April or August: When will Kansas City vote on a minimum-wage increase?

Kansas City voters will see a proposed minimum wage ordinance on their ballots. On that much, there’s agreement between attorneys representing the city and those representing petitioners who back the ordinance.

But it’s likely to be the end of this week before it’s known whether the measure will be on the April or August ballot.

Both sides argued their case — the city wanting to wait until August, the petitioners wanting April — in a hearing Wednesday afternoon in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Judge Margene Burnett asked for additional City Council records, with the expectation that she may be able to render a decision by Friday.

Officials from election boards in Kansas City, Clay and Platte counties seek a speedy decision because they want to finalize the content of their April ballots within days.

Burnett is considering the petitioners’ requests for her to prevent the city’s election boards from printing April ballots before the timing of the minimum wage question is decided and to order placement of the minimum-wage proposal on the April 4 ballots.

She also heard arguments from the city that the minimum-wage issue was deemed too serious to rush it to a vote in April and that council members needed more time to consider the proposal.

The proposed ballot language reads, “Shall the City of Kansas City enact now a municipal minimum wage of $10 per hour increased annually beginning in 2017 by $1.25 per hour to reach $15 per hour in 2021?”

The petitioners, affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and other religious and labor interests, want voters to get the earliest opportunity to vote on a city ordinance.

The group initially submitted an initiative petition to put a minimum-wage ordinance on the November 2015 ballot, but a trial court granted the city’s request to keep it off that ballot, thinking it defied state law. The petitioners appealed, and on Jan. 17, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered Kansas City to “take all steps necessary” to place the proposed ordinance before voters.

Two days later, the City Council voted 7-6 to put the measure on the April ballot, but a City Charter provision required nine votes to authorize the ordinance because it hadn’t received three readings, the regular process to move ordinances forward.

Petitioners argued that the council routinely waives the three-readings rule. In order to decide just how routine that practice is, the judge asked for records of all instances between Aug. 1, 2015, and Jan. 19, 2017, when the council has waived the three-reading rule and advanced ordinances on the same date they were introduced.

Burnett also asked for records of instances when issues were placed on city ballots with late notification to the election authorities and for records of instances when issues or candidates were removed after ballot certification dates had passed.

The city argued that council members had no duty to pass the submitted ordinance on Jan. 19, their first meeting after the Supreme Court order, and that the council had a minimum of three weeks to review changes submitted by the petitioners according to standing rules for approving ordinances.

The city also contended it has up to 60 days to review changes in the submitted ordinance “pursuant to the Charter provisions regarding initiative petitions.” The changes in the submitted ordinance involved altering effective dates from the earlier 2015 version of the ordinance, updating them to the 2017 version.

Assistant City Attorney Sarah Baxter represented the city at the hearing. She argued that even if the revisions dealt only with new dates, the council members had received the new version just two hours before the Jan. 19 meeting and hadn’t been able to fully vet it.

The named petitioners in the case are Sam Mann, Lloyd Fields, Rodney Williams, Tex Sample and Wallace S. Hartsfield.

Attorneys Taylor Fields and Clinton Adams represented the petitioners. They argued that an April election would do more to “make whole” the workers they have represented since the 2015 petition.

“It’s also more legislatively efficient and cheaper to place this matter on the April 4 ballot than in August and will do more to comply with the Supreme Court order,” Fields said.

Baxter said it was likely the city will have an August election with more issues than just a minimum-wage ordinance, but procedures aren’t far enough along yet to guarantee that.

David Raymond, attorney with the Kansas City Election Board, told the judge that “we can’t wait until next week.” He sought an order by Friday “so that we can work over the weekend” to prepare April ballots.

The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford