Soglin at swearing-in (copy)

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin vetoed the Council's June 13 decision to create a chief of staff position. Voting 15-4 Tuesday, the Council upheld its decision and overrode the mayor's veto. 

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Gaining just one vote more than required to override Mayor Paul Soglin's veto, Madison’s City Council upheld its decision to create a chief of staff position.

Soglin vetoed the council’s move to create the position June 13, objecting to the annual salary and arguing it was another shift in the council's structure. The council approved the measure 15-4. Fourteen votes are required to override a mayoral veto.

In his veto letter to the city clerk and Council, Soglin said the City Council budget has increased 153 percent since 2010 while city government has increased by 25 percent. He argued that the council has incrementally changed its operations without public input.

“Where was the plan, where was the public discussion, where was the dialogue in our democracy to change the form of government?” Soglin asked alders Tuesday. “My point is that we are doing this in increments, not small increments, but we are doing it with major steps without a plan and without public discussion.”

The new position would serve as a support role for alders in addition to supervising the council’s three staff members, developing staff and program level strategies and setting priorities. The five-year job is budgeted to have an annual salary between $94,365 and $127,391.

A council work group found the salary comparable to similar positions, including one with Dane County that has a salary budgeted around $122,800. Madison deputy mayors earn between $95,074 and $127,961. In Milwaukee, the mayor’s chief of staff makes about $119,500 annually and the Milwaukee Police Department’s chief of staff earns $111,986 per year.

Ald. Denise DeMarb, District 16, said adding the position increases the capacity of the council. Not supporting the alders’ workload would be a disservice to their constituents, she said.

“We are simply overwhelmed with things we could or should be looking at,” DeMarb said.

Several alders speaking in support of creating the position maintained that it does not constitute a major change in how the council is structured. Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, who led an effort to change local government more significantly, argued a chief of staff is needed to keep up with demands created by a city growing in size and complexity.

“This is not a fundamental change in the structure or authority of the council,” Clear said. “What we’re doing is adding to the capacity of the council: something we have neglected for many, many years.”

Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, who joined Clear in introducing what they called the Government Reform Initiative, voted to sustain the mayor’s veto of the position. Ahrens said there are more important issues to fix.

“I think that there are grave problems in the balance of governance between the council and the mayor and that that has to be addressed by more fundamental measures than adding an individual,” Ahrens said.

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Along with Ahrens, Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1; Paul Skidmore, District 9; and Sheri Carter, District 17, voted to sustain the veto.

Skidmore agreed with the mayor and said he believes the council has taken incremental steps to change its structure. He contested what many supporting alders described as a need for more support.

“I’m not sure of the need for this, but I do believe we need to have a discussion,” Skidmore said.

Soglin has proposed creating a committee to study the structure of Madison’s legislative body in addition to the executive position. If approved, the committee would be made up of 15 residents appointed by the mayor and two council members appointed by council President Marsha Rummel.

Ald. Sara Eskrich, District 13, proposed another committee with similar goals as the mayor’s but with a different structure. Eskrich proposes a group of four council members and three residents.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.