Waukesha Common Council overrides mayor's veto on salary increases

Published on: 11/12/2013

It was clear a majority of the Common Council were not going to change its mind.

And it was just as clear Mayor Jeff Scrima would continue to stand by his position of not wanting to have salary increases for the mayoral and aldermanic positions.

A little more than a week after Scrima vetoed the council's approval on the raises, the two went head-to-head at last week's Common Council meeting. But in the end, all it did was delay the inevitable as enough votes were cast to override Scrima's veto.

It was 11-3 in favor of increasing aldermanic salaries from $6,500 to $7,000 with Aldermen Cory and Eric Payne and Adam Jankowski voting against the override.

Meanwhile, only two (Cory Payne and Jankowski) voted against the override in the mayoral increase, which will up the annual salary from $79,100 to $83,500.

Common Council President Terry Thieme, like he did a couple weeks ago, did not vote on the mayoral salary increase because he is running for the position in 2014. Cory Payne had been the only one who voted against the increases at the Oct. 15 Common Council meeting.

While it was evident he was in the minority once again, Cory Payne reiterated, "an increase is still an increase."

Showing his data

Scrima brought data from the U.S. Census Bureau to the meeting showing how the national and state medium family incomes have generally decreased over the last six years.

"Now is not the time," Scrima said of the raises. "Our family incomes have been going down in the City of Waukesha. These increases are not only completely out of line with what our tax-paying families are experiencing, but we're paid well in very challenging economic times."

Many members of the Common Council said they would have liked to know Scrima's comments earlier in the process and not afterward in a veto message.

"The mayor's comments would have been welcomed at the respective committee meeting," said Alderwoman Joan Francoeur, who is the chairwoman of the Human Resources Committee where the increases were vetted. "He was invited. His office was called to see if he was going to attend."

She reiterated the increases won't go into effect until each district's next election cycle and she has not heard any opposition for the raises.

Being public servants

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings questioned whether Scrima values the contributions of the Common Council.

"There isn't an alderman here that hasn't put in their public service," Cummings said. "I wish he could explain why he thinks so little of this body that he vetoed it."

Scrima said he values them but that their jobs require them to be "public servants."

"There's no question the council puts in thousands of hours of service and there's no question being a locally elected official is a thankless job," Scrima said. "That's the job we signed up for. Our community median income has continued to go down and down. Some day when the data (is better) that would be the time for us to increase. But that time is clearly not now."

Alderman Vance Skinner asked Scrima if he looked at the data the HR Committee, in part, used when determining the raises (it offered comparisons to other similar-size cities). Scrima said he found the data "inconclusive" and "regardless of what (that) data says, those other communities have their own funding source. They may have extra money. We don't have extra money."

Out to attract more

When Alderman Steve Johnson asked why he didn't veto raises for the municipal court judge and city attorney, Scrima said "those positions clearly require certain skills in order to attract certain people. However, for the Common Council and the mayor's positions there are no prerequisites and no degree requirements."

But many of the Common Council members said the raises could help attract more aldermanic candidates. Some referenced the lack of interest when the last two seats have been vacant.

"My concern is we have an open position right now and who are we attracting?" Alderman Andy Reiland said. "We have one application (for the soon-to-be filled District 7 position). Only one. I'm not saying the increase would bring more to the table but it doesn't hurt. That is my concern that we get more citizens involved so the process of the election does take hold and the citizens actually have a choice."

Skinner had the same viewpoint calling it "a shame" that there is just one applicant. Francoeur added "this is a valued position and should be acknowledged through this increase."

Not in it for the pay

Cummings was frustrated when Scrima continued to reference his data sheet that he passed out to the aldermen.

"You made the front page, you made us all angry and at the end of the day for what?" Cummings said. "You tell us it's hard out there. My family has gone through three or four job losses. We know it's hard. But part of our job is coming to a committee meeting voicing our opinions."

However, Scrima fired back, with his data sheet in his hand: "This is the real world."

Scrima added: "It's like the proverbial frog that's put in a pot of water and the temperature is slowly turned up. The frog as an adult is getting boiled. That's what you're proposing to our citizens. It's just a little bit. You're turning up the temperature a tiny bit. You won't feel it. It's just a couple dollars. That's not the point. It's totally off line with what the data shows."

Many of the aldermen continued to stress that they are not in it for the money.

"If we are we're in the wrong position," said Thieme, before adding "I think one point of value that has been overlooked in all of this is each of us brings a level of experience to the council. In that respect, I'd say the city is getting quite a bargain."