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The search for the next Luther and the truth

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 11, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

The search for the next Luther and the truth

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

With the departure of City Administrator Lori Luther there are a few things left to be said.

In her final memo, Luther said that the confidence of that closed-door session that placed her solely under the supervision of the Common Council no longer needed to be kept. That the silence imposed upon the participants was a requirement because it was a personnel matter.

Since Luther is leaving, she said that the requirement for silence about the closed-door meeting was no longer required.

Like many of Mayor Jeff Scrima’s supporters I am not a big fan of closed-door meetings. So I picked at the issue like a scab on the wound until I found out the truth.

Former Alderwoman Peggy Bull was the first to break the silence in an interview with Milwaukee Magazine, saying that the decision to remove the supervisory role over Luther from Scrima was not just about the water issue, but was to avoid a real concern about a potential lawsuit.

I confirmed from other sources and reported here for you that there had been a complaint to human resources, and that was what prompted council action. It was also the judgment of the council that Scrima was not responsible enough to continue on in a supervisory role over Luther.

It was also discovered that Scrima had attempted to force Luther to lobby the Common Council against their own decision to proceed with the application for Great Lakes water. Luther not only disagreed with Scrima on that decision but also recognized that the council was the body with the policy-making authority, not the mayor’s office.

For that sound judgment, Scrima retaliated in the workplace and created a hostile working environment, creating the crisis that the Common Council was forced to resolve. Unfortunately, that hostile working environment continued, and was made more difficult by the horrible behavior of some of Scrima’s supporters.

It’s a miracle that the city is not facing a lawsuit because of Scrima’s poor behavior. If we wanted more evidence of the immaturity and completely irrational behavior by Scrima, we saw it at the last Common Council meeting when Scrima could not even bring himself to applaud Luther on her departure, even to congratulate her on her better opportunity in Peoria.

We might also be creeped out by the leaks by Scrima’s supporters on the Internet regarding the details of Luther’s job search. Were they reading her emails? Following her? We may never know, but certainly a question that the candidates for the next city administrator will have to consider.

It’s also a question and a concern for the Common Council.

The Common Council voted last Thursday to engage a professional search company to conduct the search for a new city administrator.

To those that objected at the cost, they should ask themselves how much they want Scrima to conduct the search unaided and unscripted. What the council estimates it will spend on a professional search they may have spared in legal fees and more.

But the larger question, to whom the next city administrator should report, remains unanswered.

It’s interesting to see the current acting City Administrator Steve Crandell continue as Luther did, speaking on behalf of the council’s decisions on the Great Lakes water application rather than on the mayor’s behalf. Crandell reasserted his role the other day as the city’s spokesman on water issues, pushing aside statements by the mayor that were contrary.

Was it personal for Scrima, his intolerable behavior toward Luther? Will it be personal again with Crandell?

The Common Council and the rest of us will have to watch the situation very closely to see if Scrima can again be trusted with any supervisory authority.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting, too, that the major remaining objection to the public learning what happened in that closed-door session comes not from any of Luther’s supporters, but from the mayor himself.

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