Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Still Not Resolved - Filling a City Council Vacancy

At the 4/5/16 Council Committee the discussion about how to fill a council vacancy in the future was again tabled.  There is some merit to that because right now most cities need some clarification on certain items in the new state election law, by either or both, the secretary of state and/or the county election commissioner.

The current method, which many would like to see continued, is for the council to appoint an individual to fill a vacancy.  The one positive to this, is that it is "free"..  The major problem though is what can sometimes be perceived as collusion on the part of some council members as to who the appointee should be.  All that one has to do is go back a very short time ago with the appointment of Alan Willoughby (former Mayor Jeff Meyers' uncle by marriage) and review the letter of rebuke that the JoCo DA sent to the city council.  In that letter he admonished the council very strongly for what appeared to him to be a disregard of the spirit of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Current Councilmember Stephanie Meyer, who is also the council president, has voiced concerns about this process, and was leaning towards an election process.  She has even stated that when she was appointed to fill a position that came open she had felt that there was a strong sentiment out among the public that her appointment was tainted.  And those same concerns reared their ugly head when Brandon Kenig was appointed to fill the open position that was created when Mayor Distler was elected to her current position.

Other folks, myself included, have indicated that they would prefer an election in the open ward to fill the position.  The advantage to this is that the people of the ward would have the say as to who would represent them.  The argument against this is strictly financial, as it would cost approximately $37K to run a special election.  Is that really too much to spend to maintain a truly democratic process?

Now there is a third process which staff has indicated in their presentation and which will probably be heard when the item finally gets to be aired out.  This third proposal is a hybrid, it is very simple, maintains a democratic environment, and it does not create any additional expenditures.  Under the hybrid proposal the council would appoint a person to fill the position, but only until the next regular election.  Currently a person is appointed to fill the position until the expiration of the original office holder's term.  With this hybrid the position would then be filled by election to finish the remainder of the term.  By having it placed on the ballot at a regular election the city would not incur the costs of a special election.  This would, IMHO, be a win-win situation.  I would strongly urge the citizens of Shawnee to support the hybrid plan when the item comes before the council.