Which charter changes will go to voters – who knows?

Kansas City charter review debateThe city council on Thursday discussed some proposed charter changes, skirted others, and reached no conclusions, as the Kansas City charter review debate continued.

Faced with a Jan. 28 deadline to submit proposed changes for an April ballot, they sent the issues to the finance committee.

“We have another week to be lobbied and beaten up about this,” said Mayor Sly James.

In case the full council cannot reach agreement at its regular meeting next Thursday, it also scheduled a special Jan. 27 meeting.

The changes recommended by a charter review group vary from routine housekeeping matters to historic changes in city government.

Council members agreed that non-controversial measures should go on one ballot, but where lines are drawn is still unclear.

Some thought a proposal to eliminate all city departments but four from the charter was not controversial, but a fire department spokesman pleaded Thursday to keep that department in it.

He said he feared talk of merging police and fire departments under a department of public safety.

There is one item – moving the city election dates from the dead of winter to summer – that has universal support and should go on a ballot alone, council members said.

Councilman John Sharp said there did not seem to be enough support to put to voters the two most controversial measures: going to 12 in-district council seats and allowing the mayor to fire the city manager.

The current system has 13 council members, which include the mayor, six elected from districts and six members who live in districts but are elected citywide.

Some minority leaders have argued that 12 in district would increase minority participation. Opponents call it a needless change that would balkanize the city.

Councilman Scott Taylor noted Thursday that the change would allow citizens to vote for only the mayor and one council person, instead of the mayor and six council people.

Sharp countered that it would reduce the size of districts so candidates with less money could better compete.

Many members of the charter review group said they did not support the districts change but they recommended it to prompt debate.

James said Thursday, “I think this is a bad idea but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have the opportunity to vote on a bad idea – happens every day in this country.”

Councilman Ed Ford questioned why the council should put bad ideas to a public vote, and where such a policy would stop.

“There are a whole lot of equally bad ideas,” he said, and listed things like term limit changes, going to partisan government and doubling the size of the city council.

James said of the in-district change, “Why not let the people vote on it and vote it down and the subject is closed?”

James voiced support for allowing the mayor to fire the city manager.

He has no desire to fire the manager, he said, but the current system of a manager and many equal bosses could be improved.

“The bottom line is it’s a slow moving, plodding situation where policy has no affect on administration,” he said.

Dan Cofran, director of the Citizens Association, spoke against that change, saying it would upset the current system’s balance of power.

“If one individual has the power to dismiss the city manager, he or she would have considerable influence over the city manager,” he said.

James said near the end of the two-hour discussion session, “I have absolutely no idea where we are.”

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