Guide to Attending a Common Council Meeting

West Allis Common Council meetings are meetings of our local governing body, and are open to the public to view. The Common Council meetings are where major decisions that impact you and your neighbors are made. You can even participate during select portions of the meeting to make your voice heard.

Common Council meetings might seem very formal and maybe even intimidating, but the decisions made in these meetings affect your community and you’re encouraged to attend or watch at home. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of viewing Common Council meetings.

Who’s Who

The City of West Allis is governed by a Common Council, comprised of 10 alderpersons, elected from five voting districts to four-year terms. When present, the Mayor presides over the Council. In the Mayor's absence, the Common Council President will preside over the Council. The Standing Committees and Committee of the Whole of the Common Council provide legislative oversight and liaison with the City offices, departments, boards and commissions within their areas of basic responsibility.

When to Come

Council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of each month, except in July and August, when meetings are held on one Tuesday only. The Council meets at 7 p.m. in the West Allis City Hall Council Chambers. City Hall is wheelchair-accessible, and ADA accommodations can be provided for those who may need them.

The timeframe of meetings varies greatly. The Council will stay until all agenda items have been addressed. Attendees may leave any time they choose.

What to Wear

There is no dress code for Council meetings. While the Council may dress in business attire, the audience is welcome to dress as they normally would. 

During the Common Council meeting, the Council will hold a recess during which time they will meet in various subcommittees, formally known as “standing committees” (more on that later). These meetings are held in the City Hall Art Gallery and Room 128. You may attend the subcommittee meetings as well, but be prepared to move to those other rooms. Temperatures may vary throughout the building; dress accordingly.

Understanding Agendas 

Agendas are posted to www.westalliswi.gov/agendas at least 24 hours prior to a Common Council meeting. However, every effort is made to post agendas online by 5 pm on the Friday before the meeting.  Printed copies will be provided at the meeting. The electronic version links to documents and supporting materials that provide more information about the items on the agenda.

The agenda is the roadmap to the meeting and steers the Council as they vote and take action on the agenda items. They will strictly follow the agenda to stay on track and ensure all items are addressed during the meeting.

Agenda Glossary

  • Ordinance:  Local laws dealing with matters such as traffic, zoning, health and safety regulations, governmental organization, annexation, building and other construction codes, licenses, user fees, etc. 
  • Resolution: Temporary or special enactments that may grant special privileges, express opinions, or communicate decisions with the public or other agencies. You will often see a “resolution to confirm and adopt the report of…” on Common Council agendas. That means the Council will be voting to approve a submitted report or other communication.
  • Communication: Communications are updates or information that the City Administrator or City departmental directors want to formally share with the Council or public that may have a financial or other impact on the City. Communications are often used by the City Administrator to ask Council approval to fill vacant positions in City staffing, as these require Council approval.
  • Claim or Notice of Claim: in legal terms, a “claim” is something that one party owes another. Residents and businesses sometimes file claims against the City if they feel the City is responsible for damages to their vehicles or property. The City Attorney will report on these claims to the Administrative and Finance Committee.
  • Summons & Complaint: If complaints are filed against a business or property owner, s/he may be summoned – or asked by authority – to appear before the Common Council’s subcommittees and confirm or deny the claims made against them.
  • Special Use Permit: A legal document which allows occupancy, use, rights, or privileges of land along with a set of certain conditions. The authorization is granted for a specific use of the land for a specific period of time.
  • License Applications: People or businesses applying for City licenses, such as retail alcohol licenses, operator’s (bartender’s) licenses, etc. will have their applications considered and approved or denied by the Council.
  • Committee of the Whole, Standing Committees: All 10 members of the Common Council make up the Committee of the Whole, a separate governing body of the Common Council. The members of the Council also serve on five “standing committees” which are responsible for reviewing individual items and providing recommendations to the full Council. The standing committees are:
    • Administration & Finance Committee: Responsible for municipal budget, capital improvement financing, all claims other than sewer or water rates, collections, deposits, investments, financial accounting, auditing, insurance, land account, ad valorem assessments, negotiations, legal matters, human resources, purchasing, information technology, library service, confirmation of department head appointments.
    • Advisory Committee: Responsible for Common Council rules, legislative issues, special matters, confirmation of Common Council citizen committee appointments, celebrations, ethics, and elections.
    • License & Health Committee: Responsible for licenses, health, public assistance, weights and measures, and cable television.
    • Public Works Committee: Responsible for sanitary sewers, storm sewers, water, claims related to sewer or water rates, streets, sidewalks, alleys, street lighting, bridges, underpasses, grades, public utilities, purchases, cemeteries, railroads, garbage, rubbish, weed control, public buildings, parking utility, forestry, public grounds, recycling and solid waste, and parks. The Public Works Committee shall exercise the 301-2 duties and powers of the Board of Public Works under Section 62.14, Wisconsin Statutes
    • Safety & Development Committee: Responsible for safety, traffic, zoning, building inspection, building codes, regulatory ordinances, master planning, housing, tax increment financing, development and redevelopment.

