Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Politics of art and the art of budgeting at City hall


Exploiting women in art is in eye of the beholder

However, Luther’s record solid by any standard

Rule No. 1 for politicians should be that if you have to tell a reporter that you don’t think something is news, then it’s news.

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings said she thought several pieces of artwork on display at City Hall “exploit” women. That’s news. And when she declined to say which ones, that’s also news. When she’s asking a committee of Waukesha’s city government to determine what the criteria should be for art to be displayed at City Hall, well, that’s big news.

I spoke with Alderman Charles Lichtie last Friday to see if Cummings had contacted him regarding the exploitative artwork, and he said she hadn’t. He also had no idea which works she could find so objectionable.

We then wondered if it was his, since he also has a piece of work on display. I told him that if his was among the ones in question, he should raise his prices.

But consider that while some people might have a guess about which piece of work raised such ire in Cummings that she felt the need to refer it to committee, nobody knows for sure which works are supposedly exploiting women.

I have something of an eye for art as well as for controversy and I have to say, if nobody knows which work is that controversial, then none of them are.

We might question the wisdom of hanging the local art in City Hall, especially when you consider City Hall is only open Monday through Friday until 4:30 p.m. The only way I will get to see the art in question is if I get Mayor Jeff Scrima to come in after hours to open the doors for me. Maybe he can take the opportunity to tidy up the place while I’m there.

By the way, if Cummings’ concern is that only women are being exploited for art, I’m willing to offer myself as the necessary male subject of exploitation for any local artists. All I ask is that I am able to turn the work into some nice thank-you note cards or even Christmas cards.

* * *

We’re less than three weeks away from electing a new governor, but the work of local governments must continue. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker proposed a county budget that calls for a $1 million reduction in the tax levy. His political opponents are going over his proposed budget hoping to find the magic bullet to derail his campaign.

“Voila,” they exclaimed. There is a “hole” in the county budget.

The supposed “hole” is a plan by Walker to require concessions from county employees, including a wage freeze, employee pension contributions, and a change in health plan. These concessions are necessary in Milwaukee County regardless of who is county executive because if nothing changes in six years the entire tax levy for the county will go to employee wages and benefits.

City of Waukesha employees might be wondering just what is the big deal. This is the third city budget in a row City Administrator Lori Luther has held the line on employee wage increases in her budget. She has a track record now that is more conservative than Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas.

Ironic, since she is a supposed Larry Nelson holdover, right?

The city of Appleton’s mayor just proposed a 5 percent increase in city employee wages over two years. In Waukesha, our city budget is proposing another wage freeze and a zero increase in the tax levy.

For all of the negative publicity targeted at her, and the alleged stalking and harassment, Luther’s service as city administrator is the envy of every community east of 124th Street, and many of the communities west of 124th Street, too.

Nobody, not even the current mayor, has been more critical of the independence of the city administrator position than me. I was writing about the issue when Nelson won his first term. Where was Scrima’s fan club then?

Perhaps it’s time some of the mayor’s supporters grow up a bit and realize what a tremendous resource and valuable city employee we have in Lori Luther.

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