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Brookfield alderman suggests shrinking size of city council

Proposal to downsize shelved indefinitely

Jan. 16, 2013

Alderman Scott Berg's proposal to reduce the size of the Common Council from 14 to nine aldermen was met with resistance by a city panel Tuesday.

The proposal is to increase the number of districts from seven to nine, making each district smaller. Instead of each district having two aldermen, as is the case now, each would have one.

The city's Legislative and Licensing Committee discussed the matter Tuesday.

'Smaller is better'

Berg said the change would bring several advantages to the city and its residents.

"In my opinion, better representation means each alderperson covers a smaller area with fewer people," he told the committee. "That makes it easier to know the voters and issues in the district. When it comes to number of people represented, smaller is better."

Berg also said that tie votes would be less likely and interested candidates would be running for fewer seats.

"Reducing the number of seats means the same number of interested candidates are running for fewer seats, increasing competition," Berg said.

A third advantage he named was that reducing the Common Council size would mean fewer committees and fewer aldermen on a committee.

"Reducing the council size would require a committee reorganization," Berg said. "That's where the real organizational change happens."

Similar proposals

According to Berg's referral, Brookfield's population in 2010 was estimated at 37,900 people, with each alderperson representing 5,400 residents.

Berg's proposal would have each aldermen serving 4,200 residents.

The city of Wauwatosa, with an estimated population of 46,300 in 2010, has a Common Council size of 16 aldermen and eight districts, each member serving 5,800 residents.

Its Common Council debated reducing its size in October, taking no action however, although constituents voted in favor of a reduction in April by a 3-to-1 margin in an advisory referendum.

Mayor's opposition

Mayor Steve Ponto is not in support of Berg's referral, and argued that it isn't a change the city needed.

"Having seven aldermanic districts with two alderpersons per district has served Brookfield well for many years," Ponto said. "Things are working very well and I regard this proposal as an unnecessary stirring of the pot."

"I don't see how reducing the number of alderpersons leads to better service for constituents," Ponto said. "Having two alderpersons per district allows alderpersons to share the work load and divide up work on constituent matters. When one isn't available, hopefully the other will be."

Ponto also argued that being an alderperson is a part-time job and increasing the work load could interfere with the full-time lives of the Common Council members.

"By having 14 alderpersons, we are able to divide up committee assignments so that no one has too much committee work," he said. "This makes the job of alderperson more attractive and manageable as a part-time job.

"I would resist the notion of tinkering with something that works so well. I urge you to table this."

Committee's decision

Committee chairman Alderman Gary Mahkorn agreed with the mayor.

"There's a value to having collective heads," Mahkorn said. "Everyone brings something to the table."

Alderwoman Renee Lowerr voiced concerns about redistricting.

"If we decide to redistrict into nine polling places, how would we do that?" Lowerr asked. "Where are the locations? Where would we have people go vote, causing more confusion?"

Alderman Buck Jurken also was opposed to the proposal.

"I don't see any compelling reasons on Scott's listing," he said.

"In my opinion, it's better to have less power in more people's hands than more power in less people's hands," Alderman Dan Sutton said. "I'd rather have more eyes looking at a situation and having more people on the council of diverse backgrounds."

The committee voted, 4-1, to table the proposal, with Sutton casting the opposing vote.

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