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Wauwatosa increases mayoral pay for first time since 1984

Two years of wrangling comes to end Tuesday

Dec. 7, 2011

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the position of Wauwatosa mayor is getting a raise.

Wauwatosa's next mayor will make $30,000 per year, the Common Council decided Tuesday. The job has paid $22,500 per year since 1984 - and that didn't sit well with a majority of the city's aldermen.

"It's kind of an insult and embarrassment to the city of Wauwatosa," Alderman Don Birschel said.

The raise received just enough votes - 12 in favor, four against - to pass. An ordinance brought to light by City Attorney Alan Kesner stipulates that changing the mayor's pay takes affirmative votes from three-quarters of the council.

Now is the right time

Eleventh-hour information that state statute requires the mayor's salary to be established by the candidacy filing deadline, in this case Jan. 3, was the deciding factor for several aldermen. In prior discussions, city officials were told they had up to the time the next mayor took office to make the change.

"We don't have the luxury to wait," said Alderman Dennis McBride, who had planned to ask for a delay until after the filing deadline. "Let's finish the discussion tonight."

Alderman Peter Donegan, who became a candidate for mayor this week, made the motion to increase the position's pay. As chairman of the Employee Relations Committee, it is customary for him to move items under the committee's purview on the council floor.

Although he just decided to seek the office of mayor, he had formed his position on mayoral salary in June, Donegan said.

"We are 20 years delinquent on acting on this," he said. "It's the right time to discuss salary when we invite people to run for it."

The issue had come before the council and its committees eight times in two years, with Alderman Brian Ewerdt initiating the discussion in 2009. He expressed surprise that the issue had gotten so political, saying he was motivated by a desire to make the pay a "livable wage" so it would be a more viable option for a larger number of residents.

Without being wealthy, retired or having a spouse to support them, the existing pay doesn't cut it, he said.

"We've been rolling the dice, and we've been lucky because we've had some competent people in that role," Ewerdt said.

The dedication of the past several mayors and the fact that three candidates have already announced intentions to run for the post led Alderman Jeff Roznowski to hold to his stand that the pay doesn't need to change.

"We're trying to fix something that isn't, frankly, broke," he said.

Compromise necessary

Although Ewerdt and some other council members floated higher salary numbers over the years, several factors played into the decision to go with $30,000 - timing and economic conditions chief among them.

Giving an elected official a raise in a year when other employees saw compensation cuts is not good policy, several aldermen said.

In addition, the council was overlooking an important decision-making step, Alderman Craig Wilson said. Any salary decision should be coupled with a discussion on the expectations of the role of mayor and the benefits to the city. Finding money in the budget is not a good enough reason, unless the council knows what those extra dollars will be paying for.

This past summer, some hold-outs said they would be supportive of an increase if the money could be allocated as part of the annual budget process. They wanted to see where the money was coming from, Donegan said.

The Budget Committee actually put an extra $10,000 in the mayor's account, but this decision uses $7,500 of that.

The strong desire expressed by several aldermen to look at the city's entire governing structure, including whether a mayor is needed and the number of council members, was the final push for Common Council President Eric Meaux to support the raise.

"If we do increase the salary, I do hope it opens the door for discussion of what form of government we want for our community," he said.

How they voted

IN FAVOR: Cheryl Berdan, Don Birschel, Kathleen Causier, Peter Donegan, Brian Ewerdt, Tim Hanson, Dennis McBride, Eric Meaux, Linda Nikcevich, Jill Organ, Bobby Pantuso and Michael Walsh

OPPOSED: Jacqueline Jay, Jeff Roznowski, Jason Wilke and Craig Wilson

Tosa Talk

"When we look at all level of governments today, what's missing … is a sense of duty and a sense of service. We all have a deep passion for Wauwatosa. There are some weeks you couldn't pay me enough to do this job."

- Alderman Bobby Pantuso on his belief that a person should run for mayor because of commitment to the community, not money

"If we approve this tonight, it's less of a joke, but still laughable."

- Alderman Brian Ewerdt, on his belief that the mayor should be paid closer to $45,000 annually

"It's time for us to value this position. I don't back away from this, although it might make me look bad."

- Alderman Peter Donegan on his support of a raise despite his candidacy for mayor

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