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Trimming council likely not up to voters

City now eyeing advisory-only referendum on issue

Jan. 11, 2012

City voters might have an opportunity to give their opinion about the size of the Wauwatosa Common Council, but the April 3 vote mostly likely wouldn't be binding.

Alderman Dennis McBride last week put forth a proposal for a referendum that would seek to cut the size of the council in half - from 16 to 8 representatives. However, reluctance by some members of the Legislation, Licensing and Communications Committee to make any results binding led McBride to take a different approach Tuesday.

"The real purpose of this referendum would be to take the temperature of the voters and find out what they think," he said, adding that an advisory referendum could accomplish that.

If an advisory referendum shows there is a significant interest in the community in cutting the number of council members, then discussions could begin on how to restructure the city's legislative body, he said.

The committee was much more supportive of this idea, forwarding a unanimous recommendation to the full Common Council.

Several committee members said they were more comfortable with an advisory referendum because the council would have more time and flexibility to implement any changes. The advisory question wouldn't stipulate any specific council size or structure.

"This gives us time to think through all the elements," Alderman Jeff Roznowski said.

Changes to the council structure can be made with a super-majority vote of the council.

He said he talked to about 30 constituents, all but one of whom supported downsizing. That one resident wanted the council to make sure they had enough manpower to thoroughly research and consider all issues.

Alderman Tim Hanson had a clause added to the referendum question, stating that the council does not intend to raise aldermanic compensation, which stands at $4,200 per year per council member.

Still, some city officials worry residents just have the mindset that a smaller council means smaller government.

"It's not smaller government, it's less representation," Alderman Bobby Pantuso said.

Next step

WHAT: Common Council decision on whether to put a referendum about reducing council size on the April ballot

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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