Saturday, November 27, 2010

Waukesha Water Officials Keep Flunking The Open Government Test

Some Waukesha officials simply cannot do the right thing when it comes to transparency and water planning - - a disturbing reflex first seen in 2006 when the city's two secret written requests for access to Lake Michigan water were prepared, sent to (and ignored b ) Gov. Jim Doyle, and revealed through an Open Records request.

The game-playing over Lake Michigan water access continues - - but first, before a fresh set of records, some background.

You will remember that Waukesha cancelled a November 18th meeting with the Department of Natural Resources about the city's troubled application for a Lake Michigan water diversion because environmental organizations - - a "special interest," as Common Council President Paul Ybarra told the DNR by letter - - were going to sit in and observe.

Observers! Can't have that.

Remember also that earlier this year, the Waukesha Common Council had agreed unanimously that Waukesha water utility manager Dan Duchniak and Mayor Jeff Scrima would be joint points of communication on the water issue with the DNR.

That agreement calmed a political storm after Scrima, a Lake Michigan supp;y skeptic, won an upset victory in April over pro-diversion incumbent Larry Nelson and later wrote to the DNR expressing his concerns.

Some Council members wanted to cut Scrima out of communications with the DNR as the state agency wrestled with whether to begin a formal review of Waukesha's diversion application; the 'who-speaks-for-Waukesha' compromise created a communications and power-sharing arrangement - - but one drawn up by the Council which, along with the water utility, strongly supports the diversion and the diversion application and finds Scrima's opposition vexing.


Can't have that.

Documents I obtained under the Wisconsin Open Records statute indicate that Common Council Ybarra wrote the DNR - - his November 16th letter is posted at this DNR website - - to say that the meeting was off.

Duchniak told the Mayor of the cancellation and Ybarra defended the communications end-run to Scrima, the records show.

What does all this mean?

That the power struggle over directing Waukesha's still-stalled Lake Michigan diversion application very much continues, with Mayor Scrima still fighting others in Waukesha government for a role in the process, and thus advocating for a truly transparent process.

I cannot imagine any of this goes down well at the DNR, which must decide whether to process and move the application to the other seven Great Lakes states - - all of which must agree that Waukesha produced a sound application for the application to be implemented..

This application is the first under the eight-state, two-nation (US- Canada) 2008 Great Lakes Compact. That compact was approved by the US Congress and signed by the President of the United States. It's a very big deal.

For Waukesha, under a legally-imposed 2018 deadline to permanently fix decades-old water quality issues, this application puts the city at the threshold of The Super Bowl.

And pro-diversion forces in Waukesha City Hall want to keep playing flag football.

Here are the records obtained through an Open Records request to Mayor Scrima:

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan S. Duchniak []
Sent: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:47 PM
To: Jeff Scrima
Subject: RE: DNR meeting
It has been brought to our attention that the DNR invited a third party to be in attendance at our meeting.  Due to the fact that the discussion was to be centered on legal issues related to the application, the City Attorney has advised strongly against participating in the meeting.
Therefore, Paul Ybarra will be sending a letter requesting a future meeting instead of this week.  That way we will be able to work through those issues.
Daniel S. Duchniak, P.E.
General Manager
Waukesha Water Utility
115 Delafield Street
Waukesha , WI   53188

(262) 521-5272 ext. 518
(262) 521-5265 fax
From: Jeff Scrima []
Sent: Monday, November 15, 2010 2:53 PM
To: Dan S. Duchniak
Subject: DNR meeting
Importance: High
Hi Dan –
Please confirm with me the date, time and location of our meeting with the DNR.
Are we carpooling? Who all will be in attendance at that meeting?
Thanks for your prompt response
Jeff Scrima
Mayor, City of Waukesha
201 Delafield Street
Waukesha WI 53188

November 18, 2010
Alderman Ybarra,
This letter is regarding your recent letter to the Wisconsin DNR Secretary Matthew J. Frank dated November 16, 2010, which is attached.
Based upon what authority did you send this letter to the DNR? As you are aware, the corporate authority of the City of Waukesha is vested in both the Common Council and the Mayor. Did you consult each Council member on this letter? 

I know you did not consult the Mayor’s Office on this letter. 
While I understand you were following the recommendation of the city attorney, the city attorney only makes recommendations and does not hold the corporate authority of the city. 

You, as one alderman, also cannot unilaterally make decisions on how the City of Waukesha communicates with the DNR without prior Council and Mayor approval. 
Your letter also is in contradiction to City of Waukesha Council action on July 27, 2010, whereby the council decided that all future “communications and information” regarding the Application for a Great Lakes Diversion would go through both Dan Duchniak, General Manager of the Water Utility, and the Mayor’s office. I had no knowledge of or input on this letter which you sent.
Moreover, your request in your letter to “[reschedule] the meeting between the City as applicant and the WDNR without the inclusions of third [parties]” sounds as though you are advocating for a closed-door meeting. 

This flies in the face of transparency, the public trust, and the citizens of the City of Waukesha which we represent. This is also reminiscent of the closed-door meeting you held with City of Milwaukee officials related to water back in May.
My personal opinion is that all future meetings with the DNR should be in broad daylight and include any citizens or press which wish to attend. 

Our diversion request is the first time the Compact is applied and must be done correctly, thoroughly and with utmost transparency.
As Mayor, and the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Waukesha, I kindly ask that you follow state statute, council policy and keep all communications and information related to the City of Waukesha’s future water source out in the open.
Jeff Scrima, Mayor
Cc:    City of Waukesha Common Council, City of Waukesha Water Utility Commission, and Dan Duchniak, City of Waukesha Water Utility Manager

From: Paul Ybarra [mailto: ]
Sent: Friday, November 19, 2010 4:28 PM
To: Jeff Scrima
Cc: ; ; ; Joan Francoeur; Joseph Pieper ; ; Paul Furrer ; Rick Tortomasi; ; ; Terry Thieme ; Vance Skinner; Ald John Kalblinger ; Al Roeker ; Bill Boyle ; Dan Warren (; Greg Zinda (; Joe Piatt ; Dan S. Duchniak
Subject: Re: Letter to Alderman Ybarra, regarding communication with DNR on water - November 18, 2010
Dear Mayor,
I’m sorry you were upset by the meeting cancellation letter.  The meeting cancellation was not intended to upset anyone.   The Water Utility and City Attorney’s Office shared their concerns about a special interest group joining a discussion with regulators about legal issues.  Due to the fact that Secretary Frank addressed his September 20th letter to me, it seemed like proper etiquette.
Personally I have no preference or strong feelings whether the letter came from the Water Utility Office, Attorney’s Office, Mayor’s Office, another council member or other city staff members.  The intent of the letter was simply to postpone the meeting. 
If you are interested in discussing the reason the Water Utility or the Attorney’s Office wished to reschedule the meeting, I you may want to touch base with them. 
Best regards,


1 comment:

Boxer said...

What a two-bit operation!

Each screw-up like this one just sets them back further and further from their goal.

Reminder: In the first application, they forgot to send in the check!