WWBKD? Committtees Appointments

Posted July 9th, 2014 @ 8:44 AM by

With all the talk of who is running for mayor, I thought I would randomly throw in a few thoughts from the “relentless progressive”. What would I do if I was mayor? Hard to know where to start, so I didn’t prioritize, I’m just jumping in and sharing my thoughts! This will likely be a theme running through next April on various issues. Seems like there is an endless amount of issues to discuss. Some mundane, some obvious, some controversial. I don’t really care WHO the person is that will run for mayor, I do care about WHAT they want to do. I want someone with an articulated vision about the city and a clear plan. So, I thought I’d talk about the city I would like to see.

Under Mayor Dave there was a shift in the thinking about city committees. Seemed like I every time I turned around committees were being warned they had overstepped their mission. (Lots of other issues there, I’ll get to them.) Seems like committee appointments were purposely bland, people were appointed who would do what the Mayor wanted and nothing else, preferably, nothing at all. People with passion and strong ideas were not appointed. Strong alders were put on committees where they could do no harm. Weak alders were put on committees they mayor never wanted to hear from. And he loved to appoint alders to areas they had no interest in or were opposed to – that way nothing would come out of he committees for sure – especially if the alder refused to sponsor what the committee wanted.

It seems committees are to be put in a corner, seen and not heard. That is absolutely the opposite of what should be happening. This is a city of GREAT ideas, some bad ideas, some crazy ideas, but our committees should be generating those ideas. We should be appointing people with passion and expertise, curiosity and innovative ideas, energy and real life experience. We should not be afraid of ideas!

Unfortunately, once Mayor Dave was gone, Mayor Again Soglin didn’t take the opportunity to shake things up. Once appointed to a city committee, people just continue on until they quit or they hit their 10 year mark. Rarely are people removed, or asked how its going and if they would rather be on a different committee. If you know people on committees, you know that some didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, that they really preferred to be on a different committee but took the appointment that was lower down on their list or got appointed and then found out the committee doesn’t really do what they thought it did. There should be an annual survey of committee members soliciting their feedback about the committee they serve on and where they feel they could serve best.

Alders are typically asked what committees they want to serve on and the mayor attempts to give each person a committee they are interested in. Some fare better than others. Some are on two committees, some are on 12 or more. Some committees no alders want to serve on. Some committees alders inherit from the previous alder, and not just committees that deal with their neighborhoods, but also other committees as well. For instance, why district 13 and 14 have a lock on the CDA appointments never made sense to me. I would stop that practice, just seems lazy to me. And when looking at who is on which committees, I think there should be some attempt to share the work load – some alders are “kept busy” on committees so they can’t do much, others are kept off committees so they can’t do much.

If committees are all just in agreement and every recommendation from them comes out unanimous, what is the point? Discussion and disagreement is where ideas are made better. Ask any developer that has to run the neighborhood gauntlet, the critics in the neighborhood almost always make the project better if the developer is honest. That is good, right? When appointing people to committees, don’t shy away from appointing people who would have an opinion that is different than the other committee members – and not just one token disagreer. Yes, the meetings might last longer, but they would at least make it worthwhile for people to attend and the city would benefit from better policies.

Sigh . . . there have been many city meetings I went to where I was the only woman. I haven’t looked lately at the committees in depth, but definitely you can still see it when you attend meetings. I wouldn’t stop there either, I would appoint women with strong opinions, not just tokens so there are 2 women on a committee of 7. Somehow, I feel that can sometimes be worse.

It shouldn’t even need to be said. People of color should be appointed to committees beyond the Equal Opportunities Commission and Affirmative Action. Our committees should reflect our city.

The county has youth that sit on their committees, they participate and they vote in the committee process. That would be one way of doing it. But we also need to appoint more people under the age of 25. College students, but not just UW, MATC, Edgewood, etc. And not just college students, young moms and bus riders and music lovers, etc. Maybe a tall order, but a better effort should be made.

Wait a year. Then you are welcome back. As a former alder, I think it would make the former alders a better committee member, more focused on what they feel is important, instead of just continuing what they were working on. I think former alders could be a very strong asset to many committees with all the knowledge they have about the inner workings of the city.

1. Shake things up
2. Don’t be afraid to appoint passionate people
3. Annual committee survey
4. Stop having alders “inherit” committees
5. Alders should share the workload
6. Balance – while shaking things up
7. Strive for meaningful gender balance on the committees
8. Integrate people of color
9. Appoint more youth
10. Former alders should wait a year.

Not sure I’ll have this many recommendations on each topic, but there is no end to the ideas I have. Not sure I remembered all my thoughts while writing this, but its a start. Add your ideas below, and feel free to disagree with me, together we could come up with even better ideas!

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