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Bremerton City Council, is less more?
Reducing the Bremerton City Council size from nine to seven members could mean more interaction from councilmembers, say proponents. But those against it say that there is nothing wrong with the council now, so there is no reason to change it.
Voters will decide whether less means more to them.
City councilmember Greg Wheeler proposed downsizing the council size last spring. When he first got into office in 2010, he said he thought that having nine districts was fine. Although he ran unopposed and some people asked him about that, it wasn’t until he was inside when he began to think differently.
“We’re not having contested races. With reducing the council size, we will have the opportunity for contested races,” he said.
Wheeler said that by having contested races, it will get councilmembers and candidates out and interacting more with voters.
“It’s an important check and balance that has been missing,” Wheeler added.
By having a smaller council, Wheeler said that there could be more interactive discussions during study sessions which would result in better outcomes. He also added that he thinks there is overrepresentation on some of the boards, citing that the on the board for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, there are two councilmembers, the mayor and an alternate from the council.
Vern LaPrath, who is 60 years old and has lived in Bremerton all his life, said shrinking the council size would save money that could be spent for necessities such as fixing streets.
Each councilmember receives a monthly stipend of $1,000 a month, said Becky Hasart, the city’s director of financial services. Councilmembers do not receive benefits. Therefore, Bremerton would save $24,000 annually with an elimination of two city councilmember positions.
“The city does not provide much in the way of that, so there would be no ripple effect,” Hasart said.
But aside from saving money, LaPrath said nine members is too excessive.
“Seven is more than acceptable in any economy for this little town,” said LaPrath.
Other than Bremerton, only Seattle and Tacoma with larger populations, have more than seven city councilmembers.
LaPrath said that if there were a smaller council, the councilmembers may also become better listeners.
“I think they’ve gotten bloated. They need to take it down a notch. They need to start listening to their constituents,” he said.
Not everyone sees having fewer councilmembers as a good idea.
City councilmember Cecil McConnell, who is running for another term, is opposed to having fewer members in the council. He doesn’t agree that there will be more contested races with a smaller number of districts.
“Regardless of how big or small the district is, if people wanted to run, they would run,” McConnell said. “There’s nothing preventing them now from running.”
This election, with Leslie Daugs challenging McConnell for the district 2 post, is the only contested race. Roy Runyon, representing district 4, is running for another term without an opponent. Districts 6 and 8 will see newcomers to the council who are running uncontested.
These uncontested races are not an anomaly.
Two years ago, there were five city councilmember races and three of them ran uncontested, said Roger Lubovich, city attorney.
McConnell also said that by having fewer members, it would be easier for “small things to get through the council” because fewer numbers would be voting to approve matters.
“There’s nothing wrong with the council right now. It’s not broken. We don’t need to fix it,” McConnell said.
Lubovich said that if voters approve of decreasing the council size, all councilmembers would be up for election again in 2013. The seven new districts would be created from scratch through redistricting, keeping neighborhoods together, he said. With nine districts, the average population is at 4,192 and with seven it would average out to 5,390.
“It’s pretty quiet. I don’t hear much for or against it,” Lubovich said. “I don’t know what people are thinking.”