City Cast

The Groups That Help Form City Policies

Abby Becker
Posted on September 10   |   Updated on September 12
Photo by Hayley Sperling

Photo by Hayley Sperling

Boards, committees, and commissions

Madison has 83 boards, committees, and commissions that help guide legislation in the city. Boards and commissions have some independent power to make decisions on behalf of the city while committees are generally limited to making recommendations or reports to the mayor or City Council.

These groups also allow residents to get involved in local government without running for an elected position.

Madison’s collection of boards, committees, and commissions have varying levels of authority and oversee different subject areas. For example, the Urban Design Commission regulates the general appearance of buildings, structures, landscaping and open areas. The Finance Committee makes recommendations on changes to the city’s budget and other issues with fiscal implications, while the Transportation Commission makes decisions on issues affecting transit.

Serving on one of Madison’s many boards, committees, and commissions is a direct way residents can have a voice in city government. Interested residents can check out which groups have vacancies (see furthest column to the right on this page) and follow the application steps outlined here.

All members of boards, committees, and commissions are appointed positions. Most members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

The appointments are voluntary, but some people are appointed due to another position they hold. For example, a position on the Joint Campus Area Committee is reserved for a representative from UW Housing, and the Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent (or designee) sits on the Plan Commission.

Members of boards, commissions, and committees are typically unpaid, though there are some exceptions. For example, the Civilian Oversight Board members receive $100 per month. Members of the Board of Public Works and Board of Review receive a small annual stipend, which is outlined in state law.

Most boards, commissions, and committees are created by ordinance without an expiration date. The City Council president can establish ad hoc committees, task forces, or work groups, which typically have an end date outlined in a resolution or directive. This usually occurs when one of these groups delivers a report to the City Council.

In practice: Police Civilian Oversight Board

Formed in 2020, the Police Civilian Oversight Board is independent from the Madison Police Department, hires and supervises the independent police monitor, works with the monitor’s office and the community to review and make recommendations related to local police. Robert Copley currently holds the independent police monitor role.

The Police Civilian Oversight Board and independent monitor were among recommendations from the Madison Police Department Policy Procedure and Review Ad Hoc Committee that formed after the police killing of Madison teenager Tony Robinson.

The oversight board is different from the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC) and the Police and Fire Commission (PFC). The PSRC advises the mayor and City Council on issues related to law enforcement budgets and recommends long-range department goals. The PFC appoints the police and fire chiefs, oversees promotions and hirings and holds hearings on disciplinary matters.

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