Omaha senator seeks to expand city council from 7 to 9 members

This is State Sen. Justin Wayne’s third time introducing the bill.
State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a bill in Lincoln that would require the Omaha City Council to expand from seven members to nine.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 3:20 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The state legislature is involving itself in Omaha’s governmental business.

A bill in the unicameral would require the city council to expand from seven council members to nine. Whether that’s necessary sparks some disagreement.

State Sen. Justin Wayne is the one who introduced the bill.

“I introduced LB21 not to change the makeup of the city council but to make sure there’s proportionate representation,” Wayne said to the Urban Affairs Committee in Lincoln Tuesday morning.

Currently, each Omaha City Council member represents about 70,000 people.

Sen. Wayne believes that’s too many.

Nebraska legislators are looking into a possible expansion of the Omaha City Council.

“The average city council size is nearly double many of our legislative districts,” he said. “The purpose of this is by adding two seats, would hopefully reduce this to 45 to 55,000 [people per district], making it more likely that they can know their city council person and have contact with their city councilperson,” he said.

This is his third time introducing a bill to expand Omaha’s city council. He believes this is the right session to pass it.

“It allows them to go through the process of designing city council districts, getting feedback from the public, and be ready before the 2025 election,” Wayne said.

But Wayne doesn’t have the majority of the city council on his side. Four members signed a letter in opposition: Brinker Harding, Aimee Melton, Danny Begley, and Don Rowe.

“LB21 is really a solution in search of a problem,” said Harding.

In that letter, they say, in part, it would “harm the neighborhood community consensus” and that it’s “premature.”

Harding went on to say, “I really don’t see a need or do I hear a calling to expand the body.”

City Council President Pete Festersen was one of three who did not sign the letter in opposition.

“I’ve always been open to the idea. I think as the city grows, and we all represent about 70,000 constituents now, it’s probably something we should consider,” said Festersen.

Cities with a similar population to Omaha, Colorado Springs and Kansas City, have 9 and 13 city council members respectively. That means that Colorado Springs city council members are responsible for about 54,000 people per district. Kansas City council members represent 39,000 people each.

LB21 is in the Urban Affairs Committee and open for public comment online.