A poll will ask how Iolans want to run their city


February 25, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Iolans will have the opportunity to say what form of city government they prefer in a non-binding opinion poll the city will conduct April 6, when Mayor Bill Maness also will be up for re-election. As explained on Wednesday’s front page, the two events must occur at separate locations. One is an election, the other is a request for citizen opinion.
The opinion poll will ask citizens to choose among city commissions with four commissioners and a mayor; one with six commissioners and a mayor; and one with eight commissioners and a mayor.
These three forms were the ones considered by a 14-member advisory committee the city commission appointed from among volunteers for the assignment. All of those who volunteered were appointed, which is why so large a group was named.
I was among the 14 who spent Monday afternoons for a couple of months listening to in-formation presented by the Kansas League of Municipalities and considering research done by individual committee members and opinions expressed by the 14 of us. The meetings were open and from time to time visitors also expressed viewpoints.
Anyone with experience on committees of that size will understand that no consensus developed. Instead, the 14 of us separated into three groups, each supporting one of the configurations citizens will be asked to choose among on April 6.

ONE OF THE points of contention revolved around the decision to abandon the three-person commission the city adopted by charter ordinance Sept. 25, 1968. On the April 7, 2009 ballot, voters were asked to answer yes or no to this question:
“Shall the City of Iola abandon its organization under chapter 82 of the laws of 1909, and the acts amendatory thereof, and become a city under the general law governing cities of like population?”
Under a 1906 law, the decision the voters made to abandon the three-commissioner form of government would result in default to an eight-member council (not commission) in 2011, unless the current city commission used its home rule  powers to adopt another form of city government before that automatic change was made.
Cities were granted home rule powers under a constitutional amendment approved by a majority of the people of Kansas in 1960 and be-came law in 1961. Under that amendment, a city commission or a city council may issue a charter ordinance spelling out how the city will be governed, including the number of commissioners, or council members, how they will be elected and what powers they will have.
The purpose of the amendment was to keep local government as local as possible and to avoid unnecessary state interference.
When Iola voters decided on April 8  to abandon the three-person commission, they did not also decide in favor of a eight-person council. There was no mention of creating a council or commission of any size on that ballot. But be-cause the 1906 law did provide for a council IF THE CITY DID NOT ACT TO ESTABLISH AN ALTERNATIVE GOVERNMENT, some on the advisory committee and some other interested citizens assumed that the 2009 vote had determined the form of a successor government as well as abandoning the current government.
The Register added to the confusion by not clarifying in its reports and some of its editorial comments that the default provision of an eight-person council and a non-voting mayor would be enacted only if the city commission did not act on the matter.
This mistaken view still persists, despite authorities on the pertinent law to the contrary. The Kansas League of Municipalities and other legal authorities agree that the Iola City Commission has the power under the home rule amendment to create a new government for Iola by charter ordinance. The people then may ask for still another election by petition. If the petition is successful, then the charter ordinance could be rejected by a majority of the voters and a substitute governmental ordinance adopted.

Friday, I will make the case for a four-person commission and a voting mayor.

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