Lee’s Summit City Council supports higher hurdles for recalling its members

rpulley@lsjournal.comAugust 14, 2013 

The Lee’s Summit City Council is getting ready to ask voters to make it more difficult to recall council members.

At a work session Aug. 8, the council agreed to have its Rules Committee work on a proposed charter amendment that would call for a larger number of signatures and limit reasons for a recall.

Currently it takes signatures from 30 percent of the number of people who voted in a district’s last election to force a recall election. Petitioners only have to list a reason, it isn’t limited to criminal acts or other clear misconduct.

Councilmember Derek Holland said that causes a chilling effect when the council has to consider controversial issues because effectively a small number of signatures is required. Below 225 signatures could force an election on four of the eight council members.

“I could do that tomorrow, if I wanted to spend the money,” Holland said.

Once the Rules Committee has specific wording for the amendment, the council will look at it again before voting whether to put it on a ballot.

The council decided to leave other ideas for amendments, such as reviewing term limits, to a future Charter Commission.

The charter calls for a Charter Commission to review the city’s constitution at least every 10 years, the next date for that would be 2016. The council could also appoint a commission earlier, but was not ready to do so.

Councilmember Bob Johnson said that four council members had asked the Rules Committee to consider charter revisions, and after some preliminary talk, the committee decided it wanted some direction from the full council before proceeding.

Other concepts mentioned include a line-item budget veto for the mayor or undoing term limits or more council districts.

A couple of councilmembers said the status quo was working.

Most recently a recall effort aimed at Councilmember Rob Binney failed to get enough signatures, although it only needed 164.

“I think the 30 percent threshold proved itself, it was a formidable threshhold,” Councilmember Brian Whitley said.

Whitley and Councilmember Dave Mosby were on the last Charter Commission which decided to leave the percentages for a recall in place and not to place a limit on reasons.

Councilmember Kathy Hofmann agreed the current standard was “working fine” even though she actually had to win against a recall election, which ironically took place during the last charter revisions.

“I say we play it out until time for the next commission,” Hofmann said.

She said the council pushing the issue forward looks self serving. She did acknowledge there is a disparity for different councilmembers.

Holland said it’s a serious flaw that should be taken up by the council. He offered a plan to leave the percentage in place, but tie all of them to the number of voters in the mayoral election.

Councilmember Ed Cockrell said that making recalls too easy discourages qualified, good candidates from running. He said today more small groups form quickly that “tend to be radicalized” that makes a reasonable person say, “Why do I want to put up with that?”

He said the council should put an amendment on the ballot to improve the recall provision.

Cockrell also said he’d like to see a couple of amendments about the mayor’s powers, but those could be discussed by a Charter Commission in 2016.

Cockrell said a mayor ought to work in the budget with the city manager, and should have a vote, not be limited to tie breaking.

He said not having a vote lets a sitting mayor be non-committal about issues.

“They can play both ends against the middle, and say ‘boy I agree with you guys, and boy I agree with you guys,’ and never have to vote and let the public know where they really stood,” Cockrell said.

Mosby said term limits might eventually need to be reconsidered, because there’s a “culture” and knowledge lost by turnover, but the next election will be the first time for term-limit cycle. He said the next charter commission should have a sense of whether that is becoming a problem.

But he agreed the city should address the recall issue.

Hofmann said possibility of recall is part of being a public servant. She said she had to work hard to educate her supporters on how to vote in the recall election, but the result was definitive.

“It came out loud and clear at the vote, 75 percent said stay in office, that’s why you still have to put up with me,” Hofmann said.

Councilmember Allan Gray it’s “open season” on recall, for any reason, so he supported an amendment to limit reasons a petition can be started.

He said it shouldn’t be a risk for him to cast a vote on what’s best for the community based on his experience, feedback and knowledge.

“The reason should be tied to something, other than I don’t like the way you voted last week,’ ” Gray said.

Whitley said the Charter Commission had a concern about who gets to decide if the reason for a recall is valid, so had left that unchanged except to state a reason at the top and bottom of the petition.

But he agreed that the Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter had changed the landscape since the last charter revision.

“It’s easier to spread rumors, misinformation, and get people stirred up,” Whitley said.

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