Last night’s marathon Common Council meeting lasted into the early morning hours, clocking in at more than 9 hours considering city business. The meeting kicked off with the election of a new council president and vice president. Former president Syed Abbas announced late last week that he will be running for state Assembly, and will not be running again for the position.
Alder Keith Furman was elected the Council’s new Council President. Alder Nasra Wehelie was also nominated, but lost to Keith Furman by a 11-to-9 margin.
“In the last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about what my definition of leadership, and what being council president means to me. My definition of the job of council president is to be able to help empower others. It’s something I’ve been given the opportunity to do in the last year with many of the new alders. We haven’t always agreed in our boats. But I’ve worked with my colleagues and assisting them and navigating our complicated system to accomplish their goals and priorities in a challenging environment,” Alder Furman says
Earlier this year, Alder Wehelie – along with fellow Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney – publicly resigned from a city committee headed by Alder Furman out of protest over his leadership. The alders alleged Furman was abusing his authority as head of the task force, and ignoring the voices of Black women on the task force. Furman told WORT in February that he took inclusion seriously, and that the issues had more to do with all task force members being present at the meetings.
In response, Wehelie, with Alders Abbas, Sheri Carter, and Gary Halverson, issued a resolution to implement a Harassment and Discrimination Policy for the Common Council. That resolution was supposed to be discussed last night, but was postponed to next month so the council can have more time with the policy.
Meanwhile, Alder Jael Currie defeated Charles Myadze in a 12 to 8 vote to become the Council’s new vice president.
After several hours of public comment, the council unanimously approved siting the new permanent men’s homeless shelter on Bartillon Drive.
That process has not been without incident. After Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced the location last month, Madison alders on the city’s east side held a press conference of their own to voice their displeasure with the mayor, taking issue with her communication of the decision. While the location had been discussed and supported by alders in closed-session finance committee meetings, some alders said that the mayor should have gone through the council before making her announcement.
Next, in a 12-8 decision, the council voted to implement a new monthly recycling fee for Madison homeowners. Called the Resource Recovery Special Charge, the charge is intended to keep pace with the increasing cost of the city’s recycling contracts, and comes to an added $50 a year.
David Schmiedicke is the Finance Director of the City of Madison.
“Our revenues do not grow with our costs to maintain current services. We also have very strict limits on other revenue options. The Resource Recovery Special charge is one of those very few options. It is an independent funding source to support the recycling program. It’s envisioned to be implemented halfway through the year in 2022. That’s the one and a half million and it will generate the full $3 million for next year’s budget. So it does have yet another effect in 2023. If it’s not adopted, the budget does have that gap,” Schmiedicke says.
The council also unanimously approved the next step of Bus Rapid Transit: a measure to purchase 46 fully electric buses for the city, as well as to map out exactly where the BRT route would travel around Madison. That plan was approved by the city’s Transportation Commission last week.
Finally, the council approved a controversial measure to initiate a pilot program for body-worn cameras for Madison police officers. Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes spoke with WORT earlier this week about his views on the pilot program, and was on hand at the council meeting to voice his support for the resolution. He says that there have been misconceptions about how the department would use the body cameras.
“There is some confusion regarding our stance on immigration. We do not participate in those types of activities, we don’t turn over video and or information with ICE, it would have to be a life or death situation in order to do that. I don’t think we’ve done that in the past and certainly we haven’t done it during my administration.,” Chief Barnes says.
Body cameras remained a controversial topic for some alders. Newly elected council president Keith Furman took issue with the cost.
“I did not vote to authorize the continuation of developing a pilot last night. I am incredibly worried about our structural deficit. We had a vote last night where we had to approve another revenue stream for the city because we are struggling to balance our budget with our current services, because the cost of services continue to increase every year and our ability to raise revenue does not increase at the same pace. And so when you look at the body worn camera, there are certainly a lot of debates about whether or not it’s something that works and provides value. I understand and respect those arguments. But for me, ultimately, I’m worried about the cost,” Furman says.
Ultimately, the resolution to begin a pilot program narrowly passed just before 4AM with an 11 to 9 vote.
Photo courtesy: WORT Flickr