Madison City Attorney Michael May, who has held one of the city’s most influential positions since 2004, will retire June 1.
May, who served three mayors and will be the city’s second-longest-serving city attorney at the time of his retirement, made the announcement in a letter to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, City Council members, managers and others on Wednesday. He said he wants to move to a new phase of his life, which will include practicing law on a part-time basis, spending more time with his wife and family, gardening and traveling.
“All good things must come to an end,” he said. “My family and friends who have retired tell me, when it is time to retire, you will know it. I know it.”
In his job, May was in the thick of some of the city’s big legal challenges, from a spat over a liquor license for Taco Bell to the jousts with a developer over the massive Judge Doyle Square project Downtown. He said he’s proud of returning a sense of purpose and professionalism to an office he found in disarray when first appointed. The city attorney oversees 14 assistant city attorneys and the office has a $3.3 million budget for 2020.
“Mike has had a long career guiding the City through a lot of growth and countless legal challenges,” Rhodes-Conway said in a statement.
May acted as parliamentarian for roughly 384 Common Council meetings, played a lead role transitioning and preserving Overture Center, defended the city’s minimum wage ordinance until it was preempted by the state, and helped negotiate an end to many controversies, including the resolution of the Judge Doyle Square issue, the mayor said.
“His enthusiasm for Robert’s Rules (and the Badgers) his love of the law (and Latin), his dapper ties (and wizarding robes) will be missed by many of us in the city,” she said.
May’s announcement comes just six months after Rhodes-Conway proposed and the council approved a five-year contract renewal that was both cheered but challenged by some in the community.
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A citizens group known as the Community Response Team claimed May is “unethical” and “extremely biased” toward the interests of the Madison Police Department.
Before the vote, Rhodes-Conway defended her choice, saying, “This is not a decision I made quickly or lightly. I have listened to concerns. I am confident in my ability as a manager and his ability as an employee to improve.”
Others offered strong endorsements. “He is an exceptional lawyer,” said veteran Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District. “He is a good man, a really good man. It’s really bothered me how Mike’s character, integrity and tremendous skills as an attorney have been maligned.”
He also received strong support from Fire Chief Steve Davis, who was representing the executive managers of Madison, and the Madison City Attorneys Association.
At the time, May said he had told the mayor he intended to serve only one or two more years and said Wednesday that his retirement is unrelated to his bumpy contract renewal. “I decided now was the time,” he said.
“I have known for some time that Attorney May intended to retire soon, but I didn’t expect soon to be this year,” Rhodes-Conway said, adding that she will work with the Human Resources department to start the search process for a successor.
Outside of his city work, May serves on the board of directors of the Government Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Senior Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Wisconsin and the Board of Visitors of the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Before his work at the city, he was in private practice for 25 years with the Boardman law firm in Madison.
“For a kid born at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1954, who never lived more than 25 miles from that spot, who attended high school, undergraduate school and law school in Madison, I can think of no higher calling than to serve as the chief legal officer of the city I love, the city that nurtured me,” May said. “I could not have asked for a more enjoyable and fulfilling career.”