City should elect, not appoint, new alder
Published August 8th 2008 in The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Ald. Zach Brandon's decision to leave the Madison City Council and take a job with the state Department of Commerce creates a void at precisely the point when Brandon is needed.

The council's most aggressive and articulate advocate for fiscal responsibility is leaving as Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and the remaining alders struggle to balance a budget with too many demands and too few resources.

Brandon, who has gracefully refused to say "I told you so" as the current fiscal difficulty came into focus, was poised to be a vital player in the process of crafting a new fiscal blueprint for the city.

Now that he is gone, the council must scramble to fill a vacancy at a point when, frankly, attention should be focused on the budgetary challenges at hand.

Let's be clear: Madison has a miserable system for filling council vacancies.

Though the council is an elected legislative body, vacancies are filled via a cumbersome and undemocratic appointment process.

Candidates interested in filling Brandon's far west side seat must apply to Council President Tim Bruer by sending a notice to the Council Office, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Room 417, Madison, WI 53703. Bruer will review the applications. Then he'll make a recommendation to the City Council Organizational Committee. The Organizational Committee will then make a recommendation to the full council.

The process is expected to take four to six weeks, roughly the same amount of time that would be required for a special election if Madison had a smart system for filling council vacancies.

If Madison were to embrace instant runoff voting, which allows voters to rank candidates and transfer support, it would not be possible to avoid separate primary and general elections and hold a signal election to fill the seat.

It is, frankly, embarrassing that the Dane County Board is asking voters to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Supervisor Dave Worzala from his west side seat at the same time that council is making an arbitrary appointment.