Progessive Dane Seeks Additional Reform to City Council Process

Progressive Dane issued the following press release this week.  If you are interested in working on these issues - no experience necessary!  Simply contact Brenda Konkel or Mary Anglim (co-chairs of the policy committee).  brendakonkel@gmail.com or mtanglim@gmail.com

Progressive Dane Seeks Additional Reform

to City Council Process

 

The news of council reform at first seemed promising and Progressive Dane applauds efforts to “strengthen the Council’s ability to shape the . . . future investment in our neighborhoods.”  “If the council is going to seriously consider reforms that will help the public participate in local government and strengthen input into investment in our neighborhoods that is exciting” said Party Co-Chair Sue Pastor.  

 

However, we don’t find the reforms proposed by Alders Mark Clear and David Ahrens are sufficient to reach this goal.  Renaming committees, changing the length of term of the council president and switching which individual (mayor or council president) appoints alders to committees don’t seem to go far enough to reach this goal. Progressive Dane would like to see the council also consider passing ordinances requiring the following:

  • Meetings must be held after traditional work and school hours.  Hold meetings after 5:00 in the evening and make sure they are in places that are readily accessible and apparent to the public.

  • Agendas are published at least 3 business days in advance of meetings and that the “weekly schedule” is complete when it comes out.  Currently 3 - 7 meetings are added throughout the week after the weekly meeting schedule has been published.

  • Audio record all committee meetings and make those recordings available in Legistar.

  • A public comment for items not on the agenda at council meetings.

  • A pilot project using participatory budgeting for some portion capital budget items.

  • During the budget process, make sure that the amendments to the budget are available to the public several working days in advance of the meeting where they are considered.  Don’t put out amendments on Friday at noon for a meeting on Monday at 4:30.

  • Strengthen the commitment to get documents into legistar when the agendas are available.  Stop the practice of staff giving handouts at the meetings.  If there are handouts, make sure there are enough for the public.

  • Change the amount of time the council and the public has to work on the budget.  Either have the mayor get the budget out sooner or extend the time that the council has to work on the budget into December.

  • Refer portions of the budget to the committees that are impacted by the budget and let them make recommendations for changes.  Currently, only the Board of Estimates can recommend amendments to the budget before it reaches the council.  Consider having committee recommendations to the Mayor before the Mayor recommends the budget.

  • Make it clear in ordinances what goals should be accomplished in making committee appointments such as geographic diversity, mimimum or maximum numbers of committees alders can sit on, etc., regardless of if the mayor or the council president (elected by the council) makes alder appointments.

  • Create a process where if the council rejects an appointment, they can make an alternative recommendation with a super-majority vote.

  • Strengthen and enforce the lobbying laws.

  • Strengthen to city’s ethics code to go beyond financial conflicts of interest for recusals and disclosures.  Make statement of interest forms available to the public electronically and create a meaninfuly enforcement mechanism.

  • Institutionalize the efforts of recent mayors to include the public earlier in the budget process.  The council should examine those processes to determine what worked and what could be improved upon.  Once the process is set up, make sure that the input is meaningfully considered by the council.

  • If the council wants to have a greater impact on strong neighborhoods, they should play a more active role in the Community Development budget.  The current practice of not playing a role in community services funding means the council completely ignores this important area of funding. The council should take an active role in determining community services priorities and increase funding as they would with any other department (police, streets, etc.)  

 

The “strong council, weak mayor” system of government gives the council the power to elect their president to additional terms or reject the mayor’s committee appointments.  The public is growing tired of the constant infighting in local government and Progressive Dane calls on the Council and the Mayor set aside personality driven conflicts and work collaboratively in the best interest in the City - and limit their disagreements to the tough policy decisions they were elected to make.  “The city faces extremely pressing issues with racial equity, concerns about policing, homelessness, the shortage of affordable housing, and preparing for climate change.   Greater transparency and increasing residents' ability to participate in addressing our common concerns should be the measure of effective reform.” adds Sue Pastor.