Prairie du Chien Common Council will be reduced to 8 members after election

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By Correne Martin

The time has come for the Prairie du Chien Common Council to be reduced in size, from 12 members to eight. The new council will be composed of six aldermen representing the city’s six individual wards and two at-large aldermen. Three current members are bowing out from their seats, one vacant seat is simply going away, and two other current members will be named on the spring election ballot Tuesday, April 7 for the at-large positions.

“Last spring, it was determined that the six seats up for election, in the next city election following the vote to downsize, would be discontinued,” City Administrator Aaron Kramer explained, “and two citywide, at-large positions would be created.”

In next week’s election, Aldermen Nate Gilberts and Edward Hayes-Hall are vying for the two at-large spots, while Ken Fleshner, Mark Thein and Sharon Boylen did not file papers for re-election. The vacant council seat, formerly held by Frank Pintz Jr., will not be filled either.

The decision to downsize was made by the council one year ago. A 7-5 vote approved the move on March 18, 2014, but a two-thirds vote was required. So the item came back for reconsideration of the council at a special meeting on March 24, 2014. At that time, the measure passed, 8-3, which was exactly two-thirds.

“There had been an advisory referendum, polling the city about the issue, a few years back (April 6, 2011), and it overwhelmingly passed,” said Alderman Kyle Kozelka, who brought the issue to the council for a vote in 2014. “The council had voted it down before, and it wasn’t an easy situation, but I brought it back because we started having openings on the council and those seats were not being filled. Even when someone ran for election, they weren’t contested. It just made sense.”

Kozelka said he believes this change will allow for a more effective council, “rather than having wards go unrepresented.”

According to city records, the issue of a council reconfiguration was first raised in November of 2010 when Mayor Dave Hemmer requested the council consider possible options of reducing its size. In December of that year, it was decided to table the item until new census numbers came available for redistricting.

In April of 2011, the advisory referendum asked city voters if they supported reducing the size of the council. Results came back that 663, or 62 percent, supported scaling down the council’s size. Some 410 voters, or 38 percent, did not support the idea. Following council discussion and recommendations from a meeting on April 19 of that year, staff came up with a proposal to reduce the council to eight members, with six members elected from districts and two being at-large.

On Aug. 16 and Dec. 6, 2011, the notion was brought to the council for further consideration. The August 16, 2011, motion to reduce the council’s size, made by former Alderwoman Kathleen Hein,  died on the council floor, as there was no second.  Then in December, former Alderman Jaaren Riebe felt it should be reconsidered based, in part, on possible budget savings and the results of the April 2011 advisory referendum. The Dec. 6, 2011, motion was defeated on a 5-4 vote.

Then, on March 4, 2014, Kozelka requested the council revisit the possibility of reducing its size. This issue had been a difficult one for the council throughout its history, as those opposed felt a larger council allowed for more discussion and ideas to be considered. At that meeting, the item was tabled.

Finally, on March 18, 2014, the downsizing officially passed.

On April 18, 2014, an ordinance was adopted reducing the number of council committees from four to three and the number of council members on those committees from five to four. The protection and health committee was merged with the public works committee. The personnel and finance committees remained.

In future elections beyond the upcoming spring election, according to Kramer, six aldermanic districts and the mayor’s seat will be up for election in the even numbered years, and the two at-large positions will be up for election in odd numbered years.

While it is likely that Gilberts and Hayes-Hall will rejoin the council after this election, as they are running unopposed, those departing will be finished with their duties as of the April 14 council meeting. Their terms officially end at midnight on the evening of Monday, April 20. The new council will be seated during the April 21 meeting. Among those leaving, Fleshner was on the council for four years, Thein four years and Boylen 12 years (from 1990-1994, and since 2007). Other aldermen continuing will be Ron Leys, first district; Mike Jones, second district; Kyle Kozelka, third district; Karen Solomon, fourth district; Jean Titlbach, fifth district; and Todd Myers, sixth district.

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