Why the Council didn’t meet to Take Back their Power

Posted April 29th, 2009 @ 12:16 PM by

So, the council is past the time when it could have a meeting to rectify the obliteration of their recent actions on the property tax exemption issue. Who’s fault is it that there wasn’t a meeting called?

First, let me say, I’m aware that several alders tried to convince the powers that be that they should have a meeting and make a decision. I think there were some legitimate disagreements about if they should meet and what it would accomplish, and I’m certain there was a whole lot of arm twisting.

So, what’s the explanation about why they aren’t meeting. It comes by way of Council President Tim Bruer forwarding the following to the Common Council:

From: May, Michael
Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 4:11 PM
To: Bruer, Tim
Subject: Special Meeting on tax exemption issue

Alder Bruer:

You asked about the procedure for calling a special meeting to deal with the tax exemption claims. Here is what I found:

1. Pursuant to sec. 2.01(5), MGO, special meetings may only be called by the Mayor. This is consistent with state law on the topic, sec. 62.11(2), Wis. Stats. Therefore, Council Leadership does not have the authority to call a special meeting (unless the President were Acting Mayor).

2. Even if Council Leadership could call a special meeting, you are going to run into time issues. The meeting must be preceded by 24 hours notice to comply with the Open Meeting law. Thus, even if a notice could be prepared and posted immediately, the first time the Council could meet would be on April 29, 2009. The deadlines for acting on the Greentree Glen and WHPC claims are April 29 and 30. If a notice could not be posted until tomorrow, the only item that could be taken up is the WHPC claim. The time for considering the Turners claim has passed.

3. I cannot think of all the legal issues that might arise if the Council were to grant one exemption and deny another of similarly situated property, other than to remind you of the constitutional requirement of uniformity of taxation. I am certain that there would be undesirable consequences to any such unequal treatment.

3. [sic] The ordinances do allow for “informal meetings” of the Council under sec. 2.01(7), MGO, but no business may be transacted at such meetings, so the claims could not be considered. I think such meetings have been scheduled in the past both by the Mayor and by Council Leadership, in consultation with each other.

Let me know if there is anything further you need.

Michael P. May
City Attorney

Of course, this information comes too late to do anything about it – at least according to the City Attorney’s interpretation of the situation.

So, who’s fault is it? The Mayor*. He was the only one that could have called a meeting. He knew about the situation on Sunday, could have called a meeting Monday morning and the council could have met to take action before the deadline, avoiding having the City Attorney declare the claims denied “by rule of law” (with a little help from the City Attorney, ignoring the will of the council and failing his legal duty to vigorously represent them). However, the Mayor got what he wanted, so why would he do that?

*And/or, if he was doing a good job, the Mayor consulted with the Council leadership and they made that decision together. In which case, council leadership shares that blame.

Sounds like the council needs at amend chapter 2. I thought about it when we were working through recent changes to our rules , but I was a good soldier and chose my battles and didn’t take it on. You know, because you don’t want to fix a problem that isn’t there . . . yet. Hmmmm . . . now the problem exists, think anyone will have the guts to take this one on?

I’d recommend amendment chapter 2 to say that if a majority of the Common Council petitions the Mayor or Common Council President to call a meeting about a particular topic, s/he shall call a meeting, at a reasonable time, within 48 hours. Or, in the alternative (if its legal), that the Council President or a majority of the Common Council can call a meeting. I think Michael May is trying to imply that the second option isn’t possible under state law – but I’d want to get a second opinion/formal statement from him on that.

I’d also recommend that this is the role of the Common Council President and/or Common Council Organizational Committee (safety in numbers). The appointments to that committee, which are made by the Common Council President, should be made at the next meeting. I hope those appointments are good and they are a group of people who are willing to make sure that the Council doesn’t get completely run over by the administration and executive branch of government. But, with the council leadership basically being a spokesperson for the Mayor at the point, instead of the Council, I’m not very hopeful.

Categories: | Progressive Dane

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