The Naperville City Council has too many members

That’s right, you read it here. Let’s dispense with the suspense and give you the bottom line of this posting right now; the Naperville city council has too many council members for a city of our size (eight not including the mayor). And we’ve got the numbers to support that bold statement.

But before we get into the numbers and open some eyes and hopefully some minds, let’s anticipate some misguided opposition to that statement. Some will say we need 8 city council members because we are growing in population. Well contrary to that sentiment our population has actually declined by about 2% when comparing the last two census figures. Others will say that it’s because we have 8 council members overseeing our ‘success’ that our city has been selected as the best city in the U.S. in which to live. You can lay that one to rest because in the past we were #1, but now we are now #2 within a 10 mile radius of city hall; Bolingbrook has over taken us. Others will say that we need 8 council members because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Now that may be the lamest excuse of all. We never had term limits and districts for our council members, however because of a few determined citizens and a massive mandate  to vote for term limits and districts we now have them. So it can be done and this is the time to make it happen.

To the happiness and giddiness of city council members and local government, they have been able to delay the will of the people until the election of 2015. That’s three years after the world is scheduled to end. The last thing the city council wants to do (well almost the last thing) is to move quickly when drawing up a map for districts. As Mayor Pradel stated, “We’ve got a while to do this.” Unfortunately the legal system is allowing the Naperville City Council to procrastinate which the city council specializes in.

But listen close folks…..the city council’s propensity for delaying decisions and actions can now work in the favor of the citizens of Naperville by starting a movement to reduce the number of council members. This could be accomplished easily in time for the next election. We will have five districts and we simply need to eliminate the three at-large ‘floating’ Naperville council member positions. As I said earlier the ‘almost’ last thing the city council wants is to do is draw a map for districts and prepare for term limits. Well the ‘real’ last thing the city council wants is to be reduced in size from 8 members to 5 or 6 maximum. If you think drawing a map is difficult for them, just imagine if city council members thought they could be ‘reduced out’ of the city council.

OK let’s take a look at the numbers and specifically compare 8 cities to Naperville.

Since each of the 8 cities plus Naperville has a mayor or president of the city council we have not included that commonality into the numbers. So we are looking at the number of council members alone for each city.

First let’s compare Naperville to cities with comparable populations which include Dayton, Ohio, Hollywood, Florida, Ft. Collins, Colorado, and Pasadena, California.

City State Population # Of Council Members Residents per Councilman
Naperville Illinois 141,000 8 18,000/1
Dayton Ohio 153,000 4
38,000/1 (+211%)
Hollywood Florida 142,000 6
24,000/1 (+33%)
Fort Collins Colorado 139,000 6
23,000/1 (+28%)
Pasadena California 144,000 7
21,000/1 (+17%)

As you can see those cities have from as few as half as many council members (4) to two-thirds as many (6), and one with one less member. The important metric to notice is the number of residents each city council member of that city represents. Each member of the Naperville city council represents 18,000 residents. Now compare that to Dayton, Ohio where each Dayton city council member represents 38,000 residents; that’s more than twice as many as Naperville. The other three cities represent from 21, 000 each in Pasadena, California to 24,000 in Hollywood, Florida. So why is it those other city councils are so much more efficient at getting the job done than Naperville is.

Now let’s compare Naperville with four other cities (Phoenix, San Diego, Detroit, and Seattle) that have a comparable number of city council members (8 or 9). Phoenix, Arizona with a population of 1,446,000 residents has 8 city council members. That equates to 181,000 residents per city council member in Phoenix; that’s ten times more residents per council member than Naperville at 18,000. Apparently the average Phoenix city council member is 10 times better at getting the job done than any of Naperville’s council members. Take a look at San Diego with 8 council members representing a population of 1,300,000 residents which equates to each San Diego council member representing 163,000 residents or 9 times more residents than Naperville’s council member represents. Detroit and Seattle have 9 council members each with populations of about 4 times as many as Naperville.

City State Population Council Members Residents/Council Member
Naperville IL 141,000 8 18,000/1
Phoenix AZ 1,446,000 8 181,000/1 (10 times)
San Diego CA 1,300,000 8 163,000/1 (9 times)
Detroit MI 714,000 9 79,000/1 (4.4 times)
Seattle WA 609,000 9 68,000/1 (3.8 times)

So no matter how you look at it, Naperville has too many city council members. Are other city councils that much more efficient or competent than Naperville is? That sounds reasonable. Is Naperville that much more wasteful than those other cities. That sounds reasonable too. Or maybe Naperville is over represented; isn’t that like being over served in an establishment with a liquor license. If four or five council members can successfully do what it takes 8 to do, then we need to reduce our 8 council members to four or five. Since we are drawing up a district map with 5 districts then 5 council members sounds ideal and in line with what other successful cities are doing throughout the country.

Fewer council members mean more efficiency, shorter meetings, less expense, and the public forum can increase from three minutes for each presenter to five or six minutes.

What better way to represent citizens than to allow them more time to express their concerns. Like we said initially, the bottom line is that the Naperville city council has too many members.

Show 3 Comments


  1. Marcus

    Nice point. If others can do it, why can’t we? Maybe its something in our water.

  2. Tom Adams

    Very interesting points made here. In education, less students per teacher is a good thing for our kids. You would think that fewer residents per councilmen would be too, as they are representing an area. I was just elected to a 4 year term as a councilmen here in Nauvoo, IL. We have 1,100 residents and 6 members on the council making it just 183 residents per councilmen. I can see your point on efficiency and expenses. It is easy at time to lose sight of who is really in control of the city, and it should be the residents controlling their own destiny. Best of luck to you.

  3. Mike Behr

    What is the council member’s compensation for each of the city’s you cite? When you have, essentially, a volunteer council, more members may be needed, since council matters could take significant time.

    It’s an interesting question to consider. Reducing the number of members could make the council more efficient, but term limits can really be detrimental; just look at the state of California; it’s almost ungovernable, with short term legislator unable to really gain the experience to govern effectively. There seems to be enough turnover in Naperville. Enforcing term limits means staff and other civil servant are more powerful. It does take time to learn how government works. Indiscriminately throwing away experience can make for very poor decision making. I do support district voting. Naperville is disparate enough to warrant council districts. As it is now, all members could come from one area, the same argument opponents make in the reverse — that all at-large members could reside in the same district and then that areas has four votes, even five, if the mayor lives there.

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