Ballot may help choose council size

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February 10, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iola commissioners came oh-so-close Tuesday to setting up a new five-member city commission to govern the city before backtracking until a few legal questions are answered.
The five-member commission — which would feature one commissioner from each of the city’s four voting wards and a mayor elected at large — was proposed by Commissioner Craig Abbott, who said such a governing body would best fit the city’s needs.
Last April, Iolans approved a referendum to disband the existing three-member city commission.
Commissioners appointed a citizens group to study Iola’s options and eventually endorse a new governing body. The 14-member committee met weekly for several months before voting 9-5 to recommend a six-member city council and mayor.
“This is by no means a sign of disrespect to those citizens who worked on this, but I think four (commissioners) and one (mayor) is the right thing for Iola,” Abbott said.
Abbott kick-started the discussion by asking the city’s options.
City Attorney Chuck Apt explained that if the commissioners approve a charter ordinance for a new governing body, Iola voters would have 60 days to formally contest the measure — by petition — before the new ordinances become law. If rejected, the city would, by default, be governed by an eight-member city council starting in April 2011.
It’s too late for petitioners to force a citywide vote in the regular April 6 election, Apt noted, because 61 days are required by law after an ordinance is passed to get it on the ballot.
With that information in hand, Abbott then proposed the five-member commission, a move quickly seconded by Commissioner Bill Shirley.
Mayor Bill Maness, on the other hand, recommended against setting up a charter ordinance immediately.
“The citizens of Iola spoke a year ago in saying they wanted a larger governing body,” Maness said. “And we asked a volunteer group of citizens to come together — without our input — to decide what form of government they wanted to see, be it five, nine or seven members. And after much debate, they came to a consensus for a seven-person body. I don’t have a preference, but I think we should respect the wishes of that group.”
Apt, at Maness’ request, detailed another option, an idea that eventually prompted Abbott to withdraw his motion.
After conferring with County Clerk Sherrie Riebel, Apt confirmed that the city could pose a non-binding question to Iola voters for the April 6 election to pick the size of the governing body they prefer.
The language for the ballots would have to be submitted by March 1, “but to be fair to the the county election crews, we should get it done as soon as possible,” Apt told the Register.

IN A RELATED matter, commissioners reviewed a proposed redrawing of boundaries for the city’s voting wards in an effort to ensure the populations in each were equal.
The proposal would place the first ward from Cottonwood Street west and from Lincoln Street north. Below that would be the third ward, all of Iola south of Lincoln and west of Cottonwood. The second, most northerly ward, would be from Cottonwood Street east, with its southern boundary zig-zagging along Carpenter, Douglas and East streets. The fourth ward would be south of the zag and east of Cottonwood.
City Administrator Judy Brigham said that city employees looked at the number of electric meters in each ward as their basis for determining populations. The proposed map would have about 600 meters in each ward, she said.
Apt said the city should have its new voting boundaries in place by July 1.

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