Mary Sanchez

August 19, 2014

Open seat in Wyandotte County means a lack of representation

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County remains deadlocked on filling one if its commissioner seats. That means a county government less able to respond to the people it ought to represent.

When the Unified Board of Commissioners next meets, one chair will be vacant.

That’s one less person on the board to listen to Wyandotte County residents, to represent their views.

Fair representation. Ensuring that citizens’ voices are heard, their thoughts conveyed to elected officials. Peel back the coverage and that’s one of the factors of unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

The St. Louis area city’s demographics shifted rapidly in recent decades, feeding the perception that the newer African-American residents have far less influence than whites — from public schools to policing.

It’s why voting is so important. And why it’s unacceptable that in Wyandotte County, a seat has gone unfilled for more than a year as repeated voting by commissioners between two candidates has resulted in tie after tie after tie.

At this point, it probably seems easier to do nothing. The suggestion has been made that a coin toss could settle things, but no commissioner has stepped up to force that remedy.

Mayor Mark Holland’s latest reply is to let the seat remain unfilled until elections in the spring. That stand in effect tells voters that they don’t matter, although Holland certainly wouldn’t frame it that way.

The unfilled seat is his 1st District at-large spot, vacated when he stepped into the role of mayor. A slate of 17 people applied to fill the post, with former commissioner Nathan Barnes and developer Don Budd Jr. chosen as finalists. Neither has been able to generate six votes to win. And the Unified Government charter isn’t explicit enough to force the matter to be settled.

Resident and community activist Alvin Sykes is like a well-versed gnat on the issue. He is supportive of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a resident, challenging the lack of representation. Without further action, a judge could eventually force a resolution. A hearing will be held in late September.

Sykes is right to press. County leadership, including Holland, has proved to be forward-focused in many other ways.

An example is a meeting held this week between the interim chief of police, high-ranking police officers and about two dozen community stakeholders. The nearly three-hour gathering was a proactive response to Ferguson, intended to stave off problems that come from police and city leaders not having forged strong connections with residents.

Filling the vacant seat could seal that commitment to Wyandotte County.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Twitter: msanchezcolumn.

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