Posts Tagged ‘Paul Skidmore’

City to consider increasing panhandling fines

January 19, 2010

Tonight the City Council will be discussing an ordinance to raise the maximum fine for panhandling and trespassing. According to Mike Verveer, the trespassing ordinance is the closest thing Madison has to a loitering law.

It allows the police to bar people from hanging around in certain areas as long as they put up a poster warning that “trespassers” will be searched and fined. For instance, if there’s a parking lot where the cops believe there is drug dealing going on, they can put up a warning and then subsequently search and fine suspicious individuals found thereafter. The fine is currently $429.

I am no legal expert, but I suspect that very few American cities don’t have constitutionally dubious laws in place which allow the police to easily deal with petty crimes. Similarly, I suspect most local police departments tolerate panhandling and loitering to a certain extent, and only prosecute when it serves some other purpose, such as moving homeless residents to another area. I once heard a Madison cop tell a panhandler to “keep his cup hidden” in a certain area of state st, implying that he wasn’t in acceptable “panhandling zone.”

The ordinance has been proposed by Alds. Thuy and Paul Skidmore. The Public Safety Committee has recommended adoption and the Equal Opportunities Commission has recommended changes. Reports from the Downtown Plan shows panhandling to be a touchy issue for many Madisonians.

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Remove the supermajority rule on Council?

January 8, 2010

Most ordinances require a simple majority to pass the Council. However, as we saw with the vote on the Edgewater renovation project, overturning the finding of some committees requires a super-majority of 14 out of 20 (more than 2/3). Joe Tarr writes on Ald. Paul Skidmore’s hopes to change that rule, so that the finding of all city commissions will be advisory, and all decisions will ultimately be up to the Council (on a simple majority basis).

“We should treat this the same way we treat all committees and boards. They’re advisory to us. And we make the decision,” says Skidmore. “I don’t think the Landmarks Commission should have veto power over the council.”

City Attorney Michael May says a number of actions require a two-thirds majority vote on the council, including one regarding decisions by the Plan Commission concerning conditional-use permits. And state law requires that a supermajority is needed to overturn some zoning decisions.

Not everybody thinks undercutting the power of city commissions is a smart move.

“Making it easy for council to willy-nilly overrule things devalues the work of the commissions and makes it more likely we’ll be less efficient,” says Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Rhodes-Conway’s opinion is shared by Mike Verveer, who told me before the first vote that he believes the authority of the experts on the Landmarks Committee is there for a good reason. It will be interesting to see what the mayor says about this idea.