Alder David Ahrens
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Ahrens’ Updates
Reforming City Governance
In the past two weeks the Mayor has had a series of press conferences focused on a proposal made by me and Alder Mark Clear and supported by almost all of the past Council leadership as well as other members.
Under current law, the Mayor appoints Alders to committees, including the Board of Estimates (Finance) Committee. The Mayor also chairs the Board of Estimates and the meetings of the Council. The Mayor serves a four-year term and the Council President typically serves a one-year term.
In addition to appointing and chairing the Board of Estimates, the Mayor appoints the department heads who recommend appropriations, he writes the budget and then chairs the committee that reviews it.
Our proposal would give the authority to appoint Alders to committees to the Council. (It has not been decided if the appointment authority would be a small committee of council members or the Council President or some variation of this.) The Mayor would continue to appoint all of the non-Alders to committees who make up about 90% of all appointments. The Board of Estimates would elect its own chair from its members and the Council President would serve a term of two years.
These initiatives re-balance powers between the executive and legislative branches of city government. For the legislative branch to have integrity as a separate and equal branch of government it should appoint its own members to committees and chair the committee overseeing city finances.
As the legislative body, the Council is closest to the residents of the city. Members regularly meet with constituents, local groups and have a greater and more immediate awareness of the issues closest to our communities. Rebalancing powers and resources between the legislative and executive branches enhances local control and creates a more responsive government.
The Response: Unfortunately, the Mayor's response has been to engage in false and sometimes bizarre attacks on individual Council members and to make very disparaging remarks about the Council as a whole. In an interview with the State Journal, the Mayor said that if these changes are instituted the city would face financial collapse and would "spin down into a Detroit."
He has repeatedly said that he has had the responsibility for saying "no" to big budget items such as a new police station, municipal garage, etc., when in fact he proposed these major expenditures and more including a $30 million rebuilding of the Municipal Building.
More pointedly, the Mayor has repeatedly made the charge the that this proposal was "hatched" and developed in secret. As usual he has resorted to name calling, in this instance, describing the initial six council sponsors as "the secret six." In fact, the proposal was developed during an open meeting that was posted one week in advance and open to the Mayor's staff (which normally attends every committee meeting) and the public.
Despite the strident attacks by this Mayor, these proposals address an on-going systemic problem that will continue regardless to who is mayor. Even if these proposals were to be implemented, most powers in city government would continue to reside with the mayor (executive). The mayor would continue to appoint senior managers and oversee all departments, have a Mayoral staff of four Deputies and six assistants, develop the budget and even chair the meetings of the council.
Other Governments: It is important to keep in mind that the practice of instituting separate and equal branches of government is not new. However, more immediately (and locally) it also represents the most common practice of governance in most major Wisconsin cities such as Milwaukee, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Janesville, etc., all Wisconsin counties and of course the state and federal governments. In all of these, the legislature elects their own leader who has the power of appointment.
I am surprised that this very modest proposal is being portrayed as something that is radically different or "dangerous", as described by the Mayor. It is in fact how almost all governments are run. My hope is that as a result of these changes, Madison residents will be able to more effectively have their power and influence known in the legislative sector. This is a progressive effort and one which should be supported regardless of the perception of any current office holder.
Let me know your views on this. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 334-1156.
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