Village 14 citizen Andrew Greene poses the following question (I paraphrase): Even if a home rule petition were approved by the council and the mayor to downsize the council this fall — to 8/8 or any other configuration — the soonest a referendum could be held is 2019, with the rule taking effect in 2021! That’s a long time. Is there anything the council could do in the meantime to operate more efficiently?
We’ve already seen the 311 system (with all its warts) help our city service requests that used to have to go through an Alderman to get done, such as fixing a street light or a pothole. Constituent service used to be a more significant part of the job responsibilities of our 24 elected officials and a justification for such a large board. Sometimes it still is, but as we say in software development, that’s a bug, not a feature.
One of the motivations behind downsizing is the perception of redundancy — the tendency, historically, of the council to control as many decisions as possible, often forcing review through as many as three sequential committees, going through the same long processes of discovery and exploration, before coming to a vote before the entire board. This can apply to mundane tasks such as a utility digging a trench or placing a utility pole, even when the policies governing them are not at issue. A smaller council, I think the logic goes, would apply pressure for (but not dictate) a more streamlined process with fewer, less-politicized committees made up of non-elected domain experts. On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop the council from operating that way today, without a change in the number of elected officials, if that’s the will of the people.