The Madison City Council proposed making an alder’s job a full-time position and increasing the pay for alders.
According to the proposal from the City Council, the Task Force on Government Structure considered whether the City’s government structure provides adequate avenues for resident participation in government without privileging decision-making on having the time, resources and ability to navigate the city’s current government structure.
The TFOGS concluded the best solutions to these inequalities are a full-time council, as well as increasing the alderperson term from two to four years.
Avra Reddy, a former alder and president of the Young Progressives club at the University of Wisconsin, said she thinks it would be better for the people of Madison if the Common Council moved to full-time. Reddy said she was in favor of a full-time designation when she was an alder for District 8, which covers the UW campus, in 2019.
“I think it is an equity incentive because if you don’t have the capacity to work a full-time job and be a part-time alder, you can’t run for common council,” Reddy said. “But if it is only a full time job, then it would open up a lot of doors for people.”
UW student and current District 8 Alder, Max Prestigiacomo, disagreed.
Prestigiacomo said a full-time position doesn’t solve the more systemic problems the council should be focused on like accessibility, disenfranchisement, marginalization and white supremacy.
“The whole system is broken,” Prestigiacomo said. “It was built to maintain this upper-class white progressivism that is typical Madison politics. I think it is really under-representative of the class divide in the community.”
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, one of the task force’s goals was to provide more opportunity for people of color and low-income people to serve, but moving to full-time would make it much harder for minority representation in the council.
Associate Students of Madison Chair Matthew Mitnick said this proposal limits the scope of people who could run for office.
“You would need more money to run, and I think it would allow those who can personally fund their own campaigns and have connections to extreme wealth resources to beat out other candidates,” Mitnick said.
Full-time alders would virtually eliminate the District 8 student seat in the council, which is typically and currently filled by a student.
Mitnick said it would prove an overall poor decision to move to full-time.
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“It would ruin the whole point of a student serving on the city council,” Mitnick said. “I think it is really a great thing that we can have someone that represents us and the student interests. The best way to encapsulate that is to have a student on the city council.”
The proposal states full-time alders would be better positioned to address barriers to resident representation, engagement and participation, as well as the lack of alternative ways for residents to engage with their government.
Reddy said she understands the importance of maintaining a student presence on the council, but doesn’t know if having a student in that seat is more important than getting everyone on full-time.
“I think it is really valuable to have a student in that seat, but I also think it is important to have full-time alders because they can do more with their time and are working more for the people because they aren’t concerned with working another full-time job.” Reddy said.
Reddy used Alder Syed Abbas, District 12, as an example of an individual who could benefit from full-time pay.
Abbas has been the Common Council Vice President since April 16, 2019. According to Reddy, on top of being common council vice president, Abbas has two daughters and works a full-time job.
“That is a lot on his plate,” Reddy said. “He does that work because he loves it, but not everyone has the capacity to manage a family, have a full-time job, and be on Common Council. Full-time would help lower that threshold, so more people could run if they wanted to.”
Prestigiacomo said improving broadband access and bridging Madison’s technology divide would serve as more efficient mean to improving the council’s functional capabilities.
Governor Tony Evers used $5 million in federal pandemic relief to fund the expansion of high-speed internet service, but 8.7% of the state’s population still lacks broadband access.
Prestigiacomo, Reddy and Mitnick said they want to see an increase in pay for alders, regardless of whether they agree on moving the position to full-time or not.
“Personally, I think making it a full-time position is the right move, but if nothing else I think they should have a dramatic pay raise,” Reddy said. “Then they could at least take time off or work around this constraint of having a full-time job and working a part-time job on top of that.”
According to The Cap Times, the proposed $67,950 annual salary would reduce the size of the Council from 20 to 10 and force alders to represent double the size of their current constituency, effectively diluting citizens’ representation.
Mitnick said the question is also where this money is coming from.
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“If it is going to cut an essential service, I don’t think I could justify that,” Mitnick said. “If we are defunding the police department and using some of that general revenue to increase pay for alders, I wouldn’t have any opposition to that.”
The proposal does not say where the money to increase pay for alders would come from. It does, however, state budgetary actions would be necessary to facilitate the transition to full-time Common Council.
Mitnick said he thinks it is “cool” the alder position has always been part-time because it allowed for Madisonians of varying professions to bring their backgrounds into the role.
“It’s not just people who are career politicians or people who have always been in the political scene,” Mitnick said. “It allows for more people to be drawn in, and having more alders creates a more robust committee structure as well.”