council.

We also learned that the confrontation between Luther and Scrima that led to the intervention by the Common Council was dire enough that at least one former alderman, Peggy Bull, thought the council’s action avoided a lawsuit.

When asked, I always say that I don’t believe that Scrima has done anything yet that merits a recall. It’s not like he picked up and ran to Illinois to try to prevent the Common Council from giving approval to going ahead with the application for a diversion of Great Lakes water.

But this city is going to be going through a rough time in the next year as it adjusts to the loss of state funding. As the city administrator, Lori Luther has worked with the city unions to contain labor costs, making the last budget possible. It would be nice to have her leadership in the months ahead.

Unfortunately, Scrima’s presence in City Hall probably makes that very unlikely.

It also means that there may be a clash between Scrima and the council when it comes time to pick Luther’s eventual successor. Scrima should learn from his predecessor Larry Nelson and involve the council as much as possible in the candidate selection process. It would be a wonderful opportunity for Scrima to rebuild the bridges between him and the council.

If Scrima does not involve the council, he may find his own role in the process of selecting the next administrator diminished, or even eliminated. Waukesha residents should be forewarned that if the council were forced to act, past behavior would indicate that the fault would lie with the mayor.

I would add that if it comes to that point, the Common Council might want to consider whether we need a mayor at all.

For the record, Milwaukee Magazine does quote me accurately when I called Scrima, “obstinate and ignorant” when it comes to the water issue.

I also said that we all want Scrima to succeed. I mean that. Whatever else happens, I do have to live here with the results of the decisions that come out of City Hall.

Scrima can succeed. He just has to realize there is an entire city government waiting to help him.


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



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