Third time will tell



October 19, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iolans heading to the polls Nov. 2 will get to voice their final, final opinion on the size and style of the city’s next governing body.
Voters are being asked: “Shall Charter Ordinance No. 17 entitled A Charter Ordinance of the City of Iola, exempting the City of Iola, Kansas, from the provisions of K.S.A. 14-310, inclusive and providing substitute and additional provision on the same subject relating to a commission form of government take effect?”
A “yes” vote confirms the charter ordinance adopted by current city commissioners in July to put in place a hybrid, five-member city commission. It would consist of four commissioners — one elected from each voting ward — and a mayor elected at large. The mayor would have equal voting powers with the four commissioners.
A “no” vote rejects the charter ordinance and, by default, institutes an eight-member city council consisting of eight councilmen — two from each ward — and a typically non-voting mayor. In a city council, the mayor serves as a city’s frontsman and runs regular meetings but votes only to break ties.
In either case, the new governing body will be seated in April.

THE UPCOMING ballot question was prompted by two votes, the first in April 2009 when Iolans voted by a 2-to-1 margin to disband the existing three-member commission. Voters at that time were nearly unanimous in favoring a larger governing body.
Just how big — and whether that body was a council or  commission — quickly became a source of contention.
Existing commissioners, citing Iola’s constitutional home rule authority, appointed a citizens committee to recommend Iola’s next governing body.
The committee focused on three options — all commissions — of five, seven or nine members, including a mayor. It ultimately recommended a seven-member commission as a compromise after discovering members were nearly evenly split between preferring a five- or nine-member body.
Rather than accept the committee’s recommendation, existing commissioners took the matter back to voters April 5 for a non-binding election.
In that vote, 45 percent of the 670 votes cast were for a five-member commission. Seven- and nine-member commissions each received 28 percent of the vote. Together, the larger bodies earned a majority of the vote — almost 60 percent — but the smaller commission received a larger percentage than either of the other two options, putting it as the winner.
Sitting commissioners then approved a charter ordinance for a five-member body. That action was challenged by petitioners in August, prompting the third public referendum — the Nov. 2 vote — on the matter.

OTHER CHANGES will be decided after the new governing body is seated, including whether subsequent elections are staggered and whether the city treasurer’s position is appointed or elected.
The law that puts in place an eight-member city council, should voters say “no” to the actions of current commissioners, also mandates that council members and the mayor be up for election after two years and that the city treasurer be elected rather than appointed. Changing those rules would require charter ordinances.

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