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Charter Review Commission seeks public input

Updated: 2013-08-05T03:00:45Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City’s Charter Review Commission, which has been meeting since mid-June, wants to hear residents’ opinions about several major city government reform proposals.

The commission will hold public hearings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today at the Southeast Community Center, 4201 E. 63rd St., and again on Aug. 12 at the same time at Northland Neighborhoods Inc., 4420 N.E. Chouteau Trafficway.

The commission is considering recommending major changes to the city’s charter, which is its governing constitution. Proposals include giving the mayor more power to hire and fire the city manager; creating more and smaller City Council districts to increase minority participation; and changing the dates of council primary and general elections, which currently occur every four years in February and March.

Turnout in three recent Kansas City municipal elections averaged just 23 percent, lower than in some other peer cities. The poor turnout could be affected by adverse winter weather or other factors such as voter apathy and a feeling of disengagement from city government, commission members said.

At a recent commission meeting, Shawn Kieffer and Shelley McThomas, the two directors for the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners, noted more problems with the four-week window between the February primary and March general election.

That compressed time frame makes it difficult for election officials to print the general municipal election ballots, McThomas said. And it disenfranchises absentee voters such as people in the military or senior citizens, who normally have six weeks between elections to request and receive a ballot and send it back.

“It really puts absentee voters who vote by mail at a great disadvantage,” she said.

It’s also expensive to hold those two candidate elections, especially when Kansas City sometimes has to put its election issues on the April statewide ballot just days later. Kieffer suggested the city could save at least $500,000 by holding its primary election on the statewide April date and its general election in June, which would give the election board more time and avoid the winter season.

Some prominent African-American and Latino leaders have also urged the charter commission to recommend changing how council members are elected. Currently, the City Council consists of the mayor and 12 council members, including six elected from a particular part of town and six who run citywide.

Some minority groups and other election observers would like to see that changed to nine in-district members and three at-large members, or all 12 members running just within a district. They feel that would make it easier and cheaper for candidates to go door-to-door and less difficult for minorities to get elected to the council.

But some incumbent council members have told the commission to preserve the status quo because they feel the current system works well and gives the city a balance of representatives with an in-district versus a citywide perspective.

The commission hopes to begin refining its proposals by the end of August. Any charter reform recommendations would have to go to the City Council, which must agree to put them on a ballot for final voter approval.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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