Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has only a few powers that cannot be overruled by the Common Council.
One of them is the power to make appointments to the city's 80-some committees, boards and commissions. The council can approve or reject these appointments, but it can't force the mayor to make different selections. Still, some people want it to try.
This year, the mayor didn't reappoint several longstanding committee members, prompting charges that he's cleaning house ("The Exile of Thuy Phem-Remmele," 5/8/09). Last week, Carl DuRocher, a veteran member and chairman of the Transit and Parking Commission, learned he wouldn't be reappointed to another three-year term.
"Instead of building coalitions, he seems to be eliminating varying opinions," says DuRocher, who opposed Cieslewicz's recent bus fare increase. "He's depriving the city of robust and varied opinions."
A disabled man, DuRocher has volunteered on city transit issues for two decades and served on Transit and Parking since it was created 10 years ago - valuable experience DuRocher says the city will lose.
Ald. Brian Solomon - who also fought the mayor on buses but was reappointed to the TPC - says the mayor made the wrong move on DuRocher. "I'm still really shocked about it. Carl is an amazing person, and incredibly hard working," he says. "He's very committed, very knowledgeable. He's exactly what you'd want on a commission."
At Tuesday's council meeting, Ald. Marsha Rummel asked the mayor to reconsider. The council referred the matter back to the mayor.
This upset Ald. Paul Skidmore, who had recruited constituent Dave Tolmie from his far-west district as DuRocher's replacement. Says Skidmore, "Carl did a great job. Does he have a right to be on the commission forever? No."
Skidmore - who was kicked off his prized assignment, the Parks Commission, two years ago but then reappointed - is adamant that the mayor can appoint who he wants.
"I'm not comfortable with someone saying you can't appoint this person or you can't take this person off," Skidmore says. "I think that's wrong."
Cieslewicz's spokeswoman, Rachel Strauch-Nelson, says the mayor still intends to appoint Tolmie to the committee, but agreed to the referral in order to talk with Rummel about his decision.
On his blog this week, the mayor wrote: "Why should I be expected to appoint people who disagree with me on some of my most important policy initiatives to committees that could stand in the way of those initiatives?"
The 50-cent effect
Cieslewicz pushed through the 50-cent bus fare increase earlier this year, saying it was needed to pay for rising fuel costs and expanded services.
Opponents predicted the rate hike would backfire because ridership would drop.
Which side was right? The rate increase took effect on April 5. Preliminary numbers show a slight increase in ridership, about 1.7% over last April (about 30,000 more rides), according to Mick Rusch, spokesman for Metro Transit. So far this year, total ridership is up 6.4%.
Rusch says April's slow growth could be due in part to the fare hike, but also because the Madison school district's spring break fell in April this year, not March as in 2008, so "a lot of people were out of town.... Next month's ridership will give us a better picture."
Ald. Brian Solomon is keeping his eyes - and mind - open. "I still believe there's a good chance ridership will go down," he says. "Nobody knows. Obviously, I want ridership to go up. I want there to be a successful system."
Zoning redo could aid housing co-ops
As the city of Madison rewrites its zoning codes, housing cooperatives are seeking better recognition and an easier time setting up.
Current zoning regulations prohibit more than five unrelated people from living together in a single dwelling unit. Co-ops have been able to skirt this requirement in places where they've been grandfathered in or are considered more like condos or boardinghouses, says David Sparer, an attorney representing Madison Community Cooperative, which has 11 housing cooperatives.
Sparer says housing co-ops should be encouraged because they provide affordable housing (on average, it costs $300 to $400 a month to live in one). "They depend upon people working with each other and sharing skills and being able to depend on each other. It's very easy for them to be good neighbors."
Co-ops would like, for instance, to take an old house that has been divided up into several apartments, turn it into one big unit, but keep its multi-unit occupancy level.
Matt Tucker, city zoning administrator, says the changes being considered would not permit co-ops in low-density neighborhoods composed of single-family homes because they would clash with those neighborhood identities. "You're going to have more cars, more bicycles, more garbage cans - you're going to have more activity," he says. "Co-ops are no different in that case from a rental property."
But, he adds, co-ops are "really not interested in going into those areas anyway."
Last week a special committee recommended a proposal by Fiore Companies to build a new six-story central library at Henry Street and Washington Avenue. The city's Library Board and the Common Council both must approve the project.
In his state of the city address in April, Mayor Cieslewicz urged the city to think big when it came to the library project: "We can either respond by turning inward and being cautious or by being bold and aggressive."
While the Fiore proposal is certainly bold and aggressive, council members may balk at the estimated $43 million price tag at a time when city revenues are strapped. "The problem," says Ald. Larry Palm, "is there is a huge financial gap that [the mayor] doesn't have any solutions for crossing."
Palm isn't the only council member who wants to read the fine print.
"I'm a very strong supporter of the library system," says Ald. Michael Schumacher. "But when you start building such a large new building, I need to at least understand the liabilities that come with it for years to come and whether there aren't any other options on the table."
Schumacher notes that the city's debt has increased significantly, to a total of $239 million this year, and that "the debt payments are starting to become more noticeable."
The Dane County Board is fast-tracking an initiative for a sustainable agriculture program that some hope could become a national model.
The board's Subcommittee on Sustainable Agriculture formed four work groups to come up with recommendations by August or September for how the county can promote sustainable agriculture.
Supv. Kyle Richmond, chairman of the Environment, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which formed the subcommittee, sees the county as uniquely positioned to be a national leader.
"Dane County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state," he says. "But we're still number two or three in agriculture, which is a pretty amazing thing."
The work groups will focus on four areas: beginning farmers, farmland preservation/ conservation, food security and urban agriculture, and profitability and marketing.
Margaret Krome, a committee member who works at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, says the work groups want "the most practical ideas, those with the strongest legs and political support and urgency."