Does Bremerton Need So Many Councilmembers?

The Bremerton City Council during a recent meeting*

It’s a question that comes up every so often, but never seems to go anywhere.

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 members.

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 here.

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 unnecessarily large.

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 community.

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 years.
*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 caption.

2 thoughts on “Does Bremerton Need So Many Councilmembers?

  1. I know how hard Councilman Adam Brochus works for Manette…if there are nine districts in Bremerton and the other council members represent those districts, it seems to me that the citizens are well represented.

    Unless absolute proof exists that show the citizens are best represented by fewer people, why not leave things alone – and not worry about being a clone to other similar sized cities.

  2. I agree with Sharon, I feel I am well represented by the current system which also allows me to live within a couple of blocks of my representative. He sees what I see everyday.

    Based on my personal attendance at Council meetings over the last couple of years, I have never been to one where all nine have been present. Typically there are only 7 there, at one time, making decisions.

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