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Is Smaller Better? Alderman Wants to Reduce Council Size

Alderman Scott Berg says he wants to cut size of the Common Council from 14 to nine to better serve the public.

Brookfield Alderman Scott Berg is asking city leaders to begin discussions on reducing the size of the city’s Common Council in an effort to provide better service to residents.

Berg is proposing the council go from 14 aldermen to nine. The number of aldermanic districts would be increased from seven to nine, so residents would go from having two alderman to one in smaller districts.

“I see it as a way of improving service,” Berg said.

According research Berg did on common council sizes in the state, Brookfield has a higher number of aldermen than other communities its size.

For example, Wausau is represented by 11 aldermen, while New Berlin has seven aldermen to represent them.

Wauwatosa has 16 aldermen, but voters there passed an advisory referendum in April that calls for reducing the size of the council.

By comparison, Milwaukee has 15 aldermen and more than 10 times the population of Brookfield.

Better for constituents?

Berg said he could see some advantages to having a smaller common council because it would reduce the resident-to-alderman ratio, giving better representation for residents at city meetings. It also would enable aldermen to do a better job of focusing on neighborhood issues.

Berg said there have been two aldermen per district since Brookfield was incorporated, and it’s time for the city to look at changing the system.

Although other communities have touted cost savings by reducing the number of elected officials, Berg said he’s not focused on cost savings, but rather he sees the advantages of better service, and more accountability.

Berg said he isn't sure how long the process to reduce the government would take and although he isn’t opposed to a referendum on the issue, it’s also not something he would like to do with the proposal.

“Referendums are a valuable tool for very critical items and I’m not sure that internal organization quite rises to that level,” he said. “I wouldn't oppose one, but I doubt it would happen.”

No enthusiasm from mayor

While Berg may think it's a great time to downsize the council, Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto isn't sold on the idea.

"The bottom line is, if it isn't broke, don't fix it," Ponto said. "It isn't broke. Things are going great in the City of Brookfield."

Ponto said Berg first brought the downsizing idea to him in the spring and he told him to wait on the idea. Ponto said the aldermen in the city are responsive to their constituents and the conversation is "an unnecessary stirring of the pot."

By having more aldermen, Ponto said there are more points of view on issues and residents are happy overall with the quality of life in the city. Ponto said Berg is the only person asking for a downsizing on the council and he expects little support if an ordinance moves forward.

DICK STEINBERG November 17, 2012 at 07:21 PM
My support for reducing the size of city government and the number of Alderman is on the public record. It is time to have a public hearing on the issue with or without the approval of city hall.
Cindy Kilkenny November 19, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Yes, of course. We've talked about this off and on for years. However, it's untimely to redraw the districts to nine as they were just redrawn following the 2010 census. The aldermanic districts are the building blocks for the county districts and state districts. Why not keep the seven districts as drawn and take the representation down to one alderman per district? It's a much easier solution. Except that it couldn't be implemented until 2016. The aldermen are put to four year terms in staggered arrangements. Any change to size would require a change to two year terms for those representatives up for April 2014, and then putting the new 2016 class and the four-year 2016 class against each other in 2016. (A community can not change the rules mid-term on election officials - including pay - if I remember correctly.) Finally, and I know this won't play well, but I did a fantastic comparison in 2002 or 2003 when I was on the council advocating the same change. Gosh the stuff that came out of Alderman Berg's mouth at that time indicated I was simply grandstanding. Preparing to run for mayor. I'm sure there are a few other statements I can find if I try. Alderman Berg's term expires 2016. The next mayoral election is 2014. Things that make a girl wonder...
Scott Berg November 19, 2012 at 04:55 PM
The "building blocks" are actually US census tracts. Those get combined into wards, which then get combined into districts. That's why you can have a single aldermanic district split between two state assembly districts, etc. Timing to align with election and census cycles is always tricky, but 2022 would indeed be the "natural" time, but there are other options. So planning ahead is a bad thing? Wauwatosa is also having this debate and they face the same obstacles. Aldermanic terms were changed from 2 years to 4 years in 2002/04 along with the staggering elections for each district. I opposed that change on the grounds that it decreased accountability. As for grandstanding, Kilkenny's 62%-38% defeat in the 2006 mayor's race shows just how poorly riding redistricting as an issue works. If that is my goal, it's a pretty poor strategy. It's all about having aldermen being focussed on a manageable area and headcount, not some bizarre conspiracy theory.
DICK STEINBERG November 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
my plan is that there be one alderman for each of the seven districts, for a total of seven alderman. So Scott, start a referendum giving the citizens to honor of deciding instead of waiting for something to happen in city hall that will never happen.
Mark D Stevenson November 20, 2012 at 11:52 PM
"start a referendum giving the citizens to honor of deciding instead of waiting for something to happen in city hall that will never happen." Ta da? I know a few people in Brookfield that would go around collecting signatures for said referendum.

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