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Clay County panel takes first steps to reshape county government

The newly formed Clay County Constitutional Charter Commission recently took its initial steps toward reshaping county government.

Twelve of the 14 appointed members attended the group’s second meeting last Wednesday. Members discussed a schedule, future agenda items and possible meeting locations. The commission also elected its leaders.

Gladstone Mayor Carol Suter will serve as the Democratic chairwoman. David Ramsay, a Democrat, will serve as the group’s secretary and Republican Kim Murphy is the treasurer.

Six Republicans attended the meeting but did not select a chairman. Tamera D. Evans, a Republican member, was absent and has since alerted Presiding Circuit Judge Larry D. Harman that she cannot serve on the commission.

Suter said she was impressed that the group was eager to get to work.

“We may have our differences but everyone seems to be willing to get along and are very focused on getting the task done successfully,” she said.

The measure to create the charter commission won voter approval in November. Supporters said the county’s government, whose form hasn’t changed since it was established in 1820, needs to be updated.

Adopting a county charter would give the county the ability to pass some laws county officials now must ask the state legislature to approve.

But opponents say adopting home rule might increase taxes and other county expenses. If approved, charter government would unnecessarily add another layer of bureaucracy to county government, opponents say.

Clay County currently conducts partisan elections. Voters elect a three-member County Commission and nine other officials — prosecutor, sheriff, auditor, county clerk, treasurer, assessor, tax collector, recorder of deeds and public administrator.

Previous attempts to reform county government occurred in 2002 and in 2005. Voters rejected both efforts for home rule.

Commission members will serve one year without pay to draft a constitution that also must be approved by voters.

Craig Porter, a Republican member of the commission, said it was essential that the group devise a document that voters would approve. Porter also said the commission’s approach had to differ from previous reform efforts.

“It needs to be more in line with what our citizens expect from a local government entity,” Porter said. “Hopefully, we will have a great deal of public participation so we will know exactly what our citizens want.”