Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is It Time for the Flint City Council to Shrink?

Does it seem odd that Flint still has nine City Council members representing nine wards given the city's dramatic population drop over the past few decades? With a population of roughly 100,000 and falling, each Flint City Council member represents about 11,000 citizens.

By contrast, San Francisco has 11 districts and a population of approximately 800,000. That means each member of the Board of Supervisors represents about 73,000 residents. Chicago has a population of 2.7 million represented by 50 aldermen. That works out to one elected official for every 54,000 citizens.

Given Flint's ongoing budget woes, this would be a drop in the bucket, but there's certainly money that could be saved by reducing the number of wards and city council members. Given the low voter turnout at many of the city's 61 precincts, it might make sense to consolidate those as well.

In case you're wondering, the 2011-2012 City of Flint budget allocated $899,922 to the city council. You can find a pdf of the budget here.

Please note that this is not some Tea Party inspired post that reflexively endorses smaller government in all circumstances. It's also not a reflection of the City Council's performance, although I'm sure that's open to debate. This idea is more a reflection of Flint's reality. The current ward system was established when Flint had a lot more people and a lot more money. Maybe it's time to make an adjustment.

Any thoughts?

13 comments:

  1. I think this idea has come up in the recent past, and council shot it down. No surprise there, as they'd be cutting their own jobs. I think downsizing council would be a great idea. However, I'd want the wards to be redrawn with council members coming from said wards, instead of being elected at-large. This way, council power couldn't be concentrated into one part of the city.

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  2. Yes, they'd need to rework the wards to reflect the current population density. And I'm all for district elections over at-large elections. San Francisco finally switched to district elections a few years back, over the protests of powerful interests in the city, who are constantly trying to revert to at-large elections, which favor big-money candidates who can afford to run a city wide campaign. At the very least, it seems like Flint could go with a 7 member council.

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  3. Why not increase the council by ward to fracture the existing power structure.

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  5. Terry, are you advocating more council members?

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  6. Yes, your ideas may not be Tea Party inspired, but why not cut all government where it clearly can be cut. I don't understand why you would even need to add the Tea Party comment to your article. Are you afraid to show your common sense? Just sayin.

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  7. I wouldn't think the savings from a relatively small change...same strong-mayor-plus-legislative-council form of government, 2 fewer council members...would justify the turmoil of getting such a change to occur, and the resulting distraction from an appropriate focus on bigger issues, i.e. determining if it's possible for the existing city size, population and tax base to be financially viable.

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    1. It appears that Flint will be taken over by the State just like Detroit since nobody wants to give up anything to save the city. A simplified city government, (i.e. less city bureaucrats and expensive union workers) would mean the focus could actually be placed on what’s best for the city rather than what is best for their self interests. I believe the savings would be large.

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  8. I mentioned the Tea Party because I don't believe smaller government is automatically better government, as Tea Party members seem to believe. I think in this case it might be a good idea, but in many others I think we need bigger government. For example, I'd love to see Flint have 50 housing inspectors to fine speculators who don't care for their property, along with a bigger city legal staff to pursue the fines.

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    1. Yes, I'm sure your idea is plausible. Just add more employees to the payroll and have it paid for with a fine that nobody will pay. As a speculator of when a city is going down the tubes back in the Eighty’s, I left (like most others) knowing that to invest in a sinking ship was not a good idea. Until people realize that Flint’s government mindset is just hiding the big hole in that ship until they get their share of the treasury on board, nothing will improve. Government can help, but it needs to be in a way that helps the investors who actually provide jobs. Maybe those housing speculators deserve to be fined for being stupid enough to buy them in the first place. I for one am sickened to think that the house I grew up in may be burned or torn down. I knew all this was coming when your buddy Moore made Flint look like the worst place to live in America. No business in their right mind would set up shop or stay for that matter in such a place. And that’s exactly what happened. You can all sit there and keep blaming General Motors, but the fact is that people did it to themselves. I can remember going to parties in the late seventies and hearing people brag about how they only put one bolt on the fender or how they left a pop can somewhere inside. They also bragged about being on long term sick leave during the summer so they could get a good tan when they weren’t even sick. Wake up, nothing has changed in Flint because nothing has changed. They are still doing things their old fashion socialistic way.

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  9. Also, the city has already been taken over by the state in the form of an emergency financial manager.

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    1. Yes, but as that situation is not intended to be permanent, some form of government must remain in place to take over when re-empowered.

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  10. City Council (101) 1,269,986
    $899,922 is only General Fund expenditures for City Council. Hmm, no other fund expends for the City Council but the itemized expeditures don't match the summary.

    Well any ways, with a 7 member City Council a regular majority (4) is also a 3/5 majority (required to place a charter admendment on the ballot) and a 2/3 majority to appoint a Ombudsman. So it causes problems with super-majorities.

    A larger council will make it easier to get enough signatures for more people to run. Also makes it less costly to run.

    Have the Emergency Manager order Flint's Local Compensation Commission -- or exercise their power -- to adopt a lower regular salary. Also, change their committee by-laws as they all are each and every committee to have three councilors on each committee, so as to reduce their time involved justifying their reduced pay. Representing less residents also would justify a lower salary too.

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