From Page 91 of the 2023 Richmond CIty Council Charter Review Commission Recommendations Report:

The Commission disagrees with claims that a smaller Council to include an elected Mayor would “reduce” representation, for three reasons. First, while there would be fewer Council members, each individual Council member would have more influence as one of seven rather than one of nine voting members.

This really is some bs. Each member of council having more influence over City affairs is the defintion of less representative. You can argue that having seven voting Council members would be more effective at governing than nine, but you cannot argue that it isn’t less representative.

Second, each resident would in fact have two representatives on Council: their district representative, and the citywide elected Mayor.

The validity of this claim is equally true in the Commission’s proposed Elected Mayor Council-Manager Option whether Council consists of two, seven, nine, or seven hundred voting members. The question of whether or not to have an Elected Mayor Council-Manager Option is separate from what size that Council should be.

But the math doesn’t check out on its face. Richmond has an estimated 230,000 residents. Currently we have nine Council districts. Each Council member represents ~25,000 people, so an individual is 1/25000 or 0.00004. If we had six Council districts, each Council person would represent ~38,000 people where an individual is 1/38000. Add in an individual’s “share” of the Mayor’s representation (1/230000) and you get (checks my fraction math) ~67/2185000 or 0.00003. Last I checked 4 is still greater than 3.

Third, whereas Council members have minimal direct leverage on the day-to-day operations of the City administration under the current system, in the Council-Manager system each member would have significant opportunity to hold the City Manager and staff accountable for performance and service delivery.

Similar to the second point, the “direct leverage“ is an argument as to the potential efficacy of a Council with fewer members, but is contradictory with the representativeness of each Council member. The more representatives in a governing body, the more the power is diffused away from individual representatives.

It’s a balance. A smaller Council might come to consensus more easily than a larger one, but it vests greater power in fewer people. What if those fewer people are wrong?

Finally, it should be reiterated that a smaller Council would give greater scope for the elected Mayor to lead and build coalitions on policy matters within a Council-Manager form of government, consistent with the decision Richmond voters made in 2005 to establish the elected Mayor. An elected Mayor who does not have the practical capacity to run on, be elected, and enact a citywide agenda, because they are just one vote on a fairly large Council, adds little value, and creates the significant possibility that Council business will be driven excessively by district-level interests.

This is an argument for the potential effectiveness of the proposed Elected Mayor Council-Manager Option, but again, it is less representative. If the Mayor is “just one vote on a fairly large Council”, it diffuses the power of the Mayor and spreads the power among more people.

And let me rephrase the ominous “Council business will be driven excessively by district-level interests” as “Council business will be driven excessively by the wants and needs of the people each Council member represents”. Sounds like a great thing to me! I hope than any form of government we choose has this as a “significant possibility”; in fact, I’d say it’s a requirement!