Page one of MPD Chief Noble Wray's formal statement of apology to 'Patty' on behalf of the department.
The biggest news at the Madison Common Council meeting on Tuesday night was a brief statement from MPD Chief Noble Wray. The chief formally apologized on behalf of the department for its actions in the "Patty" case, a statement relevant to a proposed resolution requiring the city to both apologize and pay restitution over the matter. This was referred to committee. The council also opened the doors for tenants to make and contract their own repairs on rental properties as an alternative to rent abatement; following a new procedure, they would be allowed to deduct the costs of the repair from their rent should landlords prove negligent and tardy in doing so themselves. The council also approved advertisments on city bus shelters and created a committee to examine the specifics of establishing a local preference purchasing policy for the city.
One particularly contentious item was a West Dayton Street developement in the Bassett neighborhood; this passed following considerable discussion and foreshadowed future arguments about denser development in downtown residential neighborhoods.
The most difficult issue of the night came at the end of the meeting, when the council initially voted down by one vote an amendment to the city's 2006 operating budget that would assist in the funding of its Neighborhoods '06 Conference on Nov. 11 at Monona Terrace. But following changes in votes by council president Austin King (to allow the item to be reintroduced) and Paul Skidmore (from against the amendment to in favor of it), the funding was approved and the conference could continue.
The meeting can also be viewed on TV and online from Madison City Channel 12 city council programming. The agenda (PDF) for tonight's meeting lists the items (and short descriptions) up for discussion and votes. Also, the report from the previous meeting of the Madison Common Council is here.
Live-blogging of this week's meeting follows below.
Before the meeting
At first glance it looks like tonight's meeting of the Madison Common Council will be a brief affair. The Halloween decisions are made and there's little left for alders to do but wait (or perhaps pray for rain). The reanimated loitering ordinance has again be laid to rest, and the word is that the proposed official apology to Patty will be referred to the Common Council Organizational Committee (CCOC), though it might also be the case that MPD Chief Noble Wray will formally apologize for the matter. What does this leave?
Three things primarily. One, there's the proposal that the city enact a local preference purchasing policy. Two, there's the proposal to allow the city to place advertisements on bus shelters. Three, and probably most importantly in terms of interest in the meeting, there's a proposal that would establish regulations for tenants to make their own repairs as an alternative to rent abatement should their landlords not do so.
Room 201 of the City-County Building was relatively quiet as alders and city staff entered in advance of the meeting. Things were louder outside, though, as about 25 members of Madison ACORN gathered and chanted in support of the self-help repair proposal. In the final five minutes before the meeting, many of the demonstrators entered the room to speak at the meeting.
The meeting begins -- The 'Patty' resolution
The meeting begins a few minutes after 6:30 p.m. The first two items (regarding citizen committee appointments) are passed quickly, at which point the council picks up the 'Patty' resolution. Its summary reads: "Amending the 2006 Operating Budget by authorizing the expenditure of $35,000 from the contingent reserve, requesting the creation of a new Madison Police department policy, and conveying an apology.
There are two registrants, both speaking in favor of the resolution. They are former UW student Angela Rose of Promoting Awareness and Victim Empowerment (PAVE) and the mother of another UW student who was date-raped during her first semester in school. There are also three other registrants in favor of the resolution not wishing to speak.
Chief Wray also addressed the resolution. "It is very difficult to come up and speak after those two speakers before me," he says. "Although the proposed resolution does not call for the police department to apologize, I am going to read this statement," Wray continues. "On behalf of the Madison Police Department, I would like to apologize to Patty for the department's role" in the case, Wray concludes.
After Wray receives a standing ovation from about half of the alders, resolution sponsor and city council president Austin King moves for its referral to the CCOC after thanking the chief. Ald. Ken Golden also thanks Wray, speaks in support of referring the item in order to facilitate dialogue with the police department, and requests to be added as a co-sponsor. Ald. Santiago Rosas requests to be added as a co-sponsor as well. Ald. Brenda Konkel also thanks Chief Wray, at which point the item is referred.
