Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Choice of Committee Chairs Criticized

Council president Jose Perez 'shut all four Black women members out,' Ald. Pratt complains.

By - Apr 29th, 2024 04:46 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The newly-elected Milwaukee Common Council will kick off its legislative cycle next week, and it’s now clear who will be calling the shots.

On Friday afternoon, Common Council President José G. Pérez used his unilateral authority to fill the council’s eight standing committees and dole out the powerful chairmanships. At least one surprise was included on the list, and Alderwoman Andrea Pratt — who backed a challenger to Perez for president — has publicly complained about the lack of representation in the assignments for herself and the three other Black women members of the council.

The vast majority of the council’s business takes place at the committee level. Committees host formal public hearings and directly interface with city department representatives, with the chair often able to speed up or slow down any related legislation. Members of the public who speak before the Common Council almost always do so at a committee meeting. The full council receives reports from committees and regularly adopts the recommendations in their entirety. Committee chairs also receive increased media exposure and, depending on the committee, can leverage their post to raise campaign funds.

A handful of council chairs are returning to their familiar posts: Marina Dimitrijevic to the Finance and Personnel Committee, Robert Bauman to the Public Works Committee and Russell W. Stamper, II to the Community and Economic Development Committee. Additionally Ald. Scott Spiker will reprise his role as chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee; a title he earned last year as the committee assignments were reshuffled after a special election.

But big changes are in store at other committees.

Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa will lead the Licenses Committee, which is known for holding lengthy meetings and casting impactful votes on whether to allow problem bars to continue to operate or issue a suspension. The Licenses Committee chair, more so than virtually any other, plays a pivotal role in maintaining order and decorum during frequently-contested hearings. First elected to the council in 2020, Zamarripa spent approximately a year as head of the Public Safety & Health Committee previously.

Ald. Jonathan Brostoff will replace retired alderman Michael Murphy as the head of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. The committee reviews the creation of tax incremental financing districts, city land sales, virtually all major real estate developments and historic preservation designations and appeals. It also could play an important role in shaping the future of the city’s land-use regulations. Brostoff has been an advocate for the Growing MKE package of zoning code and land-use changes proposed by Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s administration. The proposal was introduced last fall.

It will be Brostoff’s first time chairing a council committee. The alderman was first elected in a November 2022 special election. Both Brostoff and Zamarripa previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

The biggest change will be found at the Judiciary and Legislation Committee. DiAndre Jackson, a first-time elected official, will chair the committee. The committee hears often complicated appeals from citizens and businesses for financial damages as well as overseeing the approval of legal settlements, the return of tax foreclosed property and the adoption of the city’s legislative package. It was most recently led by Ald. Mark Borkowski, who retired.

In an unusual move, Pérez appointed himself vice chair as an aide to Jackson. The council president often only formally serves as chair of the Steering & Rules Committee, the committee made up of the council president and other committee chair.

“My goal throughout was to establish a committee structure that represents the greatest possible diversity of experiences, both lived and worked, among members. I thank all those who have taken on the responsibility of being chairs and vice-chairs and I am grateful to all those who will serve with me through the next four years. I think each of them brings unique gifts and perspectives,” said Pérez in a statement announcing the assignments. “What’s more, I believe these assignments are an opportunity for the Common Council to nurture a new generation of leaders. I have tried to be strategic in the placement of our newest members, appointing them to positions where they can be vice-chairs now and the chairs of the future. I can think of no better way for this body to ‘build up its bench’ and ensure that the people’s business is conducted now and in the future.”

For the first time since 2016, one individual has not been included on the chair list: Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.

Coggs previously led the finance committee and, for the past four years, the Licenses Committee. She ran unsuccessfully for council president against Pérez, losing on a 10-5 vote. But, according to multiple City Hall insiders, Pérez did offer Coggs chairmanship of the Judiciary and Legislation Committee and only awarded it to Jackson after she declined.

The makeup of the committees has created public tension within the council, whose 15 members just began their new term on April 16 by celebrating their diversity.

The celebration ended abruptly on April 26 with the new Common Council committee assignments, which shut all four Black women members out,” said Pratt in a press release issued Monday afternoon. “While the Council now boasts the highest number of Black women ever, there is no Black woman serving as either chair or vice chair on any of the seven standing committees. This is especially egregious when understanding that the second most senior member of the Council is a Black woman, who served as chair of both the Finance and Personnel Committee and the Licenses Committee for years.”

Pratt, who formally nominated Coggs for the presidency, also took issue with the fact that she was assigned only to a single committee while some council members have three assignments.

To prevent this from happening again and to anyone else, I intend to introduce legislation that no member should be assigned to fewer than two committees, unless there are legal or disciplinary reasons to do so. As Alders, we are elected understanding that we all have to carry an equal load, and to not do so is unfair to everyone,” she said.

But before any such legislation could be adopted, committee assignments could change. Multiple sources familiar with the appointments expect Pérez to remove himself from the Judiciary and Legislation Committee as Jackson gains experience.

Pratt, who was first elected last spring in a special election, is currently slated to serve only on the Licenses Committee. She was previously on Licenses and Community and Economic Development. Larresa Taylor, who joined the council last spring with Pratt, and the newly-elected Sharlen P. Moore each have two assignments. Spiker, Bauman, Jackson and Brostoff each have three assignments, plus Steering and Rules, and newly-elected Peter Burgelis has three assignments but no chairmanship.

The council will set several new highs for representation this term. For the first time, a majority (8) of the council members are Black. And a record-breaking six women are serving.  Two of the members are also openly part of the LBGTQ+ community, which saw no public council representation until 2020. The new council is also short on experience, only four members have previously served two full terms. Of the eight committee chairs (including Pérez), two are Black and two are Hispanic. Two of the chairs are women. And one is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Coggs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Finance & Personnel Committee

  • Dimitrijevic (chair)
  • Spiker (vice chair)
  • Burgelis
  • Coggs
  • Moore

Community & Economic Development Committee

Public Works Committee

Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee

  • Brostoff (chair)
  • Stamper (vice chair)
  • Bauman
  • Zamarripa
  • Jackson

Licenses Committee

  • Zamarripa (chair)
  • Westmoreland (vice chair)
  • Spiker
  • Pratt
  • Burgelis

Judiciary & Legislation Committee

  • Jackson (chair)
  • Pérez (vice chair)
  • Bauman
  • Brostoff
  • Chambers, Jr.

Public Safety & Health Committee

  • Spiker (chair)
  • Burgelis (vice chair)
  • Westmoreland
  • Taylor
  • Moore

Steering & Rules Committee

  • Pérez (chair)
  • Dimitrijevic (vice chair)
  • Bauman
  • Stamper
  • Zamarripa
  • Spiker
  • Brostoff
  • Jackson

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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