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Alder Scott J. Resnick

Alder Scott J. Resnick

Home Address:
661 Mendota Ct # 1404
Madison , WI 53703

Phone: 608-807-7962
Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service

City Journalism 101

August 24, 2012 3:02 PM

Every year a new batch of city reporters begin their campus reporting careers with the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal. Coverage from these papers consistently matches and, at times, out performs other media outlets in the city. This post is for new reporters (and ordinary citizens) who want learn how to follow council meetings and committee schedules.

Weekly Schedule

State open meeting laws require every committee post 24-hour notice of each meeting.

Every meeting is posted at city hall and almost all are posted on the city website here.  The weekly schedule provides agenda and previous meeting minutes.

Legistar also contains every agenda organized by month. 

Many city reporters will check through the weekly schedule for interesting topics. Notably, the Alcohol License Review Committee (ALRC), Joint Southeast Campus Committee, Plan Commission, Downtown Coordinated Committee, and Housing Committee often contain content pertinent to District 8.

Committee Process

There are three simple functions of the Common Council: we approve licenses, we approve development projects and we pass ordinances (in reality, we do a lot more but these are the most basic functions).

A common license that is approved or rejected by the council is a liquor license. When a new bar opens, the license application is introduced on the Common Council agenda and referred to the ALRC. The ALRC will deliberate and make a recommendation to the Council and the Council will either accept or reject that recommendation at the following week's Council meeting. Liquor licenses must be renewed on an annual basis.

For a new development project, such as a new apartment complex, referrals will be made to the Urban Design Commission (to review design elements and context) and Plan Commission (to review the underlying zoning and building standards). Other referrals can be made to the Zoning Board of Appeals or the Landmarks Commission depending on the project. The Council has final say on recommendations from these Commissions.

Ordinances are less straightforward to follow. The Council, with assistance from the City Attorney's office, will determine what committees need to weigh in on an ordinance. Committees provide recommendations to the council, with one committee being designated lead status. Ordinances often stay with a committee until a final recommendation has been established and it is not uncommon for the committee process to take weeks to make a recommendation to the Council on controversial ordinances changes.  

Again, there are many exceptions to this process, but this is a very simplified understanding of the system.

Council Agenda

The Common Council convenes every other Tuesday to finalize or deliberate on City items. However, the Council agenda differs from regular committees. 

It is important to be aware of the consent agenda. While there may be 150+ items on an agenda, council members may vote unanimous consent on recommendations involving routine matters such as committee appointments, resolutions for approval plans and construction and actions that require no action. These items are passed on what is called the consent agenda. The council office will email this list several hours before the meeting (individuals can be added to this list by contacting Lisa at

Public hearing items are never included on the consent agenda. Items that have speakers are also removed from the consent agenda.  Alders can specially request an item be removed. 

It is not uncommon for an agenda containing 125 items to have discussion on only 10 items.   

Following an Issue

Legistar also allows individuals to follow a particular issue or committee. Here is a link to a preview blog post how to do that.

Hopefully this makes your job less confusing as a future City Editor! As always, you can either call an alder, committee chair or staff to find out if an item will be discussed on an agenda or details for an upcoming meeting.

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