The public hearing portion -- New condos in the student ghetto
As 6:45 p.m. arrive, the council turns to the public hearing portion of its agenda.
The first item up for discussion is a redevelopment at 415, 417, and 419 West Dayton Street, which is located in the Bassett neighborhood near the Capitol Centre Foods grocery store. Representatives of the developer speak in favor of the four-story project, promoting its elements of density, energy efficiency, and relative affordability. Downtown resident Rosemary Lee also speak in favor of the plan, which would add 20 condominium units to that section of the downtown.
Attorney (and former alder) Ron Trachtenberg also speaks in favor of the development, addressing questions from Golden about the lack of any three-bedroom units and a neighborhood plan. Trachtenberg says larger units are not the best fit for the neighborhood, and that preservation concerns about the block are not relevant, both for the reason that prospective homeowners are most likely to be young professionals and retirees, neither likely to have multiple children or an interest in renovating existing housing stock.
Ald. Mike Verveer speaks in favor of the project, saying it's an appropriate fit for the neighborhood and one that should go forward. Golden follows, speaking on his concerns about the rapid disappearance of stand-along houses downtown, as well about his interest in "buildings that will last 100 years" as the size of student-occupied neighborhoods shrink. Compton also speaks for the proposal, saying it "won't do anything to destroy the integrity of the neighborhood." She's followed by Ald. Larry Palm, a former neighborhood resident, who is supporting the project too. Alds. Brenda Konkel and Robbie Webber are the last to speak, both of whom agree with Golden and hope that developments downtown will be built with families a long-term perspective in mind.
The discussion between the alders continues for some time, with deliberation on this item lasting some 45 minutes. This level of interest is a sign that issues surrounding residential development downtown will continue to grow as more students live in larger apartments closer to campus. In the end, the proposal passes with recorded nos from Alds. Golden, Konkel and Webber.
There are no public registrants for the 2007 Executive Operating Budget, and it is subsequently referred. There are likewise no registrants for the Board of Public Works, and all of these recommendations are adopted.
The consent agenda
The balance of the agenda is adopted, with the exceptions of six items. There are no votes recorded from Alds. Golden, King and Konkel on Item 23, which requires "non-represented employees" in four city compensation groups "to make a co-payment for health insurance coverage in 2007."
The first item up in the consent agenda is the proposal to allow tenants to conduct their own repairs in certain cases. This change in city ordinances would "establish regulations for self-help repairs of leased premises by tenants in addition to rent abatement," and would "establish a procedure for notice of eligibility to seek self-help repairs." In other words, it would allow eligible tenants to deduct repair costs from their rent obligations after a period of non-compliance by the property owner.
There are many registrants for this item:
- The first registrant, a representative of Madison ACORN, speaks forcefully in favor of the change. He encourages the council to take a good look at the item before making their decision.
- The second registrant says she "has a couple concerns" about the ordinance, and is not necessarily against it. She focuses primarily on the issue of tenant damage, saying that this avenue should not be open to tenants who have damaged their own rental units.
- The next registrant discusses insect infestation problems (cockroaches and bedbugs) as one major problem faced by tenants in her neighborhood, and that should be the responsibility of landlords to address. "We do try to respect the buildings," she says, "but they were already torn up when we moved here."
- The fourth registrant is also speaking in support, and also addresses the problem of insect pests. "As far as the tenants messing up, yes they should repair what they mess up," she says, but landlords need to fulfill their responsibilities as well.
- "When you move into an apartment and your refrigerator is not working, your stove is not working, and your heat is not there," says the next speaker, "how can a place motivate you when it's falling down." She too speaks in favor of allowing tenants to charge repair costs to the property owners via rent deductions. "Sure, the tenant may do something wrong, but we have laws for that. Give us the right to fix things legitimately," she concludes. "Just don't say we're nasty, because a lot of people on Allied are clean. We've got pride."
- "This has been a longstanding problem here in the city of Madison, particularly for low-income persons," says the sixth registrant. A resident of the city for more than 40 years, he says that previous laws attempting to address the problem of poor rental property maintenance have failed. "I urge you to dig deep into your heart and put yourself into the shoes of many of my neighbors, he concludes.