The Order of a Common Council Meeting

Call to Order, Roll Call, Pledge of Allegiance

The Mayor (or Common Council president in the Mayor’s absence) will call the meeting to order. That means the meeting has started, and the audience should be seated and quiet. Next, the City Clerk will perform roll call, where each Council member will confirm his/her presence at the meeting. Then, the Council and audience will recite the Pledge of Allegiance together.

Public Hearings

Public hearings are a common vehicle through which the Common Council receives public input on a proposed action.  Public hearings typically provide the public an opportunity to offer their thoughts on a policy matter or a specific proposal that is before the Council for decision.  The role of the Council is to hear and consider those views when making a decision.

A staff member will typically share a short presentation and then ask for questions or comments from the Council. Once the Council’s questions have been addressed, the Mayor will ask the audience to approach the microphone to share any additional comments relevant to these specific topics. This is your opportunity to voice your approval or opposition of the proposal. Questions can only be answered by staff, not the Council members.

If you would like to make a statement, you will have to do so at the podium and microphone. Before or after your comments, please sign in on the provided sign-in sheet on the podium with your name and address. When you speak, state your name and address before you ask your question or make your comment.  All comments should be directed to the Chairperson.

Citizen Participation

This is your chance to make your voice heard. A section of each Council meeting is set aside for citizen participation. If you want to share something with your elected officials, you will have five minutes to do so during Citizen Participation. Just like with Public Hearings, you will need to speak at the microphone and podium, and will need to sign in and state your name and address. Then, your five minutes are yours. The Council cannot respond to questions, comments, or remarks during this time. It is not a discussion period, but an opportunity for you to address the Council.

Announcement of Recess Meetings of Standing Committees

After Citizen Participation, the Mayor will announce the locations where the Council’s Standing Committees will be meeting during the Council recess. You can choose which of these meetings to attend.

Mayor and Alderpersons’ Report

The Mayor and Alderpersons are granted time to report on items of interest to them or their districts. They may recap a recent event, acknowledge awards or recognitions, or promote an initiative or event.

Approval of Minutes

The Council will vote to approve the minutes from their prior meeting to be placed on official record.

Standing Committee Reports

After the Standing Committees meet and go through their agenda items, they will gather back in the Common Council Chambers to report back to the Council. They will share what items were approved, placed on file, moved to their next meeting, etc.

Adjournment

The official ending of the meeting.

Attending a Standing Committee Meeting

The members of the Common Council serve on Standing Committees, which will meet during a recess of the Common Council meeting (and may meet at other times as needed). You are welcome to attend these meetings, as long as they are open session. At times, the Standing Committees may need to enter closed sessions – which are not public – to discuss sensitive matters.

If you’re attending a Standing Committee meeting, you will be attending as an observer. The public may not comment during Standing Committee meetings (unless you are previously requested to appear and speak) but you are welcome to listen and watch as the Committees discuss items on their agendas.

Live Stream and Recorded Meetings

Can’t attend a meeting? Common Council and Standing Committee meetings live stream on the City’s YouTube channel, and are recorded and posted to YouTube for later viewing. You can also watch live and recorded broadcasts through your cable network, via Spectrum (Channel 25, West Allis residents only) and AT&T U-Verse (Channel 99). Visit our YouTube channel to browse these recordings.

Contact Your Elected Officials

At any time, you may contact the mayor or your alderpersons with your questions, comments, or concerns. If you're unsure who your alderperson is, you may look up your address to learn more about your elected officials.