I just sent the newsletter to the printer, and we're prepping them to mail tomorrow, but for those of you who'd like a sneak peek before it hits your mailbox, check out this article from our Policy Committee!
Not a Spectator Sport - Toward a Policy Agenda for Strengthening our Local Democracy
By Members of the Policy Committee
As we anticipate the outcome of the spring elections and the exciting possibility of a rejuvenated PD City Caucus, the Policy Committee is looking forward to a conversation with membership about priorities. We see an urgent need to focus on the most pressing issues and begin identifying specific initiatives to address those, both through official and grassroots activist channels. While Dane County’s progressives have rightly focused on the injuries to the state’s democratic tradition under Scott Walker, our local democracy is also not in the best of health.
A close look at Madison Common Council decisions, for example, reveals a tendency to avoid citizen input altogether or run roughshod over it. The recent vote on the Iota Court project is typical. With PD alders Marsha Rummel and Satya Rhodes-Conway among the only three no votes, Council approved a large apartment building inconsistent with the neighborhood plan. Testimony came from a diverse group of citizens opposing the project and the accompanying demolition of existing houses with historic significance, to no avail. The outcome was reminiscent of the Council’s December approval of a 58,000 square foot Copps grocery store for Grandview Commons, ignoring that neighborhood plan and the verified petition of neighbors.
By the time any proposal reaches the Council floor, opportunities for citizen involvement have become largely limited to “performance art.” More vigilance is needed at the level of city and county committees, and advocacy is necessary to advance initiatives we can support, instead of those we spend our energy resisting, often in futility. In August, citizens urging the Council to open a public discussion on the opt out provisions for the Water Utility’s new meters realized it’s impossible to address Council, unless the topic is on the agenda. There is no longer any general public comment, which may help to explain the lack of time devoted to homelessness, despite rising public concern. And what close observer of local happenings could fail to be taken aback by the county’s forced relocation of Occupy Madison to Token Creek Park last November?
With both this challenging context and our City and County platforms in mind, the Policy Committee has identified starting points for a broad discussion of concerns and possible avenues to address them. What follows is a sample, to be considered, revised, and expanded upon by membership:
• Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner has drafted an emergency shelter contracting ordinance to provide for county review of shelter discipline grievances and hearings before an impartial county appeal hearing board or officer. Public oversight of services and shelter standards are additional issues.
• With rental vacancy rates at a very low level and the city inclined to tear down more affordable housing, it may be time to look again at a housing replacement ordinance for lower rent units.
• The “chip sealing” that took place all over the city streets last summer involved spreading coal ash. This seems to have flown through the Committee on the Environment and Common Council somewhat “under the radar.” Let’s consider a ban on this practice, as well as on the use of phosphorus-based products in agriculture.
First Amendment Issues
• Supporting organizing around defending the Bill of Rights could include a focus on the Fourth Amendment, drug dogs in schools, and county cooperation with ICE, as well as the defense of free speech.
Food as a Human Right
• County Board passed a resolution last year, affirming a right to healthy and nutritious food, an effort PD supported.
• Removing barriers to local food production and preparation can allow small businesses to thrive. We can explore initiatives that address barriers and challenge corporate control of our food.
• Two new committees - Madison Food Policy and Madison Local Food have been discussing a public market. The latter conducted a vendor survey and was involved in the Request for Proposals for a consultant to develop a business plan for the market, but what are our priorities for a public market?
Public Input in Budgeting, Organizing for Revenue
• The budget has many implications for issues we want to pursue, and we must improve public input in the process.
• The city has taken steps toward greater and more meaningful public input, but this is far from participatory budgeting and it is not clear how public input was used in decision-making. Let’s continue to improve the city process and try this with the county (and school district and other local government entities).
• We must also evaluate our options to raise revenue and build broad support for alternatives to draconian cuts.
Discussion at Policy Committee also included the need to expand bus service, the possibility of a task group around water issues and local efforts to address climate change. Bring your priorities and concerns to the GMM, and we’ll work together to set our course.
* Policy Committee members Mary Anglim, Brenda Konkel, Leland Pan, Sue Pastor, and Heidi Wegleitner contributed to this article.