Madison’s Task Force on the Structure of City Government, also known as TFOGS, was set up three years ago. The eleven-member task force has been charged with finding ways to make city government more effective and responsive to its residents.
The recommendations include doubling alder term lengths to four years, cutting the number of alders in half, and shifting alders from part-time to full-time employees.
All the changes, the task force says, are necessary if the Council wants to adequately represent Madison as the city grows and faces more complex challenges. In a presentation before the city council last night, Assistant City Attorney John Strange presented the task force’s argument.
“The rationale for the recommendation is that, as Madison has grown, so too has the complexity of the challenges it faces,” Strange says. “Adequately representing the constituents facing these challenges requires a full-time council.”
Strange, and the task force, argue that the proposals are also driven by an analysis of structural inequities in Madison’s government — and that the changes would make city council positions a more realistic prospect for underrepresented communities.
Currently, most city alders are paid about $13,000 a year. Many work full time jobs in addition to representing their community — representation that requires meetings, committee work, drafting, and constituent engagement each week.
“Not all alders are part-time, some are able to work full-time,” Strange says. “One of the things that the task force noted, was that that automatically meant some districts get more representation than others.”
Madison has had its fair share of alders who resign due to the time pressure.
Some cited family matters that demanded attention, like former alders Avra Reddy last year and Sue Ellingson in 2014.
Others cited the time pressure of the job that pays their bills, like former alders Chris Schmidt in 2016 and Mike Clear in 2018 — who told the Cap Times after accepting a job and resigning his seat that “I just didn’t see how I could do both.”
Under one of the new recommendations, alders would work to represent their constituents full time — and receive a corresponding pay bump to around $67,000 a year.
All three of these recommendations are distinct, and none of them are dependent on the other to pass. That means, for example, the council could make alders full-time without decreasing the council’s size. Or they could shift to a four-year term without adopting any of the other measures.
Two of the measures, though, will need voter approval before being formally adopted. Halving the council’s membership and lengthening their terms would need to be put on the ballot as a referendum question.
Per the task force’s proposed timeline, that could be as soon as next April’s spring election.
The changes would also coincide with returns on data from the 2020 U.S. Census, and redistricting of aldermanic districts would take place at the same time as redistricting of larger state senate and assembly districts throughout Wisconsin.
Aside from the three major recommendations, the task force also put forth a proposal to streamline and eliminate some of the city’s Boards, Commissions and Committees. According to Strange, the current number of Madison BCC bodies is unsustainable.
“If you look at the number of committees that we have compared to other cities, it’s rather astronomical. We have about one hundred. Most cities of our size have twenty to thirty.”
According to the task force’s final report, the confusing structure of the city’s Boards, Commissions and Committees, originally intended as an avenue for inclusion and equity, has warped into “little more than a veneer of representation and participation.”
(Photo c/o Brian Standing)