Waukesha City Administrator Lori Curtis Luther will be leaving her post in Wisconsin to become the Peoria County administrator in Illinois – a county that has nearly twice the budget as the city of Waukesha.
The Peoria County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve Luther's contract during a meeting Wednesday. Luther was selected as the top candidate by the board late last week.
Luther, 36, has been in Waukesha since 2008. Luther oversees the budget process each year and introduced a budget for 2011 with a flat tax rate. She also has lead negotiations to convince the public unions to take a wage freeze in 2010 with 1.5 percent wage increases in 2011 and 2012 while contributing more toward their health care costs.
"It is bittersweet for me to share this news," Luther said in an e-mail. "I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the positive relationship that I have shared with the council, staff, and the entire Waukesha community.
"My three young sons, husband, who is a beloved teacher and coach, and I care very much about this community and had intended to stay in Waukesha for the long term. However, this is an exceptional opportunity to advance my career and also get closer to my family. I am very proud of our accomplishments and will miss Waukesha."
Luther's start date has not yet been determined. Luther will be paid $145,000 annually when her contract is approved by the Peoria County board Wednesday night.
The City of Waukesha already has been undergoing the 2012 budget process internally and will have to go it without Luther. It is unknown if the council will have a different city administrator selected by the time the formal, open budget meetings begin in early fall.
Luther already enacted a hiring freeze for police and fire department employees after news about Gov. Scott Walker’s budget came out. The city is expected to cut $1.2 million from its budget. A civilian hiring freeze already was in place but firefighters and police officer positions still were filled until Walker's budget was released.
Luther previously worked in Reedsburg, WI, and Overland Park, KS, in city management-type positions.
PJStar.com is reporting that the Peoria County Board Chairman Tom O’Neill felt Luther “could get along with people extremely well,” which would help with county and city relationships.
Becoming the Peoria County administrator is a step up for Luther, who will be overseeing a budget of $110 million and 27 department heads. The county has a population of 186,494. Waukesha’s budget for 2011 was $57.94 million.
Peoria County is located about four hours southwest of Waukesha. The population has increased slowly in the last decade, growing 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the last census data. The median household income in Peoria County is $47,330.
In comparison, the city of Waukesha’s population is 67,814 people and has grown 4 percent between 2000 and 2010. The median household income is $50,084.
The move comes after anonymous critics of Luther rumored that she was interviewing for the position. While Luther previously said that information leaked by anonymous e-mailers to Patch about her interviewing for the job in Peoria County was incorrect – due to a miscommunication error only part of that information was incorrect.
Patch apologizes for any confusion that came with the miscommunication error about the rumors surrounding the city administrator’s new position.
Luther has been the frequent target of public attacks during Common Council meetings after the council amended her employment contract to reiterate that she was to follow the direction of the council. In that contract change, Luther’s evaluations were to include the entire Waukesha Common Council under the direction of the Common Council president. In that move, the council removed supervisory abilities from Mayor Jeff Scrima.
However, the mayor never had unilateral power over the city administrator’s position. That means any decision to hire or fire has to be confirmed by the council.
The exact nature of the closed session discussion has not been spoken about publicly – for the most part.
But some news reports have quoted city officials stating that Luther was being given conflicting directives about the policy established by the Common Council and by what mayor wished. Under state law, the council sets the policy for the city and is the deciding vote – pending mayoral veto.
And, a Milwaukee Magazine article quoted former-Alderwoman Peggy Bull stating that once the council learned about Scrima’s words and actions, they had no choice but to change the contract.