Charter changes weighed, passed

ColumnistApril 13, 2017 

What do the election results of last week in Lee’s Summit tell us?

Well, beyond the usual bemoaning of subpar turnout (although this election brought far more voters than most do in April) we learned this: voters were in the mood to say yes.

So much so, they said yes 12 times to the 12 Charter Amendments that – legalese aside – were well-thought-out recommendations from our body of 12 commissioners, including myself.

This review of our City Charter is an every-10-year exercise that is vital to keeping us in line with state and federal laws and allows us that important opportunity to take a fresh look at the Constitutional documents that govern our city.

Passage, however, came with a hell of a lot of pain.

Many city council members spoke out publicly or showed their disdain for the charter amendments on social media. And we learned as Election Day neared that even some of the local public safety unions were interjecting their opinions and influence against what a billboard deemed as “reckless” changes to the city charter.

The good news is this: No one ever pointed to a single word of specific language they disagreed with or offered up any real evidence that these charter changes shouldn’t be strongly considered.

Ultimately, the voters spoke and that was 100 percent the role of the Charter Commission – to bring forth changes, if any, that the voters could ultimately approve or deny.

Reviewing the vote totals on all 12 questions gives us clear indication – and renews my personal faith in the electorate – that voters read through and took the time to consider every question and, not only that, dig into the intricacies of the questions and consider future ramifications.

Some charter questions passed by well over 75 percent. A few were in the 50 percent range, with Question 6 drawing the closest vote passing by just 122 votes of the more than 8,200 cast. That particular question amended the charter to require the court administrator to discharge his or her duties under the director of the city manager and remove a provision that authorizes the municipal judges to discipline or otherwise take action against the court administrator.

Other charter questions that passed will have vastly longer-reaching ramifications and implications, like Question 4, which will require the mayor to vote on all ordinances and remove the mayoral veto power. That amendment passed with 54 percent support and will go into effect after our current mayor, Randy Rhoads, leaves office in April of 2018.

This is an exciting change in the charter as it will bring some responsibility to the mayor’s chair to weigh in on important and pressing city issues.

All other amendments will take effect immediately after the City Council certifies the election results, save the changes to legislative proceedings. In that change, Question 2, voters approved requiring seven days to pass between an introduction and passing of an ordinance. That change will take effect on July 1.

One immediate need that was, thankfully, supported by more than 70 percent of the voters was Question 3, which will require the council to write and adopt a code of ethics and (finally) allows for sanctions against a council member for violations of the City Charter. This singular amendment brings into focus something that has been glaring in our City Charter – that, while charter violations are obviously frowned upon, there was no real teeth in the documents to do anything about such infractions.

Our Charter serves as the most important of documents at City Hall. In another decade, a new group of citizens and volunteers will take fresh eyes to it and revamp as necessary.

Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at johnbeaudoin4@gmail.com .

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