Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Questions surround the Scrima fund


While I was away this last week, Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima finally announced a plan to dispose of half his pay. He is creating a charity, the New Day in Waukesha Fund, which will be administered through the Waukesha County Community Foundation and donating half his pay to the charity. This is supposed to fulfill his campaign promise to only accept half his pay while serving full-time as mayor.

I want to commend the mayor for charitable works. I want to commend the mayor for doing something for the community. However, this whole fund really raises more questions than answers.

Let’s start with the obvious point, that donating money to charity is not saving the taxpayers a dime. Scrima promised (ridiculously, I thought) to only take half his pay if he was elected. There was no equivocation in his statements. He would only accept half pay, and then we (as voters) would judge him on his performance when it was time for re-election of whether he deserved full-time pay.

As WISN’s Mark Belling and others have pointed out, creating a charitable fund is weaseling out of a campaign promise, not fulfilling it.

Scrima claims that Wisconsin statutes prevent him from accepting half his pay. This is incorrect. He could do what what Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas does when it is time to take a furlough day. Vrakas writes a check to the county for what he would have been paid that day. There is nothing preventing Scrima from writing a check to the city for half his pay every payday. He could fulfill his campaign promise and avoid any of the questions surrounding his new charity just by writing the checks.

Some Scrima supporters have claimed that by creating a charity, Scrima avoids putting the money down “the black hole” of city government. Okay, but wasn’t Scrima elected in part to reduce unnecessary expenditures in city government while at the same time offering better services? So far, the only “black hole” I’ve seen are the holes in Scrima’s office wall when the “dated” wallpaper was removed at a cost of $4000, paid to a painter outside the city.

Even then, if those were my only objections, I would be tempted to give Scrima the benefit of the doubt.

Should we not be troubled by the name? The “New Day for Waukesha” was the theme of Scrima’s election campaign and the name of his campaign website. It adorned every Waukesha Freeman ad, his Facebook page, and every piece of campaign literature. This sounds more like self-promotion than self-sacrifice.

We should also be troubled by Scrima’s presence on the board of advisors. Here is a clear conflict of interest. The money continues to be under his control. Meanwhile, little is known about the rest of the board of advisors (I suspect more will be known soon) but how independent can they be as long as the mayor himself serves on the board? Given the extremely broad mandate of the fund, never have so much been expected from so few dollars, the money could be spent on almost any purpose that suits the mayor or his interests.

It also presents clear ethical issues in that someone seeking to influence city policy could simply dump unlimited amounts of money into the fund. Already a question could be raised about what Generac hopes to accomplish with the presence of former Generac Executive Gary Lato, or what the donors of $26,700 (so far) hope to accomplish. Forget the corrupting nature of campaign donations. At least those are currently limited in both dollar amount and the purpose for which they can be used. The “New Day in Waukesha” fund has real potential for corruption and the appearance of impropriety for unlimited sums of money.

For example, let’s say I now own Wiggy’s Water Softeners, and I get concerned about Scrima getting soft (pun intended) on purchasing water from Milwaukee. I’m limited in what I can donate to his re-election campaign fund. However, there is nothing preventing Wiggy’s Water Softeners from writing a $25,000 check to Scrima’s new charity. Even better, I can have the parent corporation, Wigderson Inc., write the check. How beautiful is that?

Can the mayor correct the flaws in his plan? Yes. Scrima could announce that after further consideration he has decided to change the name of the fund, that he will not serve on the advisory board overseeing the fund, that the city council will decide the membership of the advisory board, that all donations will be immediately transparent on the website, and that he will personally cease all attempts to solicit donations to his new charitable fund.

If he does not take these steps, I foresee terrible trouble for the city, and the mayor, in the future.

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