Waukesha mayor, Common Council clash over salary increases
Scrima, HR Committee critical of each other on issue
Mayor Jeff Scrima says now is not the time for salary increases.
But almost every Common Council member doesn't agree with him. And, amplifying the issue, the two sides have some choice words for each other.
In a 13-1-1 vote at its last meeting, the Common Council approved the increase for the mayor's annual salary from $79,100 to $83,500, and voted 14-1 to up future aldermanic annual salaries from $6,500 to $7,000. Common Council President Terry Thieme abstained from the mayor's vote because he is running for that position next spring.
Alderman Cory Payne was the only council member who voted against the raises.
"Less than eight months ago I was on every door step in my district hearing the people tell me face to face we need to watch spending," Payne said. "And this was a step in that direction. I believe we need to watch these types of issues and vote on a case-by-case basis. From top to bottom we need not to be so quick to throw around tax money simply because we can."
Three days after the Common Council's approval, Scrima vetoed the decision.
While the veto cancels the Common Council's approval, another vote on the salary increases is expected at the Common Council's next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 7.
To override the veto, a two-thirds vote is needed, something Council already had with its first vote.
"I wouldn't predict the council's vote, but since the aldermanic pay has been frozen since 2006 and there was strong support for the original motion, it would lead you to believe an override is possible," said Human Resources Committee Chairwoman Joan Francoeur.
In his veto message, Scrima said: "Just because the Congress in Washington continually votes to increase the future tax burden, that does not mean that the City of Waukesha Common Council has to do the same thing. Our Waukesha taxpaying families are still trying to pull themselves out of the economic recession, and now is not the time for our Common Council to increase our future tax burden by giving their own positions pay increases.
"These elected official pay increases are simply not needed."
Scrima added that "while some council members attempt to create diversions and make excuses for their voting behavior, the question remains 'since our taxpayers would have to begin paying for these elected official pay increases through their tax bills coming out at the end of this year, is the Common Council also guaranteeing a 0 percent city tax levy for 2014?"
"That's not necessarily a true statement," said Thieme, who is on the Human Resources Committee and is the Common Council president. "He likes to run on smoke and mirrors."
Thieme said the increases will only go into effect for the elected officials during the respective election cycles. Thieme's district seat isn't up for re-election until 2016 so that increase would only then take place, he said.
"The idea that office holders today are giving themselves a raise is not true," Francoeur said. "It's tied to future election cycles. Not current office holders. Any salary changes apply to the next office holder in the next election because in the best interest of everyone, elected officials cannot vote on increasing their own earnings."
Comparing to Waukesha
Salary increases were thoroughly vetted by the Human Resources Committee, Thieme said, and a chart was developed to compare salaries in Waukesha to other comparable cities in Wisconsin. However, Francoeur said this was just used as a framework to a deeper discussion on Waukesha.
"We weren't anywhere near the top," Thieme said. "Not even close to the top."
He added the increases would barely put the city near the middle of the list.
Again, Scrima said this wasn't good enough reason to increase salaries.
"Perhaps those communities have extra money laying around," Scrima said. "In the City of Waukesha, we don't have extra money laying around. It seems that they were trying to get something by without people knowing."
Thieme says no one was hiding anything.
"They're all open meetings, agendas are posted well in advance and all the meeting agendas are inside City Hall," Thieme said. "It's somebody that doesn't have enough integrity to confront somebody face to face, but can put it out to the paper. He's really something. You think he would be the city's biggest cheerleader and say 'let's come to a comprise.'"
When asked why he didn't give his opinion to the HR Committee before it gave its recommendation to the Common Council last week, Scrima said "they did not invite me to those meetings and didn't ask for my opinion."
That statement really frustrated Thieme.
"For him to consider that is incomprehensible," Thieme said. "It's ludicrous. It was discussed very well at the committee level. To me, the mayor saying that you have to be invited is not a sign of a good leader. A good leader is being proactive. What he's saying is that of a follower. There's no place for that."
But the mayor said, "the HR Committee (shouldn't) need me there watching what they do every second. They ought to know better on their own."
On Scrima's veto, Francoeur said: "I was more puzzled at the mayor's veto than surprised. This has been his pattern. He lets the council and staff work on an issue and when it is finished, he takes an opposing position and announces it in the press. It creates more work for those involved and the headline looks good.
"During our HR Committee discussions, the mayor chose not to participate while the city attorney and municipal judge accepted our invitation. They attended the meeting to answer questions and to explain the details of their jobs. I don't believe that taking a hard line position is the best way to create good public policy but rather that a collaborative effort produces the best results."
"I have no interest in making this personal, but I wish the mayor would have used his office's influence earlier in the process."
Alderman Joe Pieper had similar thoughts as Francoeur.
"I was not surprised by the mayor's veto, but (was) disappointed," said Pieper, who also serves on the HR Committe. "The Human Resources Committee was transparent and thoughtful in their work and I supported the recommendations based on talks with constituents and the value the positions bring to the city.
"The mayor chose not to participate in the process, atteneded no meetings and offered no opinion until after the vote. It would benefit the council and the city if the mayor made his thoughts known in a public meeting and not to the press."
Mayor's veto history
But Scrima said the committee should have known his stance.
"I've vetoed increases before," Scrima said. "This is my third veto over the last three years that are against unnecessary spending increases. This is nothing new here."
He said he vetoed spending increases in his first city budget for 2011 and did it again for the 2012 budget.
"Local elected representatives should do (the job) because they love the city and should do it for the honor and privilege for serving the community and not for the money," Scrima said.
Serving the city
Thieme says serving the community is exactly why he is an aldermen.
"I know the days I put in, which takes away from family-time and I'm not complaining, but I certainly don't cheat the taxpayers," he said. "It's not about getting rich. We do it because of a sense of duty, but you also want to attract good candidates."
Thieme adds he feels Scrima is out of touch with the aldermen.
"He has no clue what we do," Thieme said. "He never came up through the ranks, he never experienced what we experience, those of us that take an interest in the community. We're not going out to Harvard. Our interest is with the common people."
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