As the Memphis & Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission discusses the ideal number of members that should sit on the legislative body of the proposed metropolitan government, I thought it would be interesting to study the size of city councils and county commissions around the country.
In this post, I’ll focus on city councils of the primary cities of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the nation; my next post will look at their county commissions.
The table below is ordered by metropolitan area, from largest in population to smallest (using 2009 estimates from the US Census Bureau). Only the primary city for each metropolitan area is studied. As is indicated in the far-right column, the percentage of the metropolitan population living in the primary city varies widely – from just 7% in Miami and Riverside (Calif.) to 65% in San Antonio. Memphis is actually one of only four cities in this list where the majority of the metropolitan population lives within the city limits of the primary city.
The population for each city and the number of members on its legislative body (which I will hereafter uniformly refer to as “city council,” regardless of its actual name) are indicated to determine the ratio of resident-per-council seat. Not surprisingly, the largest city councils in the country are in two of the three largest cites: New York and Chicago, with 51 and 50 members, respectively. But the ratios range from one council person for every 255,000 residents in Los Angeles to one for every 11,000 in Providence. At about one council person per 51,000 residents, Memphis is close to the average for these cities, which is one per 65,000.
No two city councils in these cities are alike. For example, in some cities, the mayor is actually a member of the legislative body and not the chief of a separate executive branch. For these cities, I did not include the mayor in the calculation of council members to allow for a clearer comparison.
Some cities still employ the city commission form of government; Portland elects four commissioners to act as heads of various municipal departments. Some cities have at-large seats. For example, New Orleans elects five council people from districts and its council president and vice-president at-large. All of the council seats in Detroit and Seattle are at-large, although Detroit recently voted to end this practice in 2013 and a similar movement is afoot in Seattle. Memphis has a unique take on at-large districts, electing six of its thirteen council members from two “super-districts.” Kansas City has a somewhat similar approach: it elects two members from each of its six large districts. Perhaps the most unique of all city councils was the one in Seattle from 1890-1896, where there was a bicameral council made up of a lower House of Delegates and an upper Board of Aldermen!
Cities with consolidated city-county forms of government typically have very large councils. This is the result of the combination of two legislative bodies into one. My next post will look at the size of the 50 primary cities’ county bodies, if one exists.
|City||city pop||seats||pop/seat||seats||in city|
|18||St. Louis city||354,361||28||12,656||0||13%|
|48||Salt Lake City||178,858||7||25,551||0||16%|