Lee’s Summit council members are talking about amending the City Charter to make it more difficult to recall a council member.
The council’s Rules Committee on July 17 discussed that issue and other possible charter changes. It also talked about whether the council should appoint a charter commission.
Committee Chairman Bob Johnson said it is a preliminary discussion, done at a formal meeting to comply with open meeting laws.
The committee, after talking briefly about their ideas for several charter amendments, decided it would be wise to take the topic to the full council at a work session.
That is tentatively on the August agenda. The committee also asked city staff to research what restrictions other cities put on recalling an elected official, such as specifying causes that justify a recall.
The proposal is, at least in part, a reaction to the recent failed recall effort against first-term Council member Rob Binney.
Opponents of a Wal-Mart Supercenter before the vote on rezoning for that project hinted they might start a campaign to recall council members who supported the store.
Binney, who represents the district where the Supercenter is to be built, voted yes, and opponents started a petition to recall him. They did not turn in a petition, but said they had nearly enough signatures before deciding instead to focus on using a lawsuit to stop the store.
Councilmember Derek Holland said the council should tackle that issue soon.
For too lax a reason or a small, single-issue group can begin a recall, Holland said.
“A very few number of people can recall, it’s harmful to government,” Holland said. “Most of us shrugged it off, but it was in the back of our minds that you’re one vote away from a recall.”
The number required for a recall is based on a percentage of voters in a previous election, and often could be as low as signatures from 100 to 200 voters in a council district.
Holland said amending the recall provision is an issue the City Council should prepare to put on next April’s ballot because of its importance.
He said other ideas might be better left to a Charter Commission, because residents might see revisions as “self-serving” if they come straight from the council alone.
Johnson noted that the charter allows the City Council to propose amendments. It also allows residents to petition for changes and directs the council to appoint a Charter Commission every 10 years to review the city’s “constitution.” The last commission was in 2006, so it is close to the time for a review anyway, Johnson said.
Any proposed amendments would need to be ratified at a municipal election.
Johnson said there were several other possible amendments council members had mentioned to him, including term limits, length of terms and a line-item veto for the mayor regarding the city budget.
Johnson said he would also like to consider creating eight council districts, with one representative, instead of the current system of four districts with two representatives from each.
Councilman Allan Gray said he didn’t like that idea, but would support creating at-large districts.
“Many communities have that,” Gray said, “I’ve always thought it is a model we could consider.”
Holland said he thinks four-year terms are too long, but that the former two-year terms were too short. Holland also said term limits should be reconsidered because they were passed in a climate where voters are upset with national leaders, but can’t reach them, so imposed them on state and local governments.
“What voters would love to do is term limit Congress,” Holland said.
Gray said term limits had unintended consequences by turning out informed leaders. He said a person wants to go to an experienced doctor.
“The same wisdom holds true with an elected body,” Gray said. “It takes a while to understand the operations of city government.”
The three members, said they support appointing a charter commission. Johnson said he has one concern that if the council proposed one amendment for one election, then appointed a commission to offer other amendments later, it could cause some confusion.
In either case, there needs to be several public hearings and many residents involved in drafting amendments, Johnson said.
“It’s probably better to have a citizen-driven environment,” Johnson said.