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With Largest Council in NKY, Erlanger Discusses a Reduction

The City of Erlanger has the largest elected municipal government body in Northern Kentucky, with twelve members of council and a mayor.

There are two pairs of relatives on the current council.

For council races, that means at least twenty-five candidates have to file to force a primary election in May before the general election in November when as many as twenty-four candidates could be considered for the twelve seats, which are chosen by voters every two years.

The mayor runs separately and serves for four years.

Former Mayor Tyson Hermes, who did not seek reelection last year and instead ran for and won a seat on city council, brought the possibility of a reduction for consideration at a meeting this week.

"I just wanted to talk about it," Hermes said before a committee meeting on Tuesday night. "I wouldn't be for it until I knew how many they wanted to reduce the number to. I would be good with six."   

The size of municipal governments across Northern Kentucky varies. Covington, Newport, Taylor Mill, and Union, for example, use the city commission form of government, with four commissioners serving two-year terms and a mayor serving for four years. Cities like Ludlow, Bellevue, Villa Hills, and Dayton each have six council members who serve for four years and a mayor who serves for four.

Edgewood and Fort Mitchell have seven council members who serve for two years and a mayor who serves for four.

Erlanger, with its 13-member city government, is the largest elected body in Northern Kentucky. It is one of just three cities in all of Kentucky to have such a large council, Hermes said. Lexington's urban-county council has fifteen members and a mayor, while Louisville's metro government has twenty-six members of council and a mayor.

According to a presentation by Hermes, 101 Kentucky cities have four-member city councils or commissions while another 101 have six members of council.

"I would like for the council to explain what the benefit of having twelve council members is," Hermes said.

Hermes suggested that Erlanger has more council members than voters can pay attention to.

The presentation showed that 6,270 people cast ballots in last November's Erlanger city council race, with 2.596 voting for Hermes, placing him in the middle of the large pack. The top vote-getter received 3,194 votes, or more than half of the ballots cast.

Hermes said there would be more vetting of candidates by voters if there were fewer candidates.

"How likely is it that people will vet 16 candidates?," he asked.

Others on Erlanger's city council disagree.

"I'm against it," Councilman Kevin Burke said, "because I've been here twenty-three years and this system works well. We are one of the top cities in the region and we're not looking for money. Twelve members have never been a problem before. We have never had a tie where the mayor had to step in."

Councilwoman Renee Skidmore also opposes the proposed change.

"It is easier to convince four people than to convince seven," she said. 

Skidmore, who serves on council with her husband, Don Skidmore, said that she conducted research in 2016 and found that six other cities had twelve-member city councils. She also noted that Erlanger's council is paid less per person than the others.

Councilwoman Patty Suedkamp voiced her opinion.

'I think it is a horrific mistake," Councilwoman Patty Suedkamp said of the proposal. "The city needs as many voices as it can get. When you think about it, there are 18,000 people in the city, and only twelve people representing them. It's a ridiculous idea! It gives the mayor too much power!"

Kathy Cahill, who serves on council with her son, Tom Cahill, says a change isn't necessary.

"We divide up all the tasks and that gives us the opportunity to address different issues," she said. "I don't want to reduce the number of council members."

Councilwoman Vicki Kyle said that with twelve members of council, no one is overwhelmed, and that it offers more variety of opinions when considering important matters.

Before she decided to run and won a seat on council, Corinne Pitts said she attended meetings for a year, and believed that twelve members was a lot, but then she concluded that they all worked well together.

Pitts offered anecdotal evidence she said she received from other local elected officials who serve on four- or six-member bodies, and they all urged her not to reduce the size of Erlanger's government.

Councilman Tom Cahill said that with twelve members, the city government is better protected from making a bad decision because of all the varied opinions.

Councilman Don Nicely said there was no need for more than six members of council.

The proposal was simply presented for consideration and no action was taken.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer and Michael Monks