Amendments introduced to the city's operating budget lead to an existential discussion of city government, with Council members lamenting the lack of resources available to the body and opining on the role and limitations of citizen representatives.
In support of an amendment that would fund a new research analyst for the Council, Ald. Julia Kerr wondered whether alders who work full time jobs and have families are equipped to deal with the ins and outs of city policy.
"Do you come to meetings fully prepared and fully understanding the issues," asked Kerr, who is not seeking re-election. "I have concluded that I am not able to do that under this current structure."
Satya Rhodes-Conway echoed the sentiment, and lamented that a "policy wonk," like herself is kept away from spearheading policy because there are too many issues to react to on a day-to-day basis, including policy proposed by the mayor's office. "I love the idea of us collectively setting some priorities...other councils do that every year."
Michael Schumacher and Jed Sanborne used the opportunity to touch upon pet issues of theirs. Schumacher, who has long considered the Council too weak, said the position could be another way to bolster the strength of the legislative body. Sanborne, the closest thing to a libertarian on the Council, suggested less time would be wasted if the Council simply did less, perhaps by eliminating committees. As an example, he said the Edgewater process could have been cut short if the city eliminated the Urban Design Committee.
"You could also have developers who deliver information in a timely manner," shot back Ald. Marsha Rummel, who sits on Urban Design.
Ald. Chris Schmidt, in support of the amendment, even evoked his mother, who sits on a County Board in Illinois, and receives more generous compensation for her service than Madison alders.
However, Ald. Larry Palm opposed the amendment, saying he worried it would be yet another secondary source that would take away from the role of department heads, who are the experts alders can consult on specific policy matters.
Ald. Lauren Cnare, the President Pro Temp, supported the amendment but said she hoped that those who voted for the position would vote to keep other positions that "are on the chopping block."
In opposing the amendment, Ald. Judy Compton responded to Cnare's logic. "I wouldn't vote for this position when we're cutting other positions in this city," she concluded.
In reference to Kerr, Compton said she believes alders who are leaving office should contact whoever is replacing them and inform them as much as possible about policy. Indicating that she believed the proposed position was superfluous, she said that alders who want to understand policy should contact department heads.
The amendment passed 14-6.
Later, Ald. Bridget Maniaci withdrew her proposal to finance health care benefits and pensions for alders. "I really appreciate everyone who offered all kinds of thoughts and ideas on this," she said, giving a special shout-out to Verveer for helping her and apologizing to the mayor for cutting into his staff to fund the proposal.
Nevertheless, some alders, such as Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, voiced their sympathy for Maniaci's idea, and expressed hope that a solution would be reached in the future. Palm said the lack of benefits could prevent qualified people from seeking office in the future.