The deal means Overture won't go dark, but confidence in the plan was hardly evident.
Tuesday night's Madison Common Council meeting was, as Ald. Julia Kerr joked, akin to the Academy Awards: "I love this part where we thank everybody and pat each other on the back."
After months of frustration and confusion over a plan to erase the Overture Center's $28.6 million debt, the council agreed to a deal most members could live with. They spent hours congratulating everyone, before voting 14-5 to accept a plan that gives ownership and management of the center to 201 State Foundation (or some successor organization), with the promise of an annual $2 million subsidy from the city, adjusted for inflation. (Alds. Marsha Rummel, Paul Skidmore, Chris Schmidt, Thuy Pham-Remmele, and Larry Palm all voted against the plan; Ald. Judy Compton was absent.)
Concerns about city employees at Overture were alleviated, though not erased. They will remain city employees until Jan. 1, 2012, when they will have the option of taking a job with 201 State, at the same pay rate (including a 3% raise next November) and with a similar benefits package, but without certain civil service protections and a city pension.
"It is with a heavy heart that I'll support this ... only because of the employee issues," Ald. Mike Verveer told his colleagues.
His concern isn't just for the 47 permanent Overture employees. Twenty-four of them, represented by AFSCME Local 60, have "bumping rights" -- meaning that if they want to stay with the city but there is no vacancy, they can push an employee with less seniority out of his or her job.
Verveer feared "a tragedy of mass bumping throughout the city.... If we don't do this right, there will be harsh consequences in terms of layoffs."
Confidence in the plan was hardly evident, with many alders expecting that the council will have to take up the matter again in another five or 10 years.
Ald. Marsha Rummel said the consensus during the council's marathon Nov. 30 meeting was that some option of public ownership would be best. Instead, the deal negotiated over the past two weeks went in the other direction.
"The outcome is all the debt goes away and all the underlying problems don't," Rummel said. "After all the talk about it going dark, it's often dark now. It's not physically dark, but it's locked down to the public."
Which is why Rummel was in the minority voting against the deal. "This is the best political solution," she said, "but not the solution for a world-class arts center."