Yesterday, Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway announced a location for a new permanent men’s homeless shelter in Madison. It’s the latest in a years-long bureaucratic process to definitively decide on a site, with a group of alders today saying… the matter isn’t definitely decided.
A coalition of alders followed up with their own press conference this morning, calling for not a change in the substance of the mayor’s announcement, but for a change in her style of communication.
That the ongoing deliberation about where to put the permanent men’s homeless shelter was decided was news to the alders, including alder Syed Abbas.
“Right now they are at First Street, which is also district 12, and I did a community input process to make sure the community understands and welcomes them as good neighbors. So there has never been an opposition from me as an alder from the district, and the intent here is not to oppose this, not to say we don’t welcome them. The intention of this press conference is that the mechanism and the way process has been done through the mayor’s office has been disappointing,” Abbas says.
Abbas is president of the Madison Common Council, and his district includes Bartillon Drive. He says that his problem is not the location of the proposed shelter, but the lack of communication between the mayor and the council.
Today’s press conference – at the municipal building, after a scramble to relocate due to another protest outside – was a rejoinder to the mayor’s press conference yesterday, held jointly with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, announcing the location of a new permanent men’s shelter on Bartillon Drive, on the city’s far east side.
Abbas was joined at today’s press conference by alders Gary Halverson, Sheri Carter, Barbara Harrington-McKinney, and Charles Myadze. The same alders also shot down a permanent men’s shelter on Zeier Road last year. That project was later approved by the council to be a temporary men’s shelter, with the plan to move the residents of the First Street shelter to Zeier Road this summer.
Amidst subsequent discussions last fall, the same alders, with the exception of Halverson, did voice their support of the Bartillon Drive location. In fact, the council voted to buy the property last fall, under the assumption that it would be used to address homelessness.
Abbas says that while the Bartillon Drive site has been discussed in closed-session finance committee meetings, so have several other sites, and that a final decision on where to place the shelter was never reached.
So yesterday’s press conference, the alders say, came as a surprise. Here’s alder Gary Halverson, who until local redistricting took effect, represented the area of the new shelter.
“This is about process, we don’t operate government in a vacuum. The mayor doesn’t get to sit on the fourth floor and decree something and make it happen. The fact that we were not notified that this was a decision that was coming, or even invited to the press conference, is an unacceptable way to run the government, and we are not going to allow it to continue,” Halverson says.
Alder Halverson says this isn’t the first time his district has been surprised by plans for a new shelter.
“This is the third time that there has been an announcement in district 17 that was a surprise that nobody knew was coming. If we want to go back to the history of Zeier Road, we were already in process with the Greater East Towne Area plan, there were several community meetings that occurred, and nowhere in any of those meetings about the Greater East Towne Area plan was there mention of a shelter being placed out there. Then out of the blue on January 23rd, the mayor made an announcement that no one was aware of and none of the alders were involved with that said that is the location. That is a pattern that we are seeing with the lack of transparency, it’s not acceptable, and we’re just looking to make sure that we’re included,” Halverson says.
Alder Harrington-McKinney says that, if the mayor had made an announcement about her district without telling her, she would not be happy.
“Why did I come down here this morning? I came down here this morning to say that we cannot continue to work in a vacuum as city government. We need to learn how to work together, and had a press conference been held in my district and I was not notified, I would be very very upset. It’s a courtesy, and that’s why I’m here,” Harrington-McKinney says.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway rebuffed these arguments at a weekly press briefing earlier today. She says yesterday’s announcement should not have been a surprise.
“This is just the beginning of a very long process. This is Madison, we know that we like to go through processes when we make decisions. So we’re just at the beginning of a process and I find it, frankly, surprising that alders are acting like they don’t know that there’s a long process ahead of us. There will be plenty of opportunities for them, and all of our constituents, to weigh in,” Rhodes-Conway says.
Both Rhodes-Conway and the alders have stated that they intend to hold public input sessions to get community feedback on the location of the new shelter. Those public meetings are presumed to be later this month, though nothing has been officially scheduled yet.
Whether those sessions are held by both the mayor and city alders together remains to be seen.
The Madison Common Council is expected to discuss the matter at their next meeting later this month, though a resolution for the new location has not yet been submitted.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team