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Wauwatosa council considers vetting mayoral appointees

Though rejected on a close vote, idea may arise again

Feb. 19, 2014

Discussion of changes to government procedure arose gain Tuesday in the middle of a Common Council meeting when Alderman Joel Tilleson asked for a review of mayoral appointees to the Plan Commission.

"I think now's the appropriate time," Tilleson said. "I think it's a good opportunity for the Community Development Committee, specifically, to consider the nominees, to find out if they're the right people to interpret the city's vision. I also think we owe it to the public. People often show up at the Plan Commission meetings (and) they don't know who's sitting before them."

A tie vote on the matter was broken by Mayor Kathy Ehley, who voted against referring the nominees to the committee for review.

Redundancy

A built-in redundancy of Wauwatosa government has both the Plan Commission and the Community Development Committee reviewing development plans.

Often they agree on a given plan — approving it or not — but it is only the CDC that has the ability to send a plan on for further review by the Common Council. Both bodies allow time for public comment.

The Community Development Committee has been working on a proposal to allow the Plan Commission to send approved plans directly to the council without CDC review.

The goal of this streamlining is to make the process of approval easier on people with business or building plans, and to create a single forum for public comment.

Seen as responsible

The plan inevitably would raise the profile and the importance of the Plan Commission.

The proposed change has many ramifications, not the least of which is that most members of the Plan Commission are mayoral appointees, not elected officials. While the mayor leads it, and Alderwoman Kathleen Causier serves on it as council liaison, the other five spots have been filled by members of the community.

Council members see themselves as responsible for what happens in the city, and some have seen the proposed change as losing influence over policies they might have to answer for.

Process, not people

The council already has a vote to approve or reject a mayoral nominee, but there has not been a process for getting to know them.

No one directly questioned the appropriateness of the two nominees before them. One was one of their own — Alderman Jason Wilke, a landscape architect — and the other was Tosa resident and architect Tom Stacey.

The mayor stressed that Wilke's nomination was for his expertise as a landscape architect, not because he is an alderman.

"I'm not in favor of this process, and I'll be voting against it," said Alderman Jeff Roznowski.

He said that a process that isn't broken doesn't need fixing, and, to the idea of vetting Wilke, he said, "I don't know what we need to discuss nor what we would ask him before the Comunity Development Committee."

He said that Stacey, who he was acquainted with, would be a valuable addition as an architect.

Divergence of opinion

Opinions ranged widely. Alderman Greg Walz-Chojnacki said he appreciated that the topic had been raised, but that he agreed with Alderman Dennis McBride — that the matter needed consideration at a committee level before it was brought before the council.

McBride, like Roznowski, expressed concern that nominees would be intimidated, insulted, or think that a vetting process made serving in a volunteer position not worth it.

Alderwoman Jill Organ said it was too much overlap to have both Wilke and Causier on the Plan Commission, as both are members of the Community Development Commission.

McBride said the mayor appoints 200 people to the city's many boards, committees and commissions, and the burden of interviewing all of them as they come up would be crushing.

How it broke down

Those who voted in favor of Tilleson's proposal were aldermen Tim Hanson, Bobby Pantuso, Tilleson, Brian Ewerdt, Donald Birschel, Cheryl Berdan and Wilke.

Those opposed were Walz-Chojnacki, Causier, John Dubinski, McBride, James Moldenhauer, Organ and Roznowski.

The matter likely will be folded into the larger discussion surrounding reconsideration of the city's committee structure.

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