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News of mayor's departure prompts speculation about city's next leader

Some want pay issue put off until after election

Dec. 1, 2011

News that Mayor Jill Didier will leave her city post in two weeks has caught some Wauwatosa aldermen by surprise and has brought up concerns about the transition to a new mayor and whether the position is even needed going forward.

"It's a bit of a shock," Alderman Don Birschel said. "I thought she did an excellent job (as mayor). She was energetic and innovative. She'll do a great job (working for Milwaukee County Executive Chris) Abele."

Birschel said he can't recall a Wauwatosa mayor who left mid-term. Didier resigned prior to the end of her first, four-year term to take an economic development position with the county.

City ordinances give Common Council President Eric Meaux authority to act as mayor until the election in April. However, with a full-time day job, some aldermen questioned whether he has time to fulfill the duties. City ordinance prohibits a mayor from taking a job that would interfere with the position.

Meaux couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

City Attorney Alan Kesner is out of town. Upon his return, some council members would like to know if they can elect one of its members to act as mayor for the next five months.

However, that person would have to be someone who doesn't plan to be on the ballot to be the next mayor, Dennis McBride said.

Pay issue may be pushed off

McBride counts among several aldermen who have said they will ask that a vote on increasing the mayor's salary for the next term from $22,500 to $30,000 get put on hold until after the window for filing as a candidate closes in January.

First off, taking a vote would mean suspending the city's rule that ordinance changes require two reviews at the committee level before council action. In addition, he doesn't want a difference of $7,500 to be the deciding factor for someone considering a run for mayor.

Still, the need to make a living is a real one and the position's pay has remained frozen since the 1980s, so McBride still sees a raise as valid.

"It's time for a raise, but we don't have to do this now," he said.

The deadline for changing mayoral pay comes when the new mayor would take office in April.

Several aldermen said there seemed to be an urgency to increase pay to entice Didier to seek re-election.

"We shouldn't be worried about any one individual," McBride said.

Raising the mayor's pay at this time "muddies the waters" and makes it difficult to decipher a candidate's motivations, Alderwoman Kathleen Causier said.

"Are we getting a higher caliber of candidate or are we getting someone more interested in money than a love of the city?" she asked.

For Alderman Jeff Roznowski, Didier's resignation doesn't change his stance that it's a bad time to boost pay. If anything, it will help identify candidates committed to the city's betterment, he said.

"It's an exciting time," he said. "Transition periods bring energy, opportunity and creativity."

Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich sees an opportunity to look at restructuring the leadership, possibly replacing the mayor and city administrator positions with a city manager or redefining the mayor's job description.

"This opens the door to look for stronger leadership," she said.

Door open for candidates

The mayor's departure likely will result in one or two council members making a run for the city's chief executive seat.

"There are council members waiting in the wings to see what she was going to do," she said, adding that she won't be throwing her hat in the ring.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso also will not appear on the ballot in 2012 as a mayoral candidate, although he sees the job being a good fit at some point in his life. Electing someone who has served on the council brings experience and knowledge about the issues facing the city, but an outsider can provide a fresh perspective, he said.

So far, newcomer John Pokrandt is the only person to announce his mayoral bid.

Pantuso's willing to bet the city will not only have a contested mayoral election, but he predicts a primary will be needed.

"Open seats always draw a lot more candidates," he said.

In the meantime, there's a consensus that the city won't lack leadership in the coming months.

"We have a very strong and intelligent city administrator and nothing big on the horizon policy-wise that would require the mayor's vote," Pantuso said.

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