Former mayor Barnes weighs in on charter changes

One option being considered by the Charter Review Commission would break the current six council districts (show in red outlines) into nine districts (shown in different colors)

Former mayor Kay Barnes spoke in favor of a stronger mayor Wednesday, and members of the charter review commission spoke of adding council districts.

The 13-member group also scraped its previous deadline of having recommendations to the city council by July 31.

Former mayor and now U.S. congressman Emanuel Cleaver is to speak to them sometime in August, they said.

Barnes said she favored allowing the mayor alone to have the power to hire and fire the city manager, a position favored by Mayor Sly James.

But Barnes did not support a strong mayor executive type of government with the mayor no longer a part of the city council.

“I know there are some cities that have that model that is very successful,” she said. “I know it works but I personally believe relationships are a big part of the process.”

She was asked why the mayor should be stronger, if it was for power or because they get blamed for what they do not control.

Her answer: “Neither power or blame – it is being able to get things done, to move initiatives forward.”

Commissioners also looked at rough redistricting maps by city planning staff showing how the city could break down into nine district-elected councilmembers and three elected citywide, and how it could be 12 council people elected all in districts.

Minorities have advocated adding more districts to promote more minority representation. Critics say more councilmembers answering only to their districts could slight the needs of the city at large.

Barnes said 12 districts would come with “more likelihood for people to be fussing with one another more.”

The current 13-member council system consists of the mayor, six members elected from geographic districts and six members who live in the districts but are elected citywide.

Under the scenario of nine in district and three elected citywide, three districts could have African-American majorities. Depending on the three separate geographic areas where the people who run citywide would have to live, that could add one more area of African-American majority, city planners said.

There would be no majority Hispanic district but one would be 39 percent Hispanic.

Research reports Tuesday showed how some other cities handle it: Eleven of 13 councilmembers in Denver run in districts and all 13 in Minneapolis run in them.

Commissioner Steve Glorioso said more and smaller districts give neighborhoods more say in government. He added that they make it easier for poorer candidates to run with door-to-door campaigns.

Commissioner Bobby Hernandez said, “It takes the issue of money out of everything and it also adds to democracy.”

He and other supporters also suggest it could increase Kansas City’s anemic voter turnout, averaging 23 percent for the last three city elections.

Research showed that turnout in Denver over that period averaged 43 percent and in Minneapolis it averaged 30 percent.

But in Fort Worth, which has eight council districts and none citywide, turnout averaged only 7 percent.

In St. Louis, with 28 of 29 councilmembers elected from districts, the turnout average was only 12 percent.

Commissioners said they would set a new deadline next week. It will allow time for two large meetings to take questions and suggestions from the public.

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