- The seventh and eight registrants speak together, twin sisters who discuss their personal experiences living in Madison rental properties. "I just think they should have handicapped accessible things in the apartments," both say.
- The next registrant says that rent abatement is not typically used as a recourse due to the length it takes to conclude the process, a period lasting more than ten weeks. "Going to court is a difficult thing for a lot of lower-income folks, it's an intimidating thing," he says, before pointing out that this is an established system in Chicago. "This only affects a small number of neglectful landlords."
- The tenth registrant discusses her personal experiences as a tenant who has rented deteriorating properties. "Let's do what's right," she says.
- "Why can't a tenant take a part of his rent money to repair his place," asks the next registrant. When infestations and other problems are not addressed by landlords, he says, the tenants deserve a recourse.
- "I think this is something that could benefit the city in general," says the next registrant. He discusses his personal experiences with a deteriorating rental property in the Allied neighborhood, saying that this would benefit property owners in addition to tenants.
- The next registrant says many renters feel powerless in their situations, particularly in situations where the landlord is not responsive in dealing with repairs. He also says that rent abatement is not necessarily a recourse, as while it will not necessarily result in a commitment to repairs.
- The fourteenth registrant speaks briefly in favor of the ordinance change.
- Curt Brink also speaks briefly for the ordinance. He is a prominent local developer as well as a member of the city's Housing Committee and a board member of the Apartment Association of South-Central Wisconsin.
- Nancy Jensen, the spokesperson of the Apartment Association, thanks the previous speakers and voices her organization's support for the ordinance change.
- There are six other registrants in support who are not wishing to speak.
With public testimony on this proposal complete, questions for city staff and council discussion begins. One issue that is raised are items not available for abatement. These include minor holes in walls, minor floor problems, cold water dripping faucets and cracked windows, as opposed to larger holes, trip hazards, roof leaks, hot water leaking faucets and broken windows, which can be abated. The timeline of the process is also discussed: Tenants need to wait 30 days, at which point another week's wait is likely before a judgment is made on any application for abatement.
King offers an amendment that would allow a landlord to object to any application with a formal letter, at which point the matter would be adjudicated in court. Should a landlord be found responsible for not making repairs in a timely fashion, they would be responsible for 110%-%125 percent of the repair costs. This and the entire ordinance change is "a perfectly reasonable proposal," King says, one with multiple checks and balances and a hearing process for landlords in the case of tenant damage. He also notes that the ordinance wouldn't go into effect for 120 days so that adequate preparations could be made by the city.
Golden speaks next. He notes that some of the registrants at tonight's meeting are residents of Fitchburg, and suggests that the mayor share the text of this ordinance with other cities, towns and villages in the county. Konkel says this ordinance is a very small step. "I'm glad to see this go into place," she says, "but I think we need to be doing a lot more. There really are some horrendous living situations out there," she continues, "and I really wish there were a quicker remedy out there."
With no further discussion, the proposal passes by a voice vote with no audible nos.
Bus shelter advertisements
This ordinance change would allow the city to "place signs or ads on Transit Utility bus shelters." There is only one person registered in support, though not wishing to speak. There is also no alder initially wishing to speak in favor of the item.
Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, however, speaks against the proposal as a matter of aesthetics. He says "the vast majority of places in our community are inappropriate for billboards," particularly those in front of or adjacent to homes. "I don't think it's worth the money, I don't think residents want it," he continues, pointing to a restriction on billboards downtown. "I think we're a bunch of hypocrites if we go down this road," he concludes.
Ald. Zach Brandon says the bus system is the fastest-growing portion of the city's budget, and therefore makes revenue from signs on bus shelters a necessary change. "Either we step up now and put money forward from alternative revenue sources," he says, or the council needs to lower or stop raising taxes.
