General City Information

Municipal Government Structure in Wisconsin

Cities in Wisconsin are incorporated municipalities that are created at the request of their inhabitants to perform local services. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has stated that municipalities are, “established by law to assist in the civil government of the state and to regulate and administer the internal or local affairs of the territory within their corporate limits.” Because municipalities were created by the state, they have been referred to as “creatures of the state.” As creatures of the state, municipalities have no inherent powers and have only the powers given them. Wisconsin cities are fortunate in that they have been granted extensive “home rule” powers. Home rule is the ability of cities to govern themselves in local matters without state interference. Wisconsin municipalities have two sources of home rule authority: (a) constitutional and (b) statutory or legislative. For more information on home rule, see the Handbook of Wisconsin Municipal Officials.

Class of Cities 

The municipality of the City of Whitewater is organized as a 4th Class City under Wis. Stats. Chapter 64. Council-Manager Form of Government Per Municipal Code of Ordinances Chapter 2.04.010, the City of Whitewater is organized under the city manager plan of government as outlined in Wis. Stats. Chapter 64. This means that the city is governed by a common council composed of seven members, one councilmember from each aldermanic district in the city and two councilmembers at large. The city manager oversees the day-to-day operation of the city government and labors to ensure that policy direction provided by the common council is carried out efficiently and effectively.

The City Manager

The city manager serves as the chief executive officer for the City and oversees the day-to-day operation of all city departments. The city manager carries out the policy direction provided by the common council. The city manager possesses the sole responsibility for the creation and elimination of employment positions within the city and the discipline and/or termination of employees with the exception of those positions falling under the authority of the Police and Fire Commission. The city manager, together with the common council president, reviews and then recommends the appointment of individuals to serve on the various boards, committees, and commissions of the city government. The city manager is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the common council.

For more details regarding the office of city manager, see Whitewater Municipal Code of Ordinances Chapter 2.12 and Wis. Stats. Chapter 64. 

The Common Council

The common council is composed of one councilmember from each of the five aldermanic districts in the City and two councilmembers at large. The term of office for each councilmember is two years, at which point the councilmember can seek reelection.

The common council is the highest legislative body in the local government of the City of Whitewater. As such, the common council has full legislative authority over all aspects of city government. Unless otherwise stated in local ordinance or state statute, the common council is responsible for final approval of all recommendations and actions proposed by standing and/or ad hoc committees. The common council appoints the city manager and confirms committee appointments recommended by the city manager and common council president. The common council possesses authority to enact ordinances, adopt resolutions, and otherwise establish policies for the long-term benefit of the City of Whitewater. It is important to note that the common council is only empowered to act on behalf of the City when a majority of councilmembers is present. Individual members of the common council possess no legislative authority in and of themselves.

The Common Council President 

The common council president is elected at the first meeting after the election of new councilmembers. This occurs on the second regularly scheduled meeting of April each year. A president pro tem is also elected to serve the role of president when the common council president is absent. The common council president presides over and conducts meetings of the common council. As the first among peers, the common council president is responsible for preserving “order and decorum” at each meeting.

Boards, Committees and Commissions 

The common council is the policy-making body for the City. Unless otherwise endowed with specific decision-making authority, all committees serve in an advisory capacity to or for the common council.

City ordinances allow for a number of standing boards, committees, and commissions that provide direction and input on policy development for specific areas of city administration. Membership requirements vary by the type and purpose of each committee. However, these committees are typically comprised of at least one councilmember and a number of community members that reside within the City’s jurisdictional boundary. The following list includes all standing committees currently established by ordinance.

  • Alcohol Licensing Review Committee (Ch. 5.20.025)
  • Birge Fountain Committee (Ch. 2.53)
  • Board of Review (Ch. 2.60)
  • Board of Zoning Appeals (Ch. 19.72)
  • Community Development Authority (Charter Ord. No. 4)
  • Community Involvement & Cable TV Commission (Ch. 2.50)
  • Disability Rights Commission (Ch. 2.46)
  • Ethics Committee (Ch. 7.04) 
  • Finance Committee (Ch. 2.47)
  • Landmarks Commission (Ch. 17.08)
  • Library Board (Ch. 2.56)
  • Parks & Recreation Board (Ch. 2.52)
  • Plan & Architectural Review Commission (Ch. 19.06)
  • Police and Fire Commission (Ch. 2.28)
  • Public Works Committee (Ch. 2.45)
  • Urban Forestry Committee (Ch. 2.12) 
  • Whitewater University Technology Park Board
  • Public Art Commission

Committee Appointments

Individual committee appointments occur annually, typically at the first common council meeting following the Spring Election. However, due to unexpected vacancies or resignations, appointments can occur at any time throughout the year. The process for filling committee vacancies is as follows:

  1. Vacancies are announced via the city website, social media, and the official newspaper prior to any appointment being made.
  2. A standard application form shall be provided in electronic and hard copy for use by all applicants (including incumbents wishing to be reappointed).
  3. Once applications are received, they are compiled by the city clerk and delivered to the city manager and common council president for review.
  4. The common council president and city manager review applications and arrange for face-to-face meetings with applicants. If schedules do not permit a face-to-face meeting, this step can be completed by phone or web conference.
  5. The common council president and city manager convene to discuss applicants and select candidates for recommendation to the common council. Recommended appointments are placed on the agenda for the next common council meeting for approval.
  6. The common council deliberates on the recommended appointments and approves or denies the appointments.
  7. Individuals who have been successfully appointed to a committee are then contacted by the city clerk or the staff member assigned to the appointee’s committee and a date is set for orientation.
  8. The new committee member attends a committee member orientation as soon as possible following appointment.

Criteria for the Appointment of Committee Members

When considering applicants for appointment to a committee, the city manager and common council president will look at a variety of factors that includes, but is not limited to the following:

Availability: Regular attendance at committee meetings is mandatory. If a committee member fails to attend three consecutive regular meetings, or fails to attend at least three-fourths of the regular meetings during the preceding 12 months, s/he may be replaced.

Number of Previous Terms (Incumbents): Unless otherwise stated in ordinance, no member of any committee can serve for more than two consecutive terms. If an applicant has served for two consecutive terms, s/he must have been off said committee for at least one term before reapplying for appointment.

Knowledge and Life Experience: Relevant life experience, whether personal or professional, can provide added value to the composition of a committee and is often viewed favorably in the selection process.

References: References are an important resource in helping to identify applicant strengths and weaknesses as part of the selection process.

Residency: While some committees do not require residence within city limits, the majority will require residency within the boundaries of the Whitewater Unified School District or within the municipal limits of the City of Whitewater.

Other Factors: The ultimate goal of the city manager and common council president when making committee appointments is to ensure committees are filled by diverse and competent individuals capable of making sound decisions and capable of working together even when opinions may differ. With this goal in mind, a full range of additional factors may be considered with each appointment, and some factors may vary depending on the vacancy needing to be filled. Things such as political background, prior public service experience, and professional and personal relationships with current committee members may all be relevant.