Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Scrima, Paulson, Duchniak, Clarke, Luther and Bull

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It’s minor, but revealing. The Waukesha Freeman reported today on an exchange between Waukesha Alderman Duane Paulson and Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima. In the e-mail exchange, Scrima told Paulson that he publicly released a letter to Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak after an open records request by the Waukesha Freeman.

However, in an e-mail sent to Paulson on Monday, Scrima said he provided a private letter he had sent to Duchniak concerning the red-lined Great Lakes water application and Martin Schreiber & Associates documents after The Freeman had “immediately requested under open records.”
The Freeman contacted Scrima on June 16 to get comments about the redlined Great Lakes water application and Martin Schreiber & Associates documents he had received. At that point, Scrima said he would provide a comment June 17 or June 18. During a phone conversation June 18, Scrima invited the reporter to his office to discuss the documents and at that point provided the private letter to The Freeman. The reporter did not submit an open records request nor even know about the letter before going to Scrima’s office and having him voluntarily show it to her.
Scrima said Friday he gave the reporter the document because she was seeking a response about the comments and the letter was a public record.

Waukesha Freeman columnist Pete Kennedy, you know, award winner and highly respected etc., looks at the Scrima record so far and shakes his head.

Even outsiders – and our current mayor was sold as one – need a rudimentary understanding of how things work.

Scrima doesn’t have that. The result is a series of gaffes that damage his credibility and, ultimately, his effectiveness. They also increasingly make a mockery of this city, which has serious long-term implications for all of us.

Why have the gaffes occurred? One story that came out during the campaign speaks volumes. It turns out Scrima hadn’t voted in many municipal elections. I suspect that’s because he wasn’t all that interested, and he didn’t follow other campaigns or the workings of city government.

So not only hasn’t he participated, he’s not even watched others participate. Now he’s in charge, doing essentially as he pleases. The public is reacting, reporters are reporting – and Scrima seems surprised.

For example, he and his supporters became indignant when they saw stories that he hadn’t given back half his pay. Didn’t they expect someone to follow up on that easy-to-track promise?

Scrima also has been quoted several times as essentially saying, “That’s not a story,” when, in fact, it is.

What Scrima desperately needs is someone who understands how city government works, and how the public will react to his actions. So far, he is sorely lacking in both areas.

On the other hand, I think Jessica McBride has a point when she gives some praise to Scrima on the Clarke Hotel issue.

It’s a side issue, in a sense. However, if the city wants any hope of NOT collecting the overdue property taxes from the establishment, then stripping away the liquor license is the way to help accomplish it. Luckily, Mayor Jeff Scrima seems to get this point, although the city has notified the establishment that, if it doesn’t pay up, it will lose the license.

Scrima says he wants to sit down with the establishment’s new developers first to try to come up with other options and that he sees no correlation between a liquor license and property taxes. I agree with his decision to meet, although the city needs some mechanism to punish an establishment that doesn’t pay up.

She’s harsher in her criticism of the city for making the original decision to back the development of the Clarke Hotel than I would be. I think some development downtown can be directly attributed to the Clarke Hotel’s creation, even if they can’t seem to get the business formula correct yet. It was a marginal call to make then, and I’m still not sure how I would have decided it had I been an alderman or the mayor at the time. However, it’s nice to see Scrima move from his previous position on the hotel which was one of seeming hostility. Perhaps he finally understands what’s at stake and how a TIF works.

That said, I think city residents should be nervous about the addition of an agenda item by Lori Luther, City Administrator and resident evil genius, to look at the terms of her employment with the city. As I’ve written before, I think Luther was the best decision ever made by the previous mayor and the common council. Her record in producing budgets and negotiating concessions with city employees has been impressive. I know Scrima thinks he can do better, as he clearly indicated as much during the campaign. While I always think there’s room for improvement, we’re very fortunate to have her as our city administrator.

While I have heard that she has a preference to stay in Waukesha, it’s entirely possible that some other larger community who would be willing to pay her more would try to recruit her away. Given the working relationship she currently has with the mayor, it would be understandable if she considered other offers concerning her future, especially since Scrima currently is responsible for writing her performance review.

Finally, on the recall effort against Alderman Peggy Bull. I am not a fan of Bull, and have not been a fan of hers since she said she thought it would be okay if a business wanted to land a helicopter anywhere it wanted, including in my neighborhood. However, I’m not sure that Bull could have done anything more than she has regarding the presence of sex offenders in her neighborhood. She’s already trying to get the city ordinance on where they can live re-written. If the residents have a problem with sex offenders in their neighborhood, then the problem is with the legislature and the judges that give too-short sentences.

If the issue is something else, like her opposition to the mayor or her support for Lake Michigan water, well, those are political questions that are best dealt with at election time. Unless the residents can show some cause for a recall other than the issues presented, I wish her the best of luck in defeating the recall effort.

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