RACINE — The City Executive Committee has laid out a timeline for filling Municipal Judge Rebecca Mason's seat after she steps down on Feb. 22. The committee also is recommending a salary increase for the judge's position.
Mason, who was initially appointed in 2016 and won re-election in 2017, announced in January that she would be stepping down.
Due to the timing of her announcement, a special election for the position could not be called for 2019, so the City Council will make a one-year appointment. The appointee will have the option of running for a full term in the position in the 2020 municipal election.
To handle Municipal Court matters between the time when Mason steps down and when the council appoints a replacement, Chief Judge Jason Rossell of Wisconsin's 2nd Judicial District — which includes Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties — appointed Pleasant Prairie Municipal Judge Dick Ginkowski to fill the position until March 31.
The timeline the Executive Committee is recommending the City Council adopts for finding a replacement for Mason is as follows:
- Feb. 19: Aldermen submit questions for applicants to the City Attorney's Office.
- Feb. 20: The City Council gives final approval of the appointment process as recommended by the Executive Committee.
- March 1: Applications for the judicial position are due to the city's Human Resources Department.
- March 5: If more than six residents apply, a Committee of the Whole meeting is scheduled to screen the applicants and submit top three recommendations to the City Council.
- March 12: a Special Common Council meeting is held to interview finalists and to make final selection.
City Council President Jason Meekma initially proposed a timeline that would have had the Executive Committee narrowing down the list of candidates if six or more applied. But Alderman Henry Perez of the 12th District objected, saying it would give the appearance that the Executive Committee "hand-picked" the candidates.
"I think we’re going to be creating more criticism than we need," said Perez. "You have to give us all the opportunity to choose."
Salary and benefits
The committee also is recommending a $10,000 pay increase for the municipal judge, from $50,000 per year to $60,000, and the addition of benefits for the position, which is designated as part-time. City Attorney Scott Letteney estimated that at $60,000 plus benefits, the total cost for the city would be about $70,000.
The initial proposal was for a $70,000 salary, but 1st District Alderman Jeff Coe made a motion to reduce the amount to $60,000.
The intention for the pay increase is to continue to attract high-quality candidates and to encourage the judge to devote more time to the position.
Alderman John Tate II of the 3rd District said the higher pay would enable the judge to devote more hours to their time as judge, allowing them to set up systems to help the community. Tate pointed to Mason's work with juvenile offenders and in establishing a license reinstatement day program.
"It's to establish systems, the kind of interventions to help the community, not just issue citations," said Tate.
Letteney told the committee that Mason typically devoted about 30 hours a week to the position. However, Letteney also said the council cannot require an elected official such as the judge to work a set number of hours.
The timeline and salary increase measures were submitted to the City Council with a recommendation for approval. The next City Council meeting at which aldermen can deliberate on the recommendations is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., Room 205.
This story was edited from an earlier version.