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Wauwatosa council again considers city committee roles

A proposal to streamline development leads to broad discussion

Feb. 12, 2014

A proposal to streamline development approvals led to a two-hour discussion this week on how city government might be reorganized in the name of improved efficiency.

Alderman Craig Wilson brought forward a plan that would allow building proposals to move directly from the Plan Commission to the Common Council, without a review by the Community Development Committee.

Wilson, speaking at the CDC, suggested the change could start with conditional use permits, which the city issues to enterprises not specifically identified as a permitted use in a given area but are nonetheless seen as a good fit.

An old idea

Removing such a redundancy of two committee reviews is not a new idea. The city even has a panel — the Economic Development Advisory Committee — that considers ways to streamline government, especially for developers. Wilson's proposal came from that body, of which he is a member as council liaison.

"Wauwatosa gets to where it has to be, but for an applicant, it can be kind of a convoluted process," Wilson said.

He said that the double review is not done in other communities and is a confusing process for developers, who have to make the same presentation twice — often on successive nights — and for members of the public who want to comment on a proposal.

"We have developed a fairly sophisticated and capable Plan Commission and process around that ... and I think that's a good place to say we should trust in that process that we have," Wilson said.

Rethinking CDC's function

He said this process would free up the Community Development Committee to focus on "big picture things" — weightier matters of policy. It also would review proposals that the Plan Commission sent to the council that the aldermen wanted to study further.

The Plan Commission usually has five appointed residents as well as the mayor and one alderman, currently Kathleen Causier. (Two spots are currently vacant.) On a few occasions, it has approved or rejected a plan only to have the Community Development Committee take the opposite view, and, as it consists of elected officials, the committee view prevails.

Alderman James Moldenhauer expressed the objection that when a non-elected body makes decisions that members of the public may not like, it is the elected officials who will get the calls of complaint.

A broader discussion

"This process needs to be streamlined," Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan said, agreeing with Wilson. "However, I think it's part of a bigger discussion ... on reform of how we operate totally in our committees, in our commission, et cetera."

This launched the committee into a wide-ranging discussion on reinventing the governing process.

"Our committee structure is rickety and archaic," said Alderman Dennis McBride.

There are about three dozen committees, commissions and boards that serve the city. Many have non-elected members, in most cases appointed by the mayor.

Recruiting appointees

Mayor Kathy Ehley suggested more council involvement in recruiting and reviewing appointees to find people with expertise that would help a committee do its work.

"Recruitment of volunteers has to be more deliberate," Ehley said.

She also said the Plan Commission had previously worked in isolation, not always aware of the fate and impact of its decisions, until recently, when she began providing updates at the end of its meetings.

Varied perspectives

Suggestions were made to add more council members to the Plan Commission, while others resisted that idea.

McBride made a motion to create an ad hoc committee of three to five members to consider Wilson's proposal.

In discussion, others added duties to the proposal, increasing its focus so much that Alderman Bobby Pantuso called it a "committee on committees."

Pantuso said the committee should take an "extremely broad" approach.

Alderman Jason Wilke said the committee that should consider the matter was the Community Development Committee itself, not a smaller group.

Wilson, throughout, said he disagreed with a broad approach. He said he purposely brought forward a narrow proposal that was achievable, if not in one meeting, then eventually.

In the end, McBride tabled his motion to create an ad hoc committee, and the matter was tabled, to be taken up again in two weeks.

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