Golden speaks about his previous opposition to fully-wrapped ads on buses, as well as his experiences with observing transit systems in other cities before voicing his support for the measure. He also suggests that the city examine the possibility of not placing ads in residential neighborhoods, pointing to an unwritten policy in the city of not placing parking meters in these areas. Alds. Tim Gruber and Compton speak briefly against and for the ordinance, respectively. Konkel registers her opposition to the proposal, meanwhile, before stating that decreasing state and federal support for the bus system.
Alds. Brandon and Palm both voice their support for the ads in both terms of revenue and aesthetics, a position also supported by Ald. Isadore Knox. Mayor Cieslewicz also makes what he describes as "my first campaign promise" in response to a query from King. The mayor agrees to supporting the allocation of some ad space to PSAs and public art should he remain in office following next April's election. Ald. Jed Sanborn, meanwhile, says that the ads are fiscally necessary considering the council's stated support for a quality transit system.
Following continuing discussion on the matter, the council approves the ordinance by a vote of 14 ayes (Webber, Benford, Brandon, Bruer, Cnare, Compton, Golden, King, Knox, Olson, Palm, Radomski, Sanborn, Thomas) to 4 nos (Verveer, Konkel, Gruber and Skidmore).
A local preference purchasing policy
As the mayor steps down from the bench at the front of the room to speak to staff, council president King steps up to manage the meeting. The next item up in the agenda is the proposal to create a committee to study a local preference purchasing policy for the city government.
Ald. Konkel speaks in favor of the proposal, saying that a committee would help clear up confusions and uncertainties about the idea, particularly in terms of the definition of "local." As this discussion ensues over the formation of the committee, various alders leave their seats to speak with one another or city staffers. They don't have long to speak, however, as the motion to create the committee subsequently passes.
The Madison Neighborhoods Conference
The next item up for discussion would amend the 2006 operating budget to authorize $13,7000 in funding for City of Madison's Neighborhoods '06 Conference. Ald. Brandon objects to this, saying that promises of private fundraising have not been fulfilled. He also asks the council to look at its cost breakdown, saying that its sources are not applicable to the goals of the conference and are not a good use of taxpayer money.
The discussion subsequently starts going all over the place, with alders mentioning past conferences, pondering the cancellation of this conference, and asking each other questions about costs. Ald. Golden ends this, saying that the council should simply vote on the matter rather than discuss its merits. Roll is taken, and the measure fails with 14 ayes (Verveer, Webber, Benford, Bruer, Cnare, Golden, Gruber, King, Knox, Konkel, Olson, Palm, Radomski, and Thomas) to 4 nos (Brandon, Compton, Sanborn, and Skidmore). The budget amendment required 15 votes.
With the failure of this item, it puts the future of the Neighborhoods Conference in question. Therefore, King changes his vote to no (the second time in as many months) in order to bring it back under consideration later in the meeting. The council subsequently refers Item 28, which continues funding for the M.A.P and Transit for Jobs programs and a purchase agreement for Porchlight Inc. Then Item 54 (which requires alders to notify the council offices when they are out of the city for five days or longer) is passed by a voice vote, though with a recorded no from Ald. Thomas. At this point King calls for a ten minute recess, during which the alders will presumably confer on how to make sure it doesn't kill the Neighborhoods Conference.
The meeting ends
About five minutes later, the mayor calls the council back into session, and a new vote is immediately taken on Item 28 after it is re-introduced by Ald. King. This time it passes by 15 votes (Verveer, Webber, Benford, Bruer, Cnare, Golden, Gruber, King, Knox, Konkel, Olson, Palm, Radomski, Skidmore and Thomas) to 2 nos (Compton and Sanborn) and one absent (Brandon, who had not returned to the council chambers).
The alder who ensured the passage of the budget amendment was Ald. Paul Skidmore. He explains changing his vote: "I look at this as a fiscal matter, and some of the arguments made during the discussion were pretty persuasive. After I thought about it, I realized I'd by denying my neighborhood residents the opportunity to participate in the conference if I voted no. I didn't want to do that."
With this last minute rescue of the conference, new items are introduced and the meeting adjourns just past 9:40 p.m.