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A Tosa State of Mind

Alderman Dennis McBride represents Wauwatosa's 4th District. An attorney and graduate of Wauwatosa East High School, Ald. McBride strives to be an effective, thoughtful, and nonpartisan representative for his constituents and for his hometown.

It's time to streamline City government

On Tuesday, July 5, the Common Council will consider raising the salary for the Wauwatosa mayor’s position from $22,500 to $30,000.   


This isn’t the best time to consider a raise.  Though we have crawled out of the recession that began in late 2008, the recovery has been slow and our unemployment rate is still too high.  Still, the increase being proposed is modest and there hasn’t been an increase in pay for the mayor's position since 1984.  Had the pay kept pace with inflation, the mayor would now be making about $53,000.    

I will vote to increase the pay for the mayor’s position – but only if the Common Council finds cost savings elsewhere.  Because of cuts made in the State budget, in the coming City budget process, we will have to find over $2 million in additional cost savings to balance the 2012 City budget.  If we want to increase the mayor’s pay, the money can be found by shrinking the Common Council. 


This issue has come up many times over the years – in 1992, 1997, and 2007, among other times.  I also introduced a resolution to shrink the Council’s size in 2009.  The resolution was narrowly defeated.  


Apart from saving $33,600 in aldermanic pay – $4,200 times a reduction of 8 alderpersons – there are many reasons of efficiency for reducing the size of the Council.  Here are a few:


G                                           Having 2 aldermen per district confuses citizens.


G                                           Wauwatosa’s population has been declining for 30 years.  We don't need as many aldermen in an era of declining population.


G                                           We are a City of about 46,000 people, and have 16 aldermen.  Milwaukee, which has over 600,000 people, only has 15 aldermen.  Los Angeles County, which has 9.6 million people, has 5 supervisors.


G                                           In recent years, the City of Green Bay reduced its Common Council from 23 to 17 aldermen.  Waukesha County reduced the number of its supervisors from 37 to 25, and Milwaukee County reduced its number from 25 to 19.  It would be hard to argue that cities such as Franklin, which has 6 aldermen, and New Berlin, which has 7, are not well-managed.  We can manage Wauwatosa well with fewer aldermen.


G                                           We will be more efficient if City staff has fewer aldermen to deal with, and if fewer aldermen speak at each meeting.  Committee meetings will be more efficient.  The proposed reduction would reduce the hours of committee time, clerk time, and paperwork and notices needed.


In 2009, the Common Council adopted most of the changes recommended by consultants for the City’s economic development program,.  We didn’t follow the consultants’ urging to shrink our Council size to mirror "model cities" that have small councils that are more responsive to development needs:  Richfield, Minn., has 4 council members; Emeryville, Calif., has 5 members; Southfield, Mich., has 7 members; and Shaker Heights, Ohio, has 7 members. 


In 2009, when I last proposed shrinking the Council, two alderpersons said, “I am for small government, but now that I’m on the Council, I think we need 16 aldermen.”  Why?  “Because we need that many to be on Council committees and City commissions.”  Other communities manage without so many aldermen; why can’t we?  We can cut the committee size in half and reduce quorum requirements accordingly.  We can find other residents to serve on commissions.


Either we believe in small and efficient government, or we don’t.  Either we find the money to fund an increase in the mayor’s pay by making cuts elsewhere in City government, or we shouldn’t increase the pay for that position.  


City government will be better served if citizens know who their aldermen are, if Council meetings are shorter, and everyone is more accountable to constituents.  The citizens of Wauwatosa will applaud all of us if we streamline our government.  Public comment (at hearings and on blogs) suggests that Wauwatosa residents will not applaud raising the mayor’s pay unless we cut elsewhere. 

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