Sunday, March 13, 2011

CITY MANAGER FINALIST: Locked horns with Mayor, reports claim

Skirmish merited cries of "insubordination" for Columbia candidate 

COLUMBIA, 3/13/11  (Beat Byte) -- Columbia city manager finalist Lori Curtis Luther -- one of four candidates in the running to succeed retiring city manager Bill Watkins -- has had a rocky relationship with Mayor Jeff Scrima of Waukesha, Wisconsin, where Luther presently serves as city administrator under Scrima and the Waukesha Common Council. 

On at least two reported occasions, Luther (left, and Sarah Millard) implied that if the situation didn't improve, she'd seek work elsewhere.  

Written records showed "continuing tensions between the two" that reached a boiling point shortly before the Waukesha City Council -- known as the "Common Council" -- stripped Scrima of supervisory authority over Luther last year. 

In a June 18, 2010 memo about Luther's job performance, Scrima complained that Luther "spends too much of her time outside her office, has exhibited outbursts that concern me, and does not seem to interact much with the shared administrative secretary" or other office personnel, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last August

After instructing Luther to hold meetings in her office, thoroughly fill out her computerized calendar for paycheck approval, turn off her phone during staff meetings, and not work from home unless authorized, Scrima contended that Luther "angrily entered his office, saying there is more be made in Kansas" and knocked a clock off the wall, breaking it. 

In her own defense, Luther explained her position on each of the Mayor's points, and pointed to a record of accomplishment.  "Over the last three years, I have been responsible for balancing the city's budget during one of the worst economic times, and negotiating contracts with 10 unions to cooperatively reduce health care costs, saving the city literally millions of dollars." 

She also acknowledged speaking with Mayor Scrima about the ongoing clash.  "The mayor and I had several discussions in which I felt my professionalism and concern for the citizens of this community were being questioned," she wrote.

"On one occasion, she mentioned there were other, higher-paying jobs available if she was not valued in Waukesha, but she says she did not enter the Mayor's office angrily," the Journal-Sentinel reported.  At the time, Luther was earning $115,304 a year and reported directly to the Mayor. 

The staggering 120 comments beneath the Journal-Sentinel story about the Luther-Scrima skirmish are mixed, accusing Luther of "insubordination" and criticizing Scrima.    

"Luther throws the hissy-fit and is insubordinate.  Then she cries to the common council," writes DC

"Waukesha did a real dandy by electing Scrima," writes braunsmyboy98.   "What an idiot -- surprised he doesn't have a position in Milwaukee, since we normally get all the winners." 

Reflecting on the news that Luther was in line for the Columbia city manager's position, Waukesha blogger James Wigderson wrote, "Unfortunately, this has been coming ever since Mayor Jeff Scrima was elected, and the two of them have been unable to work together.  Luther’s time in Waukesha has certainly been controversial, but it has also been marked by controlling spending and holding the city’s employee unions to no increases the last couple of years." 


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