"Make Room for Elkhorn" - Time to Expand the Omaha City Councilby Kyle Michaelis
From that idea, a wonderful discussion began on the UNO College Democrats' blog in which I (and others) praised Suttle for his visionary concern for good democracy - even at the expense of dilluting his own power on the city council. Yet, many of us were of the opinion that the addition of one more councilman invited and/or demanded the addition of a second, bringing the council to nine total members. This would not only maintain an odd-numbered council less likely to result in tie votes but also create a more representative body in which each member would still represent approximately 45,000 citizens.
Unfortunately, no action was taken on Suttle's proposal. 15 months later, though - with Omaha's annexation of Elkhorn finally receiving what seems the ultimate blessing of the courts just last week - this most worthy idea of expanding the City Council has again been raised.
The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Now that Omaha has received the go-ahead from the Nebraska Supreme Court to annex Elkhorn, city officials must decide how Elkhorn's residents will be represented in city government.If that's the best argument Welch can make, he really should keep his democracy-hating mouth shut.
The Omaha City Council has not finalized plans for how district boundaries would be redrawn to include Elkhorn. The leading proposal would split Elkhorn into two districts, said Council President Dan Welch....
Not everyone is happy with the idea of splitting Elkhorn into different council districts. State Sen. Dwite Pedersen, who represents Elkhorn, said he plans to introduce a bill in the Legislature next week to add two members to the Omaha council. His hope is that only one person would represent Elkhorn on the council....
"Elkhorn has always been unified, and I don't want to see the community sliced into two," Pedersen said. "I'm very concerned about representation, because the people of Elkhorn haven't had the opportunity to vote for those who will represent them on the council"....
The idea of adding two seats and creating a nine-member council was first initiated by Pedersen and Omaha Councilman Jim Suttle in late 2005. It received a lukewarm reception from other council members at the time.
Suttle said he would still support the measure, but not because he is concerned that Elkhorn would lack adequate representation under the city proposal.
Suttle said having smaller, similar-sized districts would help provide representation for minority populations. It also would give citizens a louder voice with their council representatives because they'd have fewer constituents, he said.
Welch said he is not convinced that adding council members is a good idea.
"I would prefer to keep the number where it is," Welch said. "It seems like the more people you have on a legislative body, less things get done."
At the end of the day, expanding Omaha's city council to nine representatives is an entirely reasonable idea that should be no detriment to that body's effectiveness beyond empowering the voters and giving the people a larger say. As seems to be the case of Welch and his fellow councilmen who opposed this plan originally, theirs is an almost unjustifiable position more about holding onto power for themselves than doing what's right for the city of Omaha and its newest citizens.
One more positive effect of expanding the city council is that it will, as explained by Suttle, encourage greater diversity. For what I believe has been the last six years, the council of Nebraska's most populous city has been entirely comprised of men. It's about damn time that Omaha women again have a voice in their city government as well.