For the first time since the 1980s, a city committee will examine the shape of Madison’s local government.
The 11-member group of elected city officials and community members will meet for the first time Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Warner Park Recreation Center, 1625 Northport Dr. The group is charged with studying the composition of local government, the powers and structures of the City Council and mayor’s office and the numerous committees in the city.
The Madison City Council approved the task force last September, though talk of restructuring local government began earlier. In March 2016, Alds. David Ahrens, District 15, and Mark Clear, District 19, announced a proposal called the Government Reform Initiative, which would have removed some mayoral powers.
Mayor Paul Soglin and Ald. Sara Eskrich, District 13, offered varying proposals on a task force that differed on the number of people on the committee, who appoints them and what the group studies.
“Madison is growing, and we’re changing and we need to make sure our governance model best reflects and is accountable to the city as a whole,” said Eskrich, who was appointed to the panel by Council President Marsha Rummel.
The upcoming annexation of the town of Madison in 2022 and redistricting following the 2020 U.S. Census are also impetuses for conducting the study. Eskrich said whatever recommendations the committee might come up with would be best implemented during redistricting.
The task force is expected to deliver a written report to the City Council and mayor in early 2019.
Creating a community engagement process around the fundamental questions of local government will be critical, task force member Eric Upchurch said.
Upchurch is the founder of a strategic development company called Opportunity Inc. and a founding member of the Young Gifted and Black Coalition. He also works with the Council of Communities, which aims to change the way Madison nonprofits work together.
“What inspires me about this council process, is it’s attempting to reach the community in a way that leans on the community expertise in terms of what the community needs to see in local government,” Upchurch said.
Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, who was appointed to the committee by the mayor, views the biggest question the task force will face is determining the balance of power between the City Council and mayor.
Previous decisions by the Council to hire a legislative analyst and chief of staff give the Council more power and influence, Skidmore argued.
“Do we maintain a balance of power or do we not?” Skidmore said. “Quite frankly, this has worked for 150 years, and I don’t hear a screaming need that we need to change this."