The proposal would stagger alder elections, so that only half of the council seats would be up for change in any given year.
That’s a change from how alders are currently elected, in two-year terms with all seats up for election at once.
I spoke with Erik Paulson, the District 3 Alder who put forward the proposal to place the referendum on the ballot this spring.
“There’s a ton of learning when you first join the council, and I can say that as someone who’s joined the council a year ago, it takes a long time to kind of come up to speed, and to learn things. You rely an awful lot on your colleagues to do some of that work. And so when we are all up and all sort of changing over at the same time, you run into instances where a whole lot of people are new to the council and have to learn all this together,” said Paulson.
Paulson says that by staggering alder terms, the common council will retain more knowledge of the day-to-day workings of local government and address community needs more effectively.
If passed, alders in even-numbered districts would serve only one year in 2025, before being up for election again for a two-year term. Alders in odd-numbered districts will continue to serve on two-year term limits with no change in 2025.
I asked Paulson how the council came to that decision.
“A pretty obvious way to do it is to put the evens on even years and the odds on odd years. So we could have looked at trying to do something where we are a little more geographically smart to stagger out a little bit to have that change over. But that would get kind of weird to remember who is up what year. So we settled on even and odd seats on even and odd years as a very straightforward way to do it,” Paulson explained.
This upcoming referendum is the result of years of studies conducted by the Task Force on Structure of City Government, or TFOGS. The task force was set up in 2017 to study the ways in which local government can be more effective and responsive to Madison residents.
I asked Paulson if there had been any investigation as to whether the one year term in 2025 could disproportionately impact specific communities following the recent redistricting, but he said that no investigation had taken place.
Alder District Map. Image Courtesy: Madison Common Council
City Attorney Michael Haas says this referendum would be binding.
“So the council has passed this ordinance contingent on it being passed in a referendum. So if the referendum passes, the ordinance will go into effect, but there will not be any noticeable change until the 2025 election,” said Haas.
Meaning that Alderpersons up for election on April 4th will serve a full two-year term.
In 2021, Madison voters saw four other referenda on the ballot that were prompted by that same task force, which were advisory only.
Those questions asked voters about the ideal number of alders, and whether alders should switch from a two-year term to a four-year term, and remain full-time or remain part-time.
Among those advisory questions, voters supported only one change to the city council: term limits. They did so by a large margin, with 71% of the vote in favor. Voters also resoundingly supported keeping the council the same size, with 70% of the vote in favor of keeping the size at twenty alders.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Erin Ashley.
Image Credit: WORT Archives