Seems like the City County Building might not get a new name after all.
An effort to name the seat of government for the Dane County and City of Madison governments after former President Barak Obama, spearheaded by Supervisor Al Matano and County Executive Joe Parisi, has sparked significant opposition. The resolution was announced at a Thursday press conference and formally introduced at the County Board meeting that night, where it got only five of 37 members signing on as cosponsors. It is scheduled to be introduced at the Madison Common Council in two weeks.
Several members of the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Madison Common Council have already publicly taken stands against the measure. Alder Shiva Bidar told Madison365 on Sunday that she has not received any emails expressing support, but has received “a number of emails expressing opposition as well as many social media posts that express strong opposition.”
“The best option at this point is just to not even introduce it (to the Common Council) given what we are hearing from residents,” she said.
Those opposed to the resolution, which must pass both the County Board and Madison Common Council, centers on the fact that the building houses the County Jail and the lack of community input on the idea.
The most vociferous critic has been County Board Second Vice Chair Shelia Stubbs, the only African American on the 37-member board.
Stubbs and others have noted that the City County Building is the location of the County Jail, which has faced significant health and safety issues. It also houses the juvenile detention facility which holds underage people in solitary confinement.
“So opposite of all the things (Obama) stood for,” Stubbs said in an interview Friday. “I would not want to be meeting people throughout the world and hear them say, ‘Oh yeah, you named your jail behind the president.’”
“I think we have some work to do on our jail situation before naming that building after anyone would be an honor,” said Supervisor Jenni Dye on Twitter. “Also, if naming is something we are going to do, should consider people who have a local connection and open it up for ideas from the public.”
“President Obama deserves recognition,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan in a text message to Madison365. “I believe that the community should weigh in on how best to honor him.”
Madison Alder Matt Phair expressed similar criticism on Facebook.
“I believe history will be kind to President Obama and because of that he’ll have many things named for him,” Phair wrote. “However for many reasons, not here, not now. There has been no public engagement. Our City-County building is a pile. There’s a jail on the top two floors which plays a role in Wisconsin having the highest incarceration disparity rates in the country. And, my personal belief is we shouldn’t name a county and city office building after a political figure, as much as I like Obama personally.”
“I have many concerns about it,” Bidar said in a text message to Madison365. “There was a complete lack of any community conversations about it. It came out of the blue. My key concern is the fact that the jail is in this building, including the juvenile detention center. Naming an architecturally ugly building that holds the jail in a state, county and city with the highest incarceration rate of Black men after President Obama is not an appropriate way to honor his legacy, and definitely not in the spirit of one of President Obama’s major initiatives, My Brother’s Keeper, aimed at supporting our young men of color.”
Stubbs also took issue with the process by which the resolution came about.
Matano and Parisi announced it in a press conference before it was even introduced at the County Board — and that press conference was the first Stubbs heard about it. As the only African American member, she felt that was “a slap in the face.”
“It was never a conversation of, why don’t we ask Shelia what she thinks,” she said. She said she reached out to Matano, who first proposed the idea, after she learned about the resolution. “He did not answer my phone call, he did not text me back. This was Thursday. So we get to the County Board meeting and he did not want to talk. I made several attempts. He did not want to talk. So when he introduced the resolution on the floor, I stood up.”
Stubbs took the unusual step of speaking against the resolution at the County Board meeting the moment it was introduced. Usually, resolutions are debated at County Board only after they’ve been passed through the committee process.
Stubbs took the fact that it got only five cosponsors, an unusually low number for a resolution of this kind, to mean her colleagues listened when she spoke.
“That tells you, people thought about, ‘Do I want to be connected to this?’” she said.
Stubbs noted that it’s not the name she’s opposed to.
“I do want to name something in Dane County behind our (former) president,” she said. “I do not want it to be that building.”
She said she does have another County facility in mind that she’d like to see named after Obama, and is currently gathering information and drafting a proposal.
Matano could not be reached for comment.