Bremerton City Council during a recent meeting*
It’s a question that comes up every so often, but never seems to
Why does Bremerton, with a population of 35,810, have nine city
council seats, when cities several times larger have less?
Seattle, with 586,200 people, has seven at-large council
Spokane, with 202,900 people, has a seven-member council with
six members representing districts and the council president.
The most recent letter to the editor calling for a smaller
legislative branch of city government can be found
To change how the city elects council members takes a charter
amendment. The charter is like the city’s constitution. The council
agrees on a resolution to change the language in the charter, and
the question is put to voters at a general election.
Most council members polled weren’t keen on reducing their
ranks, mostly because they felt the council could be more
responsive to residents. The city’s nine members each represent a
district, Bremerton has no at-large council members.
Council President Will Maupin agrees, the council is
He had supported putting the charter amendment on the ballot in
years past, but Maupin said the effort fizzled.
That proposal would have reduced the number of members to seven
representing seven districts.
The nine-district council was established in 1981 based on the
nine neighborhood associations in the city, Maupin said. Previously
the city had been governed by three commissioners.
Maupin now supports a seven-member council with four members
representing districts and three at-large members.
That way, each resident will have the chance to vote in or out
of office a majority of the council, or four members. Currently
each resident votes for the candidates in their district.
“The people would have more say in who makes up their city
government,” Maupin said.
The biggest obstacle to changing the system, Maupin said, was
getting the resolution through the council, or, getting a majority
of members to agree on the details of a new system.
And while most new systems would offer positives, they also
offer negatives, depending on a person’s point of view. For
example, although at-large members would theoretically not be
beholden to one neighborhood, there is the chance that at-large
members could all live in the same neighborhood, something a purely
district-oriented political map avoids.
Adam Brockus said he is agreeable to bringing the issue up for
debate and to a vote of residents, but he said he didn’t think nine
was too many and said access to members and services for
constituents would be reduced with a smaller system.
Carol Arends said she supported the nine-person council, and
believes those who crafted the current system were being thoughtful
and got it right.
Mike Shepherd said with less members, the remaining members
would take on more work. Right now a seat on the council is
considered a part-time position. Shepherd said the intent of having
part-time legislators rather than full-time is so councilmembers
have other jobs or otherwise can remain active in the
Council members receive $1,000 a month. Cutting two positions
would presumably save the city $24,000 over the course of a year,
enough to cover the city’s summer playground program deficit and
add two more parks.
That’s also assuming the remaining councilmembers would not be
paid more for the additional work load.
Even if the council were to agree on a new system, and voters
approved it, the savings to the city would not be available for the
budget currently under review by the council.
But that doesn’t mean residents will stop writing letters to the
editor and questioning the current system. The most recent letter
is the second I have seen, and I haven’t been on staff here two
*This is, of course, a joke. And no, I’m not trying to compare
the city council to the Chinese National People’s Congress.
However, if you’d like a laugh, check out the last photo and its