Madison Common Council adopts new code of conduct for elected, appointed leaders

Madison City County Building
Madison's City-County Building on January 23, 2022. WISC-TV/Channel3000.

MADISON, Wis. — With little fanfare, the Madison Common Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to adopt a new code of conduct for elected and appointed officials in the city.

The two-page Elected and Appointed Official Code of Ethical Conduct outlines expectations of city leaders to “create and maintain a welcoming, respectful, and inclusive work environment” while not engaging in behavior that could be considered harassment, bullying, violent or discriminatory.

Those who don’t adhere to the code of conduct could face sanctions, including a formal censure by the Common Council or a committee, removal from a committee or even removal from office in limited cases.

“Public service is a vital component of democracy and integral to the functioning of our City government,” the city said in a news release following Tuesday’s vote. “While Administrative Procedure Memorandum 3-5 prohibits City employees from harassment and discrimination, the Common Council desired to apply similar standards to the actions of alders, the mayor, and members of [boards, commissions and committees]. This code provides the residents who contribute their time to the City as elected or appointed officials with an explicit statement of expected conduct.”

Prior to the vote, Ald. Nasra Wehelie, one of the ordinance’s sponsors, said she hoped adopting the code of conduct will ensure those elected to represent the city are held to the highest standards.

“This code of conduct will uphold and promote the highest ethics from our elected officials. It’s important (that) as elected officials we share a commitment to ethical values and service to the city of Madison,” she said.

Tensions among city leaders have occasionally risen during council meetings.

In 2020, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and then-council president Sheri Carter called out what they said was a drastic deterioration in “the culture and civility of Common Council meetings.” The comments came in a statement from the two leaders after a man’s voice was heard saying a sexist slur during a meeting as a woman was being introduced for public comment.

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In response, 13 alders also apologized to the woman but disagreed with the comment about a lack of civility. While admitting to having tense discussions at times, “that is nothing out of the ordinary for political discourse in a public forum,” they wrote.