Civic Engagement 101: How to Navigate Council and Committee Meetings

by Safety Connection

Common Council

Madison Common Council is what some cities call their City Council. It makes up the legislative branch of the government of the City of Madison. The Madison Common Council consists of 20 alders, elected from the city’s 20 districts, to serve a two-year term.

If you do not know who your alder is, you can get that information here by entering your address.

The Common Council considers ordinances and resolutions on subject matter including traffic codes, zoning, taxes, public safety, housing regulations, and many other issues. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway chairs the council meetings, which are held on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, beginning at 6:30 pm. It is not uncommon for these meetings to continue until midnight or even later. During the pandemic, these meetings have been held virtually, via Zoom, which makes it really easy to attend. Video is disabled for residents who speak, so you can participate from the comfort of your own home, even in your pajama pants! Depending on the meeting, residents usually have 3 or 5 minutes to speak.

Meetings are run using Robert’s Rules of Order, a formal method designed to make meetings productive and effective. But you may notice that it creates a lot of confusion over process, and necessitates that at least one of the city attorneys is present to answer questions during the meetings.

Currently Alder Syed Abbas (District 12) is the Common Council President and Alder Arvina Martin (District 11) is the Vice President. These are 1-year positions and are determined by a secret ballot vote by all alders. Visit this link to see the current Common Council meeting schedule, to view the current agenda (which comes out on the Friday before Tuesday meetings), and for directions on how to watch and register to speak at a meeting.

Boards, Commissions and Committees

Each alder on the Common Council is assigned by the mayor to serve on particular boards, commissions, and committees, such as the Board of Public Works, the Equal Opportunity Commission, or the Public Safety Review Committee. The mayor also appoints residents to serve on these boards, commissions, and committees. A complete list can be found here.

Many issues get referred to these various bodies by the Common Council for additional input, before coming back to the full council for a vote. All of these meetings are open to the public and strict open meetings laws are in place. If city business is being conducted, the public must be able to watch, with a few exceptions. You can find the full meeting schedule for each week here.

Thanks for taking the time to inform yourself about our city’s leadership process. It’s so important to play your part!

Stay tuned for the next topic in this series: Understanding the Legislative Process and how to navigate the city’s Legistar system.

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