A Kansas City Council majority defeated an attempt Thursday to add the words “light rail” to ballot measures prompted by Clay Chastain’s petition initiative, and the wording is set for the Nov. 4 election.
The council decision means that voters will be asked whether they want to authorize a quarter-cent sales tax for “capital improvements” and an eighth-cent for “public transportation purposes.”
The council voted 10-3 against proposed language that would have clarified that these two questions resulted from a petition drive and not a city-sponsored ordinance and are intended for a multimodal light rail system.
Council members Ed Ford, John Sharp and Dick Davis voted to add the clarifying language.
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“How much information can and should we give our citizens?” Ford asked, urging his colleagues to change the wording. “That at least gives the voters a little more information on what they are voting on.”
But the majority chose to follow direction from the Missouri Supreme Court and Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff, who have ruled that the council must put Chastain’s two proposed tax increases on the ballot but that no specific project must be built if those taxes pass.
In a flurry of emails and press releases this week, Chastain has argued that the council was breaking faith with nearly 4,000 people who signed his petitions in 2011. He says the city refused to negotiate with him on compromise ballot language and is deliberately trying to confuse voters.
But in a memo summarizing the city’s position, City Attorney Bill Geary countered that it would be more misleading and inappropriate to create the impression that the taxes could be used for a light rail plan when no such project is required under the way Chastain drafted his petition initiative.
“We understand the desire of some to just put something about light rail on the ballot and be done with it,” Geary wrote. “The city does not have the luxury of lawlessness as proposed by this approach. … Anything referring to a light rail plan would be, in the words of the Circuit Court, misleading because there is no such plan proposed by the initiative petition.”
In a telephone interview from his Virginia home, Chastain said he had watched the council debate online, and he thanked the three council members who voted for the revised wording.
“Despite the heroics of Councilmen Ford, Davis and Sharp, the light rail initiative got railroaded by Mayor Sly James and company,” Chastain said.
He said he still plans to campaign aggressively for the ballot measures and, if they pass, to see that the money is spent on a light rail system for Kansas City.