Alder Grant Foster
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Foster’s Updates
What Does Grant Foster Do?
Last week, Ron posted the above questions to the Lake Edge neighborhood Facebook group. Given the many discussions that have begun around the spring referendum questions, I really appreciated his interest in getting a better sense of the work of city alders to inform his opinions.
These are complicated and nuanced questions and tough to answer succinctly. Fortunately, I have tracked my time spent on alder duties since I took office in 2019 and am happy to share out some of that information in this post.
The graph below shows the hours/day I spent on alder work over the course of several months. Time spent varies significantly depending on the issues that come up and the weekly meeting schedule, but on average I spend 46 hours/week as alder for District 15. (It's worth noting that my experience is my own and doesn't necessarily represent the work of the other 19 city alders.)
To get a sense of how that time is spent, I've tried to provide some more detail including information on my committee assignments and other duties related to the job. Again, these are averages and estimates and the actual time spent varies by week depending on the issues on hand.
City meetings - 17 hours/week
In addition to Common Council meetings, I'm a member of a number of standing boards, committees, and commissions as well as several ad hoc committees and workgroups. You can find a list of all of the city boards, committees, and commissions here. My current assignments and average time spent preparing for and attending the meetings are:
Common Council - 2x/month, 5-8 hours
Most everything comes through here at some point and usually after review and recommendations from one or more committees. Many items are acted on via a consent agenda (no discussion/debate) and others lead to significant discussion prior to a final vote. On controversial items, public input may last several hours.
Transportation Policy And Planning Board - 2x/month, 3-4 hours
This is the body that works on big picture transportation policy for the city. Our current areas of focus include: Vision Zero (reducing traffic deaths and serious injuries on our streets), Complete & Green Streets (ensuring that our streets function for people of all ages & abilities & all modes of travel and that they balance the need for green infrastructure like trees and stormwater infiltration), Transportation Demand Management (addressing traffic impact of new developments), and developing a citywide parking policy.
Transportation Commission 2x/month, 4-5 hours
This is the commission that works to implement our adopted policies and makes decisions about how our public right of way space is allocated for different functions as well as providing oversight for Metro Transit and our Parking Utility.
Greater Madison Metropolitan Planning Organization Board - 1x/month, 2-3 hours
This board works on regional transportation issues that extend beyond the borders of the city and plays a role in allocating state and federal transportation dollars.
Capital Area Regional Planning Commission - 1x/month, 2-3 hours
This is also a regional body and focuses primarily on land use issues, especially in relation to how cities expand their borders in the county.
Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Commission - 2x/month, 2-3 hours
This commission is responsible for the safe, clean, and efficient handling of wastewater for Madison-area municipalities. When you take a shower or flush your toilet, MMSD recovers the nutrients and ensures that the treated effluent is safe to return to our environment. This utility accounts for the largest portion of most residents' municipal services bill.
Ad Hoc Committees
In addition to the standing committees, I also serve on several ad hoc committees that are created to deal with specific issues and typically meet on a regular basis for 6-18 months. I'm currently a member of the Ad Hoc Task Force On The Structure Of City Government (TFOGS) Final Report Implementation Work Group, Traffic Calming Subcommittee, and the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District Commission Executive Performance Review Committee. I previously chaired the President's Work Group to Review Council Communication Tools & Processes which produced its final report and recommendations in October.
Other city meetings (issue based)
There are many other boards, committees, and commissions that work on policy development and that provide oversight of city operations and expenditures. When these bodies deal with policy or oversight issues relevant to District 15, I try to attend and/or watch recordings of the meetings to stay informed. Some examples include the Alcohol License Review Committee, Plan Commission, Finance Committee, Common Council Executive Committee, and the Task Force on Municipal Golf.
