In November, Madison chose its first-ever Common Council Chief of Staff. Now entering his third month in the position, Kwasi Obeng is already gearing up for the city’s growth and improvement.
Obeng was born in Senegal and raised in Ghana. He attended a boarding school in England and then Vanderbilt University for his bachelor’s degree in organizational development, then going on to Argosy University and Clark Atlanta University to earn his master’s in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in political science.
His more than a decade-long career in local government has taken him to the city of Atlanta’s Auditor’s office and the city of Chicago’s office of Inspector General, before bringing him to Madison.
“Location-wise, it’s been great here,” Obeng told Madison365. “The pace is a happy medium, it’s kind of slow like the south, but it’s not far from bigger cities. And I love not having to deal with traffic.”
Obeng says his experience in larger cities proves useful in a “rapidly growing Madison.”
“I can anticipate issues that other cities had that Madison can have an eye on as the city expands,” he said, citing public safety issues and transportation as two things on his radar.
Obeng sees the city already facing issues similar to those in larger cities such as challenges with policing and perspectives on policing.
“There are a lot of perspectives and perspectives are important, but we also want to balance that out with data,” he said. “My experience allows me to pull all of that together so that council members have a comprehensive idea of what it is that they want to look at and consider all different factors before making decisions.”
In his new role Obeng hopes to act as a liaison between city administration, the Common Council and constituents, as well as assist in policy making.
“My role being here during the regular work hours is to be a liaison with the mayor and his department heads and city staff and trying to figure out what their needs are, what their challenges are so that I can communicate that to the city council,” he said. “Since my background is in performance auditing I’ll also be assessing operations and giving feedback to the city council members so that as they develop policies they get a balance of information from the constituents and the city staff to make more informed decisions.”
Obeng has begun collecting data to gauge the thoughts and needs of constituents and stakeholders.
“I have a masters in psychology, so I’m able to attentively listen to really understand different people’s perspectives and be able to translate that information to city council members so that they can fully understand the different ideas and perspectives,” he said.
Obeng hopes to play a role in lessening the racial economic gap as well.
“I’ve been engaging different communities trying to figure out how to increase the Black and minority middle class and bring more opportunities,” he said.
He also aims to inform more people of the opportunities the city already offers like seasonal jobs and grants.
Obeng’s position has a five-year contract, allowing him to continue to lay groundwork, but for now he is learning the lay of the land and adjusting to life in a new city and new position.
“The position has been great so far,” Obeng said. “The Mayor and his staff have been really great and really welcoming.”