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Waukesha mayor keeps charity funding secret

Dec. 18, 2011
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By Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel

Dec. 18, 2011 0

Waukesha - Mayor Jeff Scrima, who won election in 2010 on the pledge that he'd give half his pay to the community, won't disclose how much he's contributed to the charitable cause he established, and public records no longer reveal it.

He stopped having money directly deposited into the New Day in Waukesha Fund from his paycheck in May, when a 4% pay raise kicked in. The mayor's salary, established before he took office, started at $70,100, increased to $73,100 in April and is scheduled to increase 4% next April, to $76,100.

"The point of doing this is not to talk about how much I'm giving," he said.

Scrima said a detailed accounting would be given when specific community projects are financed by the fund. He predicted skeptics "will be pleasantly surprised."

Early next year, he said, plans for a new gateway marker to the city's eastern entrance on St. Paul Ave. will be revealed, a project that will be financed, at least in part, by his New Day fund. He has said restoration of the Farmers Market canopy along the Fox River will also benefit.

In response to the Journal Sentinel's request for public pay records, Scrima said in a written addendum that the city records provided by Human Resources Director Donna Hylarides Whalen "do not include personal checks from Jeff Scrima written to the Waukesha County Community Foundation from the beginning of his term in office or any time thereafter, and therefore do not represent the complete contribution of Jeff Scrima to this Foundation."

Scrima said in an interview that the last time he checked, about $40,000 was in the New Day fund. However, he refused to authorize the foundation to release to the Journal Sentinel the total currently in the fund or donors, as he had previously done. That was in March, and the New Day in Waukesha Fund totaled $38,937.

In his early 2010 campaign - resulting in the April upset of incumbent Mayor Larry Nelson - Scrima ran on a theme of "servant leadership" and said he would "serve as full-time mayor on half pay." On June 16, 2010, he announced the formation of his New Day in Waukesha Fund to benefit the community, including a news release that said "initial contributions" would be provided through regular payroll deductions of half of Scrima's take-home pay. At the time he said additional commitments totaling $26,700 had been made from the community fund.

An advisory committee consists of Scrima, campaign contributors Kevin Larson and Gary Lato, attorney and former judge Rick Congdon and businessman and philanthropist Tony Bryant. Congdon and Larson were appointed by Scrima to the Plan Commission. Lato's family foundation so far is the only entity or individual other than Scrima identified in the community foundation's annual report as having donated to Scrima's fund. At the time, the Lato donation totaled $16,500.

According to payroll records, Scrima donated through direct deposit between $929 and $1,044 each paycheck from July 2, 2010, to April 22, 2011, when his net pay was between $1,860 and $1,898 per two-week pay period. Direct deposits stopped with the May 6 paycheck.

Scrima said, "Citizens will clearly see the accounting and the results within the next couple of years" as community projects are proposed. He hopes that additional donations from others will be leveraged with each project.

Gateway project

Currently, his New Day advisory committee is finalizing plans for the first funded project - the city gateway. Volunteers have been refining designs, construction plans and cost estimates, he said.

While the current gateway sign is a collection of fraternal organizations' emblems on a wooden background, the design that has gotten preliminary approval by Scrima and his fund advisers is significantly different, focusing on "art, rhythm and river," he said.

Preliminary plans show a stylized guitar with a neck that doubles as an artist's paintbrush - representing both Waukesha native and musical inventor and hall-of-famer Les Paul and the city's art community. It also includes three waves in red, green and blue, representing the Fox River. The city's name is in block red lettering with a paintbrush exclamation point. The background is in Lannon stone.

Scrima said in 2010 that one of his goals was to make Waukesha "the No. 1 arts city in America in eight years." He was named winner of the "Arts in Community Award" by Arts Wisconsin and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities 2011.

Scrima said his fund would partner with the Business Improvement District on the restoration of the Farmers Market canopy, a former transit center hub. That project probably would be undertaken in the spring.

About Laurel Walker
Laurel Walker covered local, school and county government for 20 years -- the last half of that at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- before she was named Waukesha County columnist in 1997. Today she writes about the people, places and events around metropolitan Milwaukee with a broad suburban focus. She was the youngest of nine children raised on a central Wisconsin farm before leaving the nest for journalism studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a masters degree at the University of Oregon. She has spent the last half of her life in Waukesha County, where she and her husband raised two sons. Though she has a fondness for life in Waukesha, she eagerly partakes in the culture of the big city to the east and the recreation of the forests to the west. With sons in the arts, she has a special fondness for symphonic music concerts and art museums. She finds peace in a good book at a Northwoods getaway weekend, adventure in family visits to the east and west coasts, and satisfaction in a column well-written that reaches readers.
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