ERLANGER, Ky. — A vote by Erlanger city council could cost some of the council members their jobs.
Council voted on Tuesday to reduce its size from 12 members to 9. Councilwoman Rebecca Reckers sponsored the legislation.
“I’ve talked to hundred of residents over the last few years,” said Reckers. “They ask, 'Why are there so many people on council?' I don’t typically have an answer for that.”
The city, which has a population of less than 20,000 people, has the largest city council in Northern Kentucky.
Fort Thomas, which is similar in population, has a six-person council. Covington, which is double the population, has three commissioners, plus a mayor and vice mayor. The City of Cincinnati, which has more than 300,000 residents, has a nine-person city council.
Reckers said in a city the size of Erlanger, it can be difficult to hold a competitive election.
“Looking at the history of how many people are actually running in Erlanger and have interest… my very first year that I voted in Erlanger there was 11 people on the ballot for 12 positions.”
She believes a smaller council will build better engagement.
“I think residents that do pay attention and follow Erlanger, they want their council people engaged. I think we’ll see more engagement with nine. I’m hoping,” said Reckers.
The vote passed 7 to 4.
Councilwoman Vicki Kyle voted against the decrease.
“I like the diversity of the 12, sharing the work load,” said Kyle. “It avoids a small group from just taking over and getting their ideas pushed through.”
Tuesday’s vote was not the first time the council has discussed reducing its size. Similar discussions either failed or were tabled in years prior.
“Having a larger size (council) certainly can have its benefits, but you’d want that to exist in a community that is much larger than Erlanger is, because I think the drawbacks are much more significant,” said Ryan Salzman, political science professor at Northern Kentucky University.
Salzman said most cities in Northern Kentucky have a council made up of six people.
“I think nine is still a lot of council members for a community like Erlanger,” he said. “One thing they did do is move from an even number to an odd number, and that can actually diminish the policy-making power of the mayor because the mayor usually breaks ties. You’re not going to have ties when it’s an odd number of people.”
He said it is not very common for a city council to vote on changing its size, however it can happen.
“Even though this may seem weird, weird is kind of the American brand when it comes to governance. And that’s not a bad thing. It should be up to the people of Erlanger about how they want to be governed,” said Salzman.
This will go into effect for the 2022 election. The first nine-person council will begin working in 2023.