Alder Brian Benford
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
WI Relay Service
Alder Benford’s Updates
Dear Friends and Neighbors!
I hope that you are all well and finding joy with the holiday season upon us.
Some have compared the budget of a city as a reflection of its collective soul as a community. For me, the budget process is the hardest part of my service as an alder. Because of state restrictions on our tax levies, the misappropriation of our federal funds (F-35's, COPS grants- to name two) by national leaders, and unimaginable need within our community, there is never enough money to fund, even the most vitally important services, where we can all thrive in the most "livable city" (at least according to outsiders). Being my last budget process as an alder, I will walk away both optimistic and filled with continued dread.
I was deeply elated that the Public Market is back on track. From the onset, I have been thrilled about the possibilities of the Market for many reasons, but one purpose stands out. In all my years living in Madison, I have never witnessed a project of this scale be planned with so much intentionality around equity. Perhaps, many of you know about the Market Ready program that was developed to create pathways for BIPOC and other marginalized folks to have space in the Market? I believe that the Market will build intergenerational wealth for our neighbors that have been traditionally excluded. I also envision that the Market will be a welcoming gathering place for all. I want to thank all that are involved in making the Market a reality. I can't wait!
By now, most of you have heard of our awesome CARES team- Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (https://www.cityofmadison.com/fire/emergency-medical-services/community-alternative-response-emergency-services-cares). As a social worker, I was so excited to learn before I joined the council, that we were on the path to developing a model, like other cities. A public safety service that could send a skilled paramedic and mental health professional on a 911 call that does not require the police. As I dream about reimaging public safety, so that all, regardless of our backgrounds, feel safe, I reason that CARES is our first major step as a city to accomplish this goal. Alders agreed to fund a tactical expansion of CARES to ensure additional coverage and long-term success. I am excited about the future of CARES.
I applaud the Mayor and city staff for their herculean efforts in presenting reasonable budgets (Capital and Operating) and to my colleagues for most of the amendments they put forth. Most poignant for me, was the testimony of many speakers that voiced their opinions on the budgets. As I sat and listened to each speaker, I heard so many truths. Many who spoke, wanted reconciliation around issues that ranged from greenway protection to demanding more funding for affordable housing, education, sustainable jobs, mental and physical needs, and food as opposed to spending $86 million on the Madison Police Department. As a proponent of a city-wide Truth and Reconciliation process, during our deliberations, I clearly heard the pain, concern, and the demand that we do better as a city.
I voted for the city to accept the COPS grant (federal dollars that MPD applied for) with trepidation. Some argued, rightfully, that we need to reallocate funding given to police on other life sustaining community services. We have a fairly new police chief- that as a Black man, with real life, lived experiences, and what appears to me, a deep understanding that policing as we know it, needs to be reformed; I was willing to explore what 6 federally funded officers (for three years, then we would be on the hook) could do to build rapport and trust with youth in the six MPD districts. I would argue that the city needs six new social workers performing the same roles, but that was not what the feds were offering. If after three years- we feel that these officers made a difference, we can keep them. If not, we can let them go despite consternation by others.
For once, I would love for our city to have intentional city-wide conversations on what public safety should mean. I had often wondered if we could ask the question, what would you need to feel safe in the City of Madison -without framing these conversations around police and fire-what people might answer? This question faces challenges because of competing forces preventing change. As an elected official, if you explore alternatives to policing, you can be labelled as soft on crime by the police union and others, making electability more difficult. For most of us, we have grown up with a media landscape or narrative about policing that informs us. Think of the hundreds of cops shows on TV and at the movies. For me, I cannot escape the fact that the horrific racial disparities within our local criminal justice system and policing could not exist without the other.
With calls to defund or abolish the police, I am left curious that if I woke up tomorrow, and there were no police at all, who would investigate murders, who would respond to sex trafficking, who is going to be the first responder if there is a shooting? I could foresee a future where we might take long held police duties like traffic enforcement and civilianize these roles. Imagine if you were speeding and you were pulled over by someone without a gun ( let's call them a Civilian Traffic Buddy), knowing that the worse outcome would be a citation (unless you were in the act of a felony) rather than jail or death.
With the hiring of the new Independent Police Monitor, the continued growth and involvement of the Civilian Oversight Board, the Public Safety Review Committee, and the Police and Fire Commission, I have hopes that the citizens who serve on these bodies and you, will help us lay a continued path to reimaging public safety. Just as with CARES, that brought key stakeholders together to plan, research and implement the program, we need to come up with alternatives where we can prioritize the safety and needs of all our neighbors. Someday I would love to live in a community that spends more on community services, housing, and economic growth than policing.
Oh-one last thing. I was left horribly sad that my colleagues voted on a pay raise (from 14k to 20k plus) for alders, especially after voting no for so many worthy services. Like foxes guarding the hen house, it felt slimy that we (not me) voted to give our selves a pay raise starting with the next term. At the very least, this should have been put to the voters. Holy buckets! I get that this aldering can be a hard, thankless job, but I serve for altruistic reasons rather than for any financial gain. We all come to this role for different reasons. Some use aldering as a pathway to higher offices, some do it because it becomes part of their identity, perhaps some alders love the visceral power of being one of 21 people who govern, others serve because they deeply care about this city, and they want to make a difference. It is not up to me to question my colleague's motivation for being in this role, but I mourn the days of true public service and how money has polluted government at all levels.
If you stayed with me for the length of this note, thank you. Most who follow local politics might know that I have been drawn out of district 6, so I will not be running for reelection. It has been a tremendous honor to serve you. I am sending you my love and all my best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and New Year.
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