Waukesha officials to discuss potential city government overhaul

WAUKESHA -- The Waukesha City Council on Tuesday night will discuss whether to reduce the number of aldermen who serve on the body and convert the office of Mayor from a full-time to a part-time position. 

The item on the agenda, sponsored by Ald. Aaron Perry and Ald. Vance Skinner, only calls for discussion. No action will be taken. 

Members of the public wanting to learn more about the proposal can attend Tuesday’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Waukesha City Hall. The meeting will also be streamed online. 

Perry thinks a smaller city council will mean each representative takes on more responsibility. 

“Do I think it would stretch people thin? No, I don’t,” Perry said. 

Skinner said he thinks a smaller council would also lead to more competitive elections, and therefore encourage the people hoping to serve to be more accountable to voters. 

“We struggle sometimes to have elections and choices - meaning more than one candidate coming forward when we have vacancies on the council,” Skinner said. “We’ve appointed quite a few people to the council, and that’s not how elections should function.” 

Ald. Jack Wells said he’s waiting to learn more about the idea, but is inclined to oppose it. 

He worries a smaller council will leave aldermen less accessible to voters because districts will be larger. 

Wells also thinks requiring council members to take on more duties could discourage qualified candidates from running. 

“It’s currently about two to three meetings a week, and you have extra commitments in terms of special events,” Wells said. “It’s pretty manageable, the number of constituent calls you get.” 

“If you cut that number of aldermen down to nine, you’re going to be raising the meeting level to perhaps three, four or five meetings a week,” he added. “You make it more of a full-time job, and that would be more difficult for people with other commitments, or with families, to take on that role.” 

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said he was waiting to hear Tuesday night’s discussion before actively jumping into the debate. 

But Reilly said he thinks Waukesha could keep the position of Mayor as full-time. 

“I feel like I work full-time, all the time,” the Mayor said. 

According to the city administrator’s office, Reilly’s salary is $85,000 per year. Members of the council receive a yearly stipend of $7,000. 

Perry said it’s likely any action eventually taken following Tuesday night’s discussion would result in a lower salary for the Mayor and raises for the nine aldermen left, but no specific numbers have been proposed. 

“Whether it would be a net savings, or equal, or even an increase, is something that we still have to determine,” Perry said. 

He said any changes to the size of the council should be made well in advance of next spring, when nine aldermen are up for reelection. 

"I think it would be unfair to those nine if they go get elected and then you change the job on them," Perry said. 

Any alterations to the office of Mayor can't kick in until 2022, when Reilly’s current term ends. 

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