Beginning July 1, Prairie Village city employees, like most public workers in Kansas, will be allowed to carry concealed firearms while on the job.
The City Council on Monday voted to remove city restrictions in response to a new state law signed last month that prohibits cities, counties and many other public employers from prohibiting legally qualified employees from carrying concealed handguns while performing their official duties.
The council approved the change by a 8-4 vote, but even some of those voting for it said they were doing so “under protest.”
“I don’t think any of us are supportive of this,” said Mayor Laura Wassmer. “I don’t think any of us are supportive of the state imposing their will on the cities for many things. But I think our hands are tied.”
The new rules require employees to keep their weapons concealed at all times and that their firearms can’t interfere with their official duties or use of safety equipment. Employees can keep a firearm in their personal vehicles on city property as long as the weapon is hidden and the vehicle locked. They may also carry the weapon in a city vehicle as long as the weapon’s owner is present.
Employees are still not allowed to carry concealed weapons into the Police Department, and when visiting a private business or residence they must abide by any firearm restrictions set by the property owner.
Those who voted against the change said they chafed at the state Legislature once again interfering with local government and generally felt having guns on the job was dangerous.
“I do not think that it makes our employees, our workplaces or our residents any safer,” said Councilwoman Jori Nelson. “I do believe in an individual’s right to own a gun. I do not believe that guns belong in the workplace.”
Although several council members discussed whether the city could ignore the new law, City Attorney Catherine Logan said the state attorney general could force the city to comply and it would open the city to legal challenges from employees wanting to carry concealed weapons.
In other business, the council voted 11-1 to adopt a slightly modified list of new rules affecting residential construction in lots zoned R-1A and R-1B.
The rules are aimed at addressing concerns by some residents about builders replacing older, smaller homes with much larger houses that are out of character with the surrounding neighborhood.
Among the changes:
▪ Reduce the maximum height of buildings in R-1B from 35 feet to 29 feet while keeping the maximum height of R-1A structures, which are typically on larger lots, at 35 feet. In addition, the rules now measure a building’s maximum height in R-1A and R-1B from the top of the foundation to the roofline’s highest point instead of measuring the average height of a sloped roof.
▪ Allow new and replacement buildings to be built between 6 inches and 24 inches above grade along the front of the house instead of at the same first floor elevation or lower than the building being replaced. They also added more specific criteria for evaluating homeowner requests seeking an exception to this rule.
▪ Expand the minimum side setbacks to a total of 20 percent of the lot width, although the two sides don’t have to be equal. For typical R-1A lots, that increases the minimum side setback from 5 feet on each side to 7 feet and requires at least 14 feet between adjacent houses. For typical R-1B lots, the distance increases from 4 feet on each side to 6 feet and requires at least 12 feet between adjacent houses.
This change is different from the one recommended by the Planning Commission and developed over the last eight months through a series of community meetings, which changed the minimum side setback on each side to 10 percent of the lot width, or 8 feet for R-1A and 6 feet for R-1B. Council members proposed the change as a way to give home builders greater flexibility in meeting the goal of preventing large homes crowding their neighbors.
City officials noted that the changes would not replace neighborhood association guidelines that are more strict.
Council members also voted 6-5 to set aside $63,000 in the 2017 budget to potentially pay for monthly stipends for themselves and the mayor.
The city’s elected officials currently are not compensated for serving on the city council. A work group of council members proposed paying the mayor $1,200 a month, which would include a $600 stipend, a $400 car allowance and $200 for miscellaneous expenses tied to representing the city. Council members would receive $300 a month as a stipend.
Supporters of the stipends said most area cities pay their elected officials and that the job of mayor in particular requires a lot more time representing the city and researching issues than in previous years and should be compensated.
“I feel the time has come that we have to offer whoever is (mayor) some form of monetary support to encourage quality people with skill sets and desirable experiences to be willing to serve,” said Councilman Steve Noll.
Opponents, however, said the city has done well without paying its elected officials before and there’s little reason to change. Councilman Eric Mikkelson said he’d be willing to discuss compensation but would hold off on paying it until after the current mayor and council members have either left the board or run for reelection to give voters a say.
“I think this is the ultimate conflict of interest,” Mikkelson said. “We’re talking about taking taxpayer money and putting it in our pockets.”
Council members described the $63,000 as a “placeholder” and didn’t mean they would necessarily implement the stipends. They said they will discuss the issue later this year and hold a hearing to get public comments before finalizing anything.
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org