The City Council will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today on Chairman Vince V. Anello's proposal to reduce the City Council by two members by the year 2002.
Critics of the size of the present seven-member Council generally question why a city with a declining population needs two more members in its legislative branch than it had years ago when the population was much larger.
The charter currently is being reviewed by a commission appointed by the Council. But Anello said he didn't want to wait until that body concludes its deliberations next year to get the proposal before the voters. If the Council approves the measure after Monday's public hearing, it would go on the ballot this November.
Because Anello's plan involves a phasing out of two members over the next two elections, he wanted to get the ball rolling now. Also, he said, the fact that he will be up for re-election next year shows his commitment to the plan and that he is willing to jeopardize his own seat.
At the Charter Commission's first public forum recently, the Rev. Raymond Allen of Calumet Avenue said 30 to 40 years ago when the city's population was 120,000, there were five members of the City Council. Now, with the population less than half of that, Mr. Allen asked "Is it really necessary to have seven people?"
Prior to 1988, the mayor was a member of the Council. With the switch from the City Council-city manager form of government to the mayor-city administrator-City Council form, the mayor left the Council and two more members were added.
Anthony Rotella, a member of the commission, said if the public chooses to reduce the size of the Council, "that's one problem we don't have to work at."
Anello's proposal doesn't address Council salaries. The part-time jobs currently pay $8,000 a year. That decreased from $12,900 when the Council was expanded in 1988.
Anello believes Council members should earn more than $8,000 a year. But he will leave the salary issue up to the Charter Commission. Elected officials generally are hesitant to make the unpopular political move of raising their own salaries especially in the tough economic times the city is undergoing. It would make it easier for them if the commission, which is made up of citizens serving on a volunteer basis, made the proposal.
If the change were approved by voters in November, it would take place in two stages in the 1999 and 2001 elections. In 1999, three Council seats would be filled, but only the two top vote-getters would win four-year terms. The third would win a two-year term through 2002. In 2001, only three seats rather than four would go on the ballot and beginning in 2002, the Council would be made up of five members.
Anello has wanted the issue to go before the voters since his 1995 campaign but until now he was not able to get sufficient support from his Council colleagues.