Spotlight: City Council 101 with Nancy Spencer

Madeira Dems enjoyed a lively Q&A with former Madeira Mayor Nancy Spencer
at the July 28 “summer civics” gathering. Nancy fielded topics about city council
decision-making and shared insights from her time as mayor.

Council Structure and Election

Madeira operates with a council/manager structure. Council members are
elected, and they appoint a city manager. It’s a paid position with a contract.
Nancy said Madeira’s been fortunate to have Tom Moeller as city manager.
(She often received positive feedback from his peers at cooperative and
training events.)

The council consists of seven members, elected for a four-year term to serve
“at large,” meaning they don’t have an assigned district within Madeira but
serve all residents.

Elections for council members are held every two years in a rotation that
groups four or three open seats. Decisions are made by majority vote. That
includes choosing a mayor from within their own ranks.

Mayor of Madeira

The mayor serves a two-year term, as does another member as vice mayor.
Members can’t serve more than three consecutive terms, either as mayor or a
council member. This structure was created by charter in the 50s. Each council
member’s stipend has remained at the original $1,000 per year in office, with a
bit more for the mayor: $1,400.

Nancy was elected to council in 2013, re-elected in 2017, and served as mayor
from 2019 to 2021. She spoke about the mayor’s role, which includes running
the council meetings, writing articles for the city newsletter, and typical
ceremonial duties such as ribbon cuttings or the ability to issue a proclamation.
A lesser-known responsibility of the mayor, she shared, is to make the
committee assignments for council members.

Council Committees: Three Members Each

The discussion turned to listing those Council Committees, each composed of
only three members. Limiting a committee to three ensures there is not a
quorum of the council, which could violate Sunshine laws for official council
business. Committees can vote on recommendations and move the
recommendations forward to the full council.

For example, the Administration and Personnel Committee recommend
personnel candidates. That committee recently narrowed a field of twelve
candidates for city manager down to five. These five will continue in the review
process to replace Tom Moeller when he retires at the end of 2022.

Boards and Commissions: Options for Volunteers

The Personnel committee is also responsible for selecting volunteers for nine
city boards and commissions. The best-known volunteer board is Parks &
Recreation, and the most recent is the Inclusion Committee, added in 2020.

The Inclusion Committee was commissioned during Nancy’s term as mayor. It
was seen as a way for Madeira to address issues of diversity and inclusion,
particularly in response to the social outcry and outpouring of emotion after
George Floyd’s murder.

Nancy also discussed the recent history of adding an LGBTQ+ event in
Madeira. As Madeira’s mayor, she received a request from Cincinnati Pride
during National Pride Month in 2021. Would she issue a proclamation
designating June as Pride Month in Madeira? Her answer was yes. That led to
the Inclusion Committee discussing Pride Month and the idea of having the city
sponsor a family-friendly event.

Nancy observed that the first Pride Picnic was held in June 2021 with
significant positive feedback from the Madeira community and visitors. There
were no objections from the council on the event’s planning, expenditure of
funds, or the intent to distribute donations to GLSEN, a national organization
supporting LGBTQ+ youth.

Fast forward to 2022, with pushback from a few conservative residents creating
a difficult path for the Inclusion Committee to execute a second picnic.

Getting Your Voice Heard by City Council

Here, the discussion turned to the council’s decision-making process and the
public comments section of council meetings.

Nancy told the group that the public comments section is a limited segment of
each meeting by design. The purpose of a council meeting is to conduct
business transparently in front of the community; it’s not to field questions and
debate issues with every resident in attendance.

Nancy relied on people contacting her by phone, email, and in person for more

public input. She felt the best way to reach out to council members is one-to-
one by email or in person at events. Another option is to use the website form

and select “City Council” in the dropdown, this will go to all council members.
She said Facebook works for notices, but she didn’t use it for communication.
However, some council members will monitor feedback there.

Democrats vs Republicans on Council

Asked about her experience as a Democrat in Madeira, Nancy noted that she
was the first Dem elected to council. Traditionally, candidates are “apolitical”
and run as individuals rather than affiliating as a Dem or GOP member. There
have been exceptions, however.

In 2013 Republicans used a slate approach to nominate a group of candidates
and advertise on shared campaign signs. While not repeated in 2017, the
Republican strategy resurfaced in a big way last year.

What was unique in 2021 was the level of spending on campaign materials, as

evidenced by the enormous number of signs, other handouts, and the PAC-
supported literature mailed to homes grouping the candidates into a slate.

While Doug Moorman, Alicia Camper, and Tim Brock began their campaigns
separately, they soon aggregated, pooled resources, and campaigned together
at events. A notable example was their “smile and wave” promotion together at
Hosbrook and Montgomery.

Madeira Democrats Thank You!
The July session of our Summer Series was informative for everyone. Madeira
Dems offer a big “thank you” to our guest Nancy Spencer, and look forward to
tapping her expertise in the future.

© Madeira Democrats