Neighborhood meetings - 3 hours/week
District 15 includes a number of distinct neighborhoods, many of which have active neighborhood association meetings. Some of these groups meet every month, while others only meet a couple times/year. I try to attend these meetings to share information and answer questions whenever I can. They include Eastmorland, Lake Edge, Glendale, Burke Heights, and Carpenter-Ridgeway. I also try and regularly attend other neighborhood group meetings including the East District 'Coffee with a Cop' and the Eastmorland Area Antiracism group.
District 15 and citywide projects/issues - 8 hours/week
One of the more variable parts of the job is related to projects and issues that come up over time. These are issues that generate interest for District 15 residents and can include information gathering and sharing, problem solving, and holding neighborhood meetings. Some examples of this work includes:
- controversial development/land use proposals (Amazon distribution center, Krupp's Cottage Grove Road proposal, use of Karmenta as a family shelter)
- street reconstruction projects (Garver path/Starkweather, Dean/Allis, Dempsey/Davies)
- neighborhood disturbances like excessive noise complaints (Garver Feed Mill and Turner Avenue church)
- traffic complaints (numerous)
- controversial alcohol licenses (Visions/Silk, Jo Beck's)
- homelessness and encampments
- racial disparity and injustice
- gun violence
- police reform
- city proposals (dog park in Eastmorland)
- PFAS contamination
Policy/legislation development - 10 hours/week
Many people describe the Common Council as the 'legislative' or 'policy-making' body of the city. Some of this work happens at board, committee, commission meetings, but much of it happens outside of these meetings as well. This includes meetings with city staff, colleagues, advocates, community & business leaders, and residents. Sometimes this work results in writing new city ordinances and resolutions or amending and repealing existing legislation. Work around the city budget is another way the council creates and implements policy.
Many candidates that run to serve as alder imagine that this will be their primary role. In reality, this is something that often takes a back seat as alders are exhausted dealing with everything else that comes their way. Some of the legislation I have worked on during my first term includes:
- Plastic straw regulation
- Bike registration program repeal
- Cooperative housing zoning code update
- Vision Zero
- Milwaukee Area Special Plan rezoning
- Furlough policy
- Weekend shared use path snow/ice removal
- Repeal of Solid Waste Advisory Committee and Committee on the Environment
- F-35 resolutions
Policy initiatives that are in progress or planned include:
- On-street winter parking regulations
- Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations
- Community Land Trusts
- Green & Complete Streets
- Parking & TDM policy
- Special assessments for road projects/sidewalks
- Transportation ordinance revisions
- Resident Engagement
Weekly blog posts - 4 hours/week
One of the primary reasons I ran for alder in 2019 was to help bring city government to the people. I'm a strong believer in collective decision making and shared governance and I believe we're all better off when we all have a say. The first step in increasing resident participation in local government is for residents to actually know what issues are being discussed and where and when decisions are being made.
One way I've tried to support that is through my weekly blog updates. All in, I spend about 4 hours each week, reviewing upcoming meetings and notifications, compiling information, and writing, formatting, and publishing the updates. It's a lot of effort and some weeks I have to push myself to do it, but I've heard from so many of you that appreciate and value the information.
Constituent contact/emails - 2 hours/week
Every week I receive many calls and emails from District 15 residents with questions and concerns about specific and sometimes broad issues. It's tough to stay on top of all of them, but I work hard to get back to everyone that contacts me.
Other - 2 hours/week
I'm often asked to attend community events or to meet with organizations and individuals on different topics. These can be related to events like construction project groundbreakings, library openings, and mural dedications or to talk with students in their civic classes or as part of after-school clubs. I also get a number of requests for interviews from the press on topics and issues that I'm working on.
Ongoing reading and study
Not included in the work time calculations above, is the ongoing research and learning that is really needed to be able to stay on top of critical policy issues. I haven't tracked this time as core alder work, but I find it critically important in order to be able to process and help problem solve many of the complicated issues we're faced with as a community. Sometimes it's tough to find time to fit this in given all the reading that is required for meeting preparation, but it's also what inspires me and what helps to open up my thinking on how to approach our most challenging and pressing community issues.
Email to a friend