Charter review ideas: eliminate city departments, changing council districts

The Charter Review Committee better work fast: members on Wednesday set a tentative July 31 deadline to make recommendations critical to city government.

The three issues in play now are the composition of the city council, the executive authority of the mayor and whether most city departments should be written out of the city charter.

The city council would have to approve putting any recommended changes to the voters. City elections are coming up in 2015 and if voters approve structural changes to the council, the city will have to go through a redistricting process before those elections.

Committee member Matt Dameron said, “We are the first leg of a marathon if the people of Kansas City really want to change the composition of the council.”

He said he wants to give officials the option of putting any charter changes on the ballot in November.

“I’m concerned about us unilaterally telling the council, the stakeholders and the mayor you’re not going to get on the November ballot,” he said.

Committee member Rodney Knott countered, “To me it’s more important to get it right, not just get it done.”

Dameron said, “I agree with you but at the same time I view us as the catalyst for city wide discussion.”

On Wednesday, they questioned City Manager Troy Schulte about his recommendation to write most city departments out the charter.

That would give the manager and council more flexibility to change functions as city needs change, Schulte said, making for more efficient and effective government.

“When a department is created in this city, it’s a big deal,” Schulte said. “It says I’m going to have a structure here of a permanent nature.”

The creation of the departments could be replaced by a charter preamble that spells out duties of the city, he said.

But the departments of finance, law and parks would stay in the charter.

Why the parks department? asked committee member Steve Glorioso.

Schulte said the parks department has played a key role in the history of the city.

“It gets to what do we want to be, how we want to present ourselves,” he said.

Glorioso said the function of the other departments would remain but the change would “let the manager put the knobs on.”

Knott said he was concerned about a loss of consistency if the departments get written out for efficiency.

“The vision can change as the city changes, as the mayor changes, as the council changes,” he said.

Later, the committee will take up the difficult matter of changing the makeup of the 13-member city council, which consists of the mayor, six members elected from six geographic subdistricts  and six members who live in the districts but are elected city-wide.

Some people argue for more subdistricts, saying they could give minorities and neighborhoods more say in government.

Then there is the issue of whether the mayor should have more power.

And that may not be all, Dameron said, because some other issue could surface.

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