Finance committee forwards city charter changes

One proposed city charter change would move elections from February and March to April and June.

One proposed city charter change would move elections from February and March to April and June.

The council finance committee on Wednesday recommended the full council submit three city charter changes to voters but not two others.

The full council today will consider which of the proposed changes to put to a public vote in August.

One ballot proposal – to change city election dates from February and March to April and June – had no opposition.

It would increase voter turnout and make election costs cheaper by combining with a school board election in April, said Finance Committee Chair Jan Marcason, “so it’s a win, win.”

They voted to forward the most controversial measure – changing the council seats to 12 in district instead of six in district and six citywide – but recommended 3-1 that the council not submit it to voters.

Marcason said, “The sense of the council is there really is not a groundswell of support for this.”

It would reduce the council members citizens can vote for from six plus the mayor to one and the mayor, she said.

Councilman John Sharp argued in support of the change, saying it could help minorities get elected and better allow candidates with less funding to compete in smaller districts.

Margaret May, executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, spoke against the change.

“I think one of the problems we have in this city is a six-way divide; if we had a 12-way divide, it just blows my mind,” she said.

The other most controversial change – allowing the mayor to fire the city manager – also was sent to the council with a do-not-pass recommendation.

Under the existing charter, the mayor and six other council members can fire the city manager or nine council members can do it.

The issue arises after a difficult impasse arose when former mayor Mark Funkhouser tried to fire the city manager without council support.

Councilwoman Cindy Circo said she at first had opposed the firing by a bad mayor but later relented along with other council members.

Nothing was happening at city hall while the mayor was locked up in one office and the city manager in another, she said. “There was a choice of somewhat dysfunctional and complete dysfunction.”

Any mayor deserves a manager he can work with, she said.

Sharp, Dick Davis and other council members spoke against the change as a major shift in power that moved toward a strong mayor form of government.

“The manager would be expected to follow the mayor’s prerogatives just like any member of the mayor’s staff,” Sharp said.

Councilman Russ Johnson asked what would happen if a mayor like Funkhouser fired the manager and then tried to hire his wife to replace him. The council would refuse and who would run the city, Johnson asked.

City Attorney Bill Geary, said, “I don’t think we can completely legislate against dysfunction.”  But councilmembers added a clause to the proposed change that would specify that the city attorney would act as temporary city manager in such an impasse.

In other measures, the committee recommended passage for a series of housekeeping matters that would stand together on a ballot measure. Those include submitting a five-year financial plan in November that would be a basis for a budget submitted to the council in February.

In a final ballot measure, the committee recommended passage of a proposal to eliminate all city departments from the charter except those for legal, financial, parks, human resources and the fire and health departments.

It also would add the Kansas City Health Commission to the charter.

The city manager said he asked for the change not to eliminate any department but so officials in the future could merge or change them without public votes.

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