The two new interim alders sworn in at last night’s Common Council meeting were Bill Tishler, replacing Arvina Martin in District 11, and Matt Phair, replacing Christian Albouras in District 20.
Last month, Erik Paulson was appointed to become alder of District 3, replacing former alder Lindsay Lemmer.
Martin, Albouras, and Lemmer all announced their resignation earlier this year. Martin says that she resigned to focus more on family and her personal life. Albouras says that he resigned due to his plan to move outside of his district.
Phair is no stranger to the council. He served as District 20 alder from 2011 to 2019, when he did not seek reelection.
Also at last night’s meeting was a decision to start to move away from all virtual council meetings. Starting on July 19, the meetings will move to a hybrid format of both virtual and in person.
District 12 Alder Syed Abbas says he is in full support of moving to the hybrid structure.
“I’m all in favor of innovation and more public engagement. I think the hybrid structure will provide that. For those comfortable being in the room, they can run their meetings, and at the same time people with learning disabilities, have accessibility issues, will be able to connect in person, and be able to connect with their community. And on the other side, those with health issues want to feel safe. We need to provide both options,” Abbas says.
Abbas further says that the hybrid structure will help lead to a more open government, as people can give their public comment however they feel most comfortable.
Both Abbas and District 15 alder Grant Foster say that they would oppose going back to fully in-person meetings.
Next on the agenda was the removal of protest petitions in property rezoning. to A protest petition gives people a better chance at blocking the rezoning of a neighboring property. Under a protest position, neighbors objecting to a development can ask for it to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council, rather than a simple majority.
The removal of protest petitions was originally brought forward by alder Foster, along with alders Yannette Figueroa Cole of District 10 and Patrick Heck of District 2. His change would remove the protest petitions, and make all rezoning decisions need two-thirds approval.
Foster says that this would remove the additional burden placed upon developers, but maintain the two-thirds majority so residents could still voice their concerns.
“It’s a very clearly inequitable policy. At the end of the day, if you’re a single-family homeowner, you can have a lot more voice than a renter. Trying to fix it and trying to make it equal really exposed that it really wasn’t doing much at all. If you were effectively able to maneuver this bureaucratic process, you could require a three-fourths approval on the council instead of a simple majority,” Foster says.
An amendment to the ordinance, introduced by District 8 alder Juliana Bennett and mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway would keep the removal of the protest petition, but keep the simple majority vote needed to rezone a property.
That amendment passed by a 17 to 1 vote.
Abbas, the sole alder voting against the removal, says that there is no need to remove the protest petitions. Since 2013, there have only been 13 protest petitions that have been presented to the council, and all but two rezoning proposals passed. Of those two that failed, one failed by over 50%, (6 to 13), and the other has been referred to later this month.
“We spent over two hours on protest petitions, and we can create any narrative we want around social or racial justice, but fact is fact and the fact is that there is no impact. What we should discuss instead of the protest petitions is how to improve the public input process, where marginalized communities can also get heard,” Abbas says.
The council also voted unanimously to create a Truth and Reconciliation Process for the city of Madison, in order to build on the work of the Race 2 Equity report about disparities in Madison nearly a decade ago.
The final, and most controversial, item of the night was the passage of the Metro Network Redesign.
Discussion on Network Redesign took up the majority of last night’s hour long public comment, with the council spending an additional two hours debating the redesign.
Metro Network Redesign has been in the works for over a year, and has remained a heated topic since it was introduced. During last November’s budget deliberations, alder Abbas, along with four other alders, introduced an amendment to halt funds for the related Bus Rapid Transit until plans for Network Redesign were completed. That amendment failed to pass last November.
More recently, Madison Metro staffers have been holding public hearings with neighborhood groups around the city, where residents have voiced their concerns about having fewer bus stops around the city. Opponents speaking at those meetings include South Madison Unite and the Dane County NAACP, reports Isthmus newspaper.
Critics of the plan say that the redesign will not give equal bus access to all citizens of Madison. One of those critics is alder Abbas, who represents parts of the city’s north side. He says that some direct bus routes will disappear in his district, meaning that residents will have to wait longer for bus access, especially on weekends.
“Those opportunities have been taken away from people. Those direct routes are gone. Those communities deserve a better route, and instead what they’re getting is an insult and a slap in the face. Instead of 30 minutes, they’re getting 60 to 75 minutes,” Abbas says.
Furman, who voted for the resolution to adopt Network Redesign, says he is excited to finally see the Network Redesign come to fruition.
“I think it’s good! I think that everyone feels very confident, well maybe not everybody, but most people who have been looking at this most closely feel confident that it’s going to be way better service for more people. Of course, some people will have worse service, but it’s limited. It’s surprising how much better it’s going to be, and I think it’s clearer how much better it’s going to be than today,” Foster says.
Ultimately, the Metro Network Redesign passed 14 to 6. The city transportation commission will now work to put the finishing touches on the plan, and implement any final changes. The Network Redesign is scheduled to go into effect in summer 2023.
Image courtesy: WORT Flickr