Ald. Lauren Cnare sees her new job as Common Council president as a go-between for the council and Madison's new mayor, Paul Soglin.
"One of the most important things that take place at the governmental level is people [on the council] want to know what's going on as quickly as possible," she says. "It's really important to set up those communication channels so we can start to work together as a full team."
Cnare, who was first elected to the council in 2005, represents a district on Madison's far-east side. Last year, she served as president pro-tem, under Ald. Mark Clear. On Tuesday, she was elected president at the new council's first meeting, running unopposed. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff was unanimously elected president pro-tem.
The job is somewhat ceremonial - the president serves as acting mayor whenever the mayor is out of town - but there are administrative duties involved. Cnare says she's not looking to push any particular agenda, other than to "tap into the talent of each council member."
Ald. Mike Verveer, who has served two stints as council president, in 2007 beating Cnare for the job, supports Cnare this year.
Verveer says the president does have more power than regular alders, because she or he "has a direct pipeline to the mayor and is on his calendar every week for discussion of the issues." He describes the president and pro-tem as "a two-person focus group for the mayor to bounce ideas off of."
Without naming names, Verveer says past presidents haven't always seen the job that way. "One of the things that has disturbed me is that over the years, past council presidents have served as the whip, the vote counter, or lobbyist for the mayor," he says. "That is not their role. They're to be a liaison to the mayor and should be representing the institution of the council, not serving as a member of the mayor's personal staff."
Mayor Soglin says he looks to the council president to find out how the council is leaning and help set the agenda: "The council president has the trust and confidence of the city council."
At least in theory.