No Reason For Madison City Council Meeting At 4 A.M.


No one in Madison should be pleased that the Wisconsin State Journal needed to report concerning Tuesday night’s city council that, “The vote, which came at 3:58 a.m…..” (If you thought of Faron Young’s song when reading the story, well, you were not alone.)

Having worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature and witnessing the all-night marathon budget sessions I can assure my readers that such conditions are not the way sound policy is created. No elected official functions with all lights registering at those hours, after having sat through hours of discussions and meandering dialogue.

I do not mean, in any way, to be unkind to the alders, after all I really appreciate the fact they offered themselves to be local officials.  I am fully aware they take the time to tussle with thorny issues. But after again learning of a long and at times senseless way of doing business I offer some ideas as to how they might proceed in the future.

First, it appears to me they all need to attend a class on how to run a meeting.  Taxpayers would be well served if alders would trim their excessive chatter and learn to communicate with more precise and tightly framed comments.

No one needs to hear an alder fawn over another about how wonderful it is to see such a commitment on this or that issue.  Likewise, no one needs to have lofty tributes paid to city staff who are on hand to answer questions.  While it is true that staff are some of the brightest ones in ‘the room’ for each meeting, it is also true that alders need to be reminded that they are not handing out an award, and therefore, do not need to thank people.

For gosh sakes, let’s just move along to find consensus on an issue.

When working in radio people would often tell me talking on the air sounded so easy.  It was then I told them to talk for 60-seconds without stopping and make it sound like it made sense.  It is harder than it seems.  But when it comes to the council I swear we have a room full of would-be radio talk show hosts in the making.   It might be entertaining, but it is not the way to run a meeting.

One of the issues that have perplexed me for years when it comes to the council meetings is the questions alders ask of the staff. While I recognize that issues get placed in a fuller context and become more illuminated in meetings, I am also mindful that city staff is always accessible to alders who wish to be brought up to speed on an issue.  Better use of everyone’s time might be for alders to come to council meetings prepared to do the work in front of them instead of needing to assemble the facts in front of the camera.

Now I am not expecting, nor should city residents, any change in council proceedings. If they really wanted to have shorter and smarter-looking meetings they would have already put in place measures so meetings did not linger until the sun is about to lift its head. But we still must wonder if alders sense how silly it looks in the early morning hours to be publically ruminating about the way they might vote.

I know—and my readers know–there is no alder who showed up at Tuesday’s meeting not knowing which way they were going to vote.  And that is fine.  Having the facts and coming to a conclusion is what the process demands.   However, to put on a public show of being in search of ‘the truth’ waaaaayyyyy after midnight is just plain silly, and does not sell for those who pay the salaries of the alders.

And so it goes.

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