After completing my workday, I immediately headed to city hall in downtown Madison. I entered the building, grabbed a summary agenda off of a nearby table, and found my way to common council meeting room. The room was a moderately sized hodgepodge of legislative desks and theatre seating in a conference room motif. The setup seemed a little odd to me as the citizen seating sat tucked in the front corners of the room facing outward toward the opposite side of the building. With the council seated facing the mayor's raised desk at the front of the room, the citizen seating required craning of the neck to see and hear the activity in the council chambers. Shortly after I determined the best position from which I could observe the proceedings, the mayor called the council into session. Within minutes of the meeting starting one thing became obvious to me:
Democracy is... cumbersome.
The first thirty minutes of the meeting were spent recognizing the 100th anniversary of a local corporation, the 50th anniversary of a local elementary school, and a recently departed Madison police officer. While the recognition of each person or group had touching moments, I began wondering what I got myself into as I paged through the more than 100 topics that littered the pages of my agenda. At the pace the meeting was going I figured I would be lucky to get home before midnight.
|Democracy in slow motion...|
|The full agenda...|
In the final minutes of the meeting the council took time to discuss the dissolution of an outdated and unattended committee and a trial of alum injections to decrease phosphorus contaminants in a city pond. With no citizen input, the council asked questions of experts and debated each topic with their peers in an effort to draw independent conclusions. Finally, the group made decisions on both topics and moved to adjourn the meeting. Two hours after the meeting had started, the gavel fell and the remaining attendees began heading for the doors.
|Madison: Brought to you by monotonous, |
archaic procedures since 1848