Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Reasonable men reasoning together


Our friend Jessica McBride called for calmer voices in the discussion of Waukesha’s water future in her column for Saturday’s Waukesha Freeman.

First, a week ago, eight Milwaukee aldermen penned Scrima a letter in the socalled name of “regional cooperation.” What it really translated to was: You better do it our way or else we will put a stick in your eye. Although the aldermen seemed to be reacting to Scrima’s own somewhat hyperbolic campaign rhetoric on Lake Michigan water, they filled their own letter with – you guessed it – hyperbolic rhetoric.

For example, they expressed upset that Scrima, during his campaign, had called Milwaukee a “sinking ship” that is “rampant with financial and behavior problems.” What does this have to do with Milwaukee water issues? Now, I wouldn’t call Milwaukee a sinking ship at all. I think a lot of things are going well in Milwaukee. There are also things to criticize there, of course, and Scrima has every right to do so. Milwaukee officials should set aside their bruised egos and deal with the issues on the table, not old, meaningless rhetoric.

I suppose that’s true about both sides. Scrima did run a campaign aimed at beating up on Milwaukee and playing on people’s anti-Milwaukee fears. So, perhaps the common agreement could start here:

Waukesha officials could acknowledge that Milwaukee is a nice city in a lot of ways (you don’t agree? Go see the Raphael at the Art Museum, as one example of a nice thing in Milwaukee). They could also agree that all of its officials aren’t tax-hikers or corrupt and all of its residents aren’t engaged in lives of crime.

Milwaukee officials could, in turn, acknowledge that the suburbs aren’t just filled with polluting racists.

There. Was that so tough? Personally, I like both cities in different ways.

Both sides could also acknowledge that neither side has an obligation to give the other side something, although, in the case of Lake Michigan, it’s a public resource (and treasure) that’s not owned by anyone. Both sides are obligated to protect the welfare of their own constituents first, and this is not a bad thing. Both sides should protect the environment. And regional cooperation is just an empty buzzword that people toss around when they aren’t getting their way.

If Milwaukee officials are really interested in seeing where common ground with Scrima exists on the water question, they might have simply asked to have a personal meeting with him. Instead, their letter reminded him that, to get Lake Michigan water, Waukesha would have to agree to an industry non-compete clause and an economic compensation payment. Scratch that, it demanded such. It was written with all of the finesse and cooperative tone one might expect from Tony Soprano.

I think it was a poor way to introduce Scrima to the concept of regional cooperation, if that was the authors’ intent. It looks to Scrima’s constituents like an attempt to strong-arm him into backing down on campaign pledges and paints him into a corner.

I can almost picture how the water negotiations are going to go. Picture a quiet room over at Waukesha State Bank, a group of men seated around a long table with Mayor Jeff Scrima at the head of the table, saying of his Milwaukee counterpart, “He must let us draw the water from the lake. Certainly he can — present a bill for such services; after all — we are not Communists.”

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