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Former City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Blog


System Failure

December 16, 2009 2:34 PM

Early this morning the Madison City Council voted 12 to 5 in favor of the Edgewater Hotel project. And now the project is probably dead. Is this making sense to anybody?

People have been quick, even eager, to take offense, so let me be clear from the start. I'm not blaming individuals on the Landmarks Commission or the Council for the outcome. But when we can't find a way to say yes to a tremendous investment in our city, hundreds of jobs and another $1 million in annual tax revenues in the midst of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, our system is broken.

There was widespread support for the project on the Council. No member of the Council actually spoke against it. If the question had been simply, do you support the Edgewater, the vote in favor would have probably been close to unanimous. The problem was that alders were stuck with deciding a narrow legal question about whether the landmarks ordinance imposed a sufficient hardship on the owner of the property to justify overriding the Landmarks Commission denial of a certificate of appropriateness. And even then, it turned out that 12 of 17 alders present thought there was sufficient hardship. But the ordinance requires a 14 vote supermajority, which we probably would have had if all 20 alders were present, but which we couldn't quite muster this morning with three members absent.

The answer is more democracy, not less. When a clear majority of a city's elected representatives want a project to move forward, it should. A system where a 12 to 5 vote in favor of a project still fails is simply backwards. Madison's processes are hampering our progress, stifling growth in our tax base and keeping people who need jobs out of work.

If anything good can come out of this terrible outcome, it would be the real political will to change a system that has failed us.



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