Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, and Ald. Mark Clear, District 19, announced Wednesday plans to reform city government and give more power to Common Council and the council president. Mayor Paul Soglin said he will oppose the legislation.
The two large implications of the reforms would be having the council president appoint alders to committees rather than the mayor, and having the Board of Estimates, which would be renamed the Finance Committee, elect its chair instead of the mayor being the voting chair.
This would shift more power to Common Council when reviewing the budget, but the mayor would still draft it and could veto it. The alders said the reforms would allow for powers to be rebalanced and stronger checks by Common Council on the mayor’s office.
Ahrens said it is important to have an adequate check on the mayor’s office and stressed the legislation is not directed at Soglin himself. He said the legislation would be more similar to how state and federal governments operate.
“If you look at how other governments function, we’re peculiar,” Ahrens said. “And there’s a reason why those governments function like that.”
Soglin cited Common Council is a one-house legislature and that the formal balance is the executive branch, the mayor. He said state and federal level legislatures have more power because they are bicameral.
However, Ahrens said bicameral legislatures do not check each other, they work together to check the executive branch. He noted the Nebraska state government has a unicameral legislature that checks the governor. But it is the only state with such a system.
Soglin said his power to oversee the budget process since being elected in 2011 has allowed him to bring fiscal responsibility, but that the debt is still too high.
“Several city council members are unhappy with my refusal to spend every dollar in their individual districts,” Soglin said during a press conference. “But the reality is that the city council went on an out-of-control spending spree from 2007-’11 without worrying about the necessary revenue and the consequences.”
Ahrens, who has been on the council for three years, also said constituents reach out to alders more than the mayor, making them more aware of local neighborhood needs.
He said during last year’s budget process the mayor tried to halve spending on speed bumps, but that Common Council ended up doubling the speed bump funds because speeding in neighborhoods was a regular complaint alders heard.
Ahrens and Clear held a press conference that followed Soglin’s in which they said the subcommittees that drafted the ideas were open record, but Soglin said the drafting process was secretive and expedited.
The alders also said the earliest the measures will be introduced is April 19 and hope they will be passed by May 17, although they acknowledged the city attorney’s office may not be able to draft the legislation by that date.