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Janesville City Council to consider increasing to nine members

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Jake Magee
Thursday, May 18, 2017

JANESVILLE—The Janesville City Council has been a seven-member body since at least 1923, but council President Doug Marklein thinks it could be time for a change.

Marklein wants the council this summer to discuss the possibility of increasing the body's size to nine members and having them serve three-year instead of two-year terms.

It's a change that could lead to better representation for the city and avoid the possibility of electing a majority of candidates that agrees on a single issue, he said.

When going through the city manager hiring process a few years ago, the council interviewed one out-of-state candidate who had resigned from his last city manager job. In that community, voters had elected four new members of a seven-member council. The four disagreed with the city manager on a single controversial issue, and they drove him out of office, Marklein said.

Marklein isn't worried the same thing would happen in Janesville, “but there's always the possibility,” he said.

Every two years, a majority of Janesville City Council seats—four of them—is up for election. Electing a majority of candidates who agree on a single issue is “not really in the best interest of the citizens and the city,” Marklein said.

With nine members serving three-year terms, three candidates would be elected each year, avoiding that possibility, Marklein said.

Janesville has grown substantially since the 1920s, when seven members was enough. With a population pushing 70,000, nine council members could more accurately represent the city, he said.

Residents have proven they're interested in serving, Marklein said. Nine candidates ran for four open council seats this spring.

“I think it could work. We get a good turnout every year,” he said.

Marklein has brought up the idea to his fellow council members. The main criticism he's heard is residents might not be as interested in serving three-year terms.

The Janesville School Board is a nine-member body with three-year terms. Councilman Tom Wolfe, who served on the school board for nine years, said one of the reasons he ran for city council is because it had two-year instead of three-year terms.

The extra year could be a lot to those who served on the school board and found it wasn't for them. For some, their terms ended up being “a sentence rather than a commitment,” Wolfe said.

Still, Wolfe doesn't think three-year terms would deter too many candidates from running. During his time on the school board, it always had enough candidates each election to fill the three seats up for grabs, Wolfe said.

“If someone is interested in serving, I don't think that (three-year terms) would impact people's interest,” he said.

Wolfe said he's in favor of the council taking a look at the issue.

Marklein would like to discuss the idea sooner than later. The city is in talks to repair the City Hall roof and remodel the council chambers next year. The remodeling could include making room for two more council members.

The chambers haven't been updated in about 50 years. Technology such as the recording equipment, microphones, vote display board and buttons council members press to indicate they want to talk are outdated, said Public Works Director Paul Woodard.

The layout of the room also might be improved. Audience members sometimes have to turn their heads to look at the screen the city uses to display information during meetings. Council members are seated in a way that doesn't allow them to easily look at each other, Marklein said.

If the council grew, Marklein favors keeping at-large representation with each council member representing the city as a whole rather than aldermanic representation, where council members live in and represent specific wards.

With at-large representation, council members aren't looking out only for their designated districts, Marklein said.

“That's our focus: the city as one,” he said.



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