When I posted Edgewater Vote Troubling for Democracy on December 16, 2009, Nick posted some testy questions regarding the role of the Madison Common Council in reviewing decisions of the Landmarks Commission.
Before looking at those questions, we need an overview of the role of the Common Council.
The Common Council is the ultimate policy making body for the city of Madison. While administrative authority rests with the mayor, any matter that is legislative, and that means all matters that are subject to regulation, ought to be subject to the one elected body that serves the entire city.
Virtually all decisions made by that body, other than some of the procedural matters determined by the universally adopted Robert's Rules of Order, require a simple majority.
There are some exception to that majority vote requirement and virtually all of them are determined by state statue. Those include super majorities needed to override a veto, a re-zoning opposed by a verified petition, the process for handling zoning board appeals, and property assessments determined by the Board of Review.
Appeals on conditional uses and landmarks, out of literally thousands of matters, remain the exceptions.
When the landmarks process was adopted close to forty years ago, the appeal was from the Landmarks Commission to the courts. My recollection was that it was modeled after landmarks ordinances adopted in other jurisdictions. As a member of the Madison Common Council, while I was already concerned about democratic issues involving special districts, I did not give much thought to the issue of thwarting the legislative body.
The matter of by-passing the legislative body, the Common Council, on landmarks issues, was troubling. That is why, in 1994, we amended the appeal process so that instead of going to the courts, it went to the Common Council. I preferred a simple majority.
That is why we have the requirement of a two-thirds super majority.
There are numerous unelected city boards and commissions that wield considerable decision making power in this city. Are you proposing that the City Council take on all of their workload? Or that they simply invite every aggrieved applicant to appeal by lowering the bar for a Council override?
Nick is wrong.
The are very few unelected city boards and commissions that wield considerable decision making power in this city, since almost all are subject to Common Council oversight. I have noted them above.
There are probably 80 different commissions and boards. The Common Council is in a position to review, amend, reject or adopt the thousands of recommendations they make every year. The Council obviously uses its judgment. At times the Council will adopt reports from boards with close to 100 items, with little or no debate. Sometimes many items are pulled out for separate discussion.
When Nick asks,
Are you proposing that the City Council take on all of their workload? Or that they simply invite every aggrieved applicant to appeal by lowering the bar for a Council override?
he fails to realize that by law and opportunity the Common Council can take on the workload of all of them. If Nick followed the Council meeting and the public appearances he would know that from liquor licenses to special assessments, every aggrieved applicant does have an opportunity to present their case.
When Nick suggests that this process, "lower(s) the bar for a Council override" it saddens me that he has so little respect for the democratic process and the Madison Common Council. If Nick was to protest the inordinate time spent by the Common Council on liquor licenses, he might have some sympathy in this corner, but certainly the once-a-decade landmarks appeal merits deliberation by the legislative body.
Nick asks why this was not a problem when I was mayor, but is today and questions, "Does it have anything to do with the fact that you are now employed by developers instead of the citizenry?"
Nick, it was a problem then and it is a greater problem now. It saddens me that someone of your intellect and character has to restore to such trash and that when it serves your interests you prefer to deprive the democratically elected legislative body of the right to review a decision made by appointees.