Kansas City’s Charter Review Commission agreed Monday to recommend a stronger-mayor form of government, with most members saying it is needed for a more efficient, progressive city.
A majority of commission members were sympathetic to Mayor Sly James’ comments last week that he gets blamed for everything wrong in city government but has little power over the city manager, who runs day-to-day operations.
James said he has a great relationship with the current city manager, Troy Schulte, but he argued that mayors should have unilateral power to fire the city manager, although the mayor still would hire the city manager with the City Council’s consent.
The commission agreed to make that recommendation.
“As a voter, I want my mayor to have that authority. That means the buck stops somewhere,” said Matt Dameron, the commission’s co-chairman.
The commission, which has been meeting since June, plans to finish its work Nov. 4 and then forward its recommendations to the City Council, which must vote to put any new charter on a public ballot. The final say rests with Kansas City voters.
Monday’s debate concentrated on the most contentious issues. Besides the proposal for a stronger-mayor system, the commission agreed to recommend a major change to the City Council structure — but only to promote more public debate, not because there was consensus among the commission members.
The commission agreed to recommend that the City Council consider shifting from six in-district and six at-large council members to 12 in-district representatives of smaller districts. But the commission remained sharply divided over whether that change is really a good idea.
“I’m still struggling with it,” commission member Andrea Bough said.
Supporters said the 12 smaller, more compact districts would give minority candidates, and less-well financed candidates, a fairer chance of getting elected and would make city government more responsive to the electorate.
Skeptics said it would make the city even more divided than it already is, and they weren’t convinced smaller districts would solve the voter apathy problem.
Dameron and others said the idea deserves a more extensive public conversation, which it could get when the City Council takes up the proposed charter revisions.
Some commission members have pointed out that the City Council isn’t likely to support any change to the mayor’s powers or to the council structure. But one recommended revision is likely to get a lot of support.
That would be to change the election season from the chilly winter months (a February primary and a March general election) to milder weather with an April primary and a June general election.
If that change is approved, the next election would be held in spring and summer 2015. The current council took office on May 1, 2011, but the new council wouldn’t take office until Aug. 1, 2015.