The Kansas City Council made the right decision recently when it amended the streetcar ordinance adopted by voters last August.
The ordinance was put on the ballot by an initiative petition. It required “voter approval” before city officials could take part in planning for expansion of the existing streetcar system.
Kansas City’s charter allows petitioners to enact ordinances on their own. But it also allows the City Council to amend or repeal those ordinances. It takes nine votes to do so in the first year, seven votes after that.
Voting 10-2, the council exercised its rights. It changed the ordinance, permitting city officials to work on current expansion planning — south to UMKC, for example, or north toward Berkley Riverfront Park.
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The council did not repeal the entire voter-approved ordinance. It kept the part about a citywide election before land can be purchased or construction started on any streetcar plan.
Altering a decision made by voters should not be done lightly or often. At the same time, voters — like the City Council — can make mistakes. That’s why the charter allows amendment and repeal of ordinances.
In this case, the city’s lawyers say the petition ordinance contained “constitutional infirmities” that would have rendered it unworkable.
We support the initiative process, although the number of required signatures should be increased. But it would be a recipe for chaos if petitioners could routinely submit unworkable or unconstitutional ballot measures that somehow became law and could not be amended.
Voters must provide a check on the City Council’s power, but the council must be a check on the voters, too. If petitioners dislike the outcome, they can go to court, submit a better petition — or vote for different representatives.
Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of a streetcar system in Kansas City or the transportation district mechanism used to pay for it. On balance, the system, which taxes beneficiaries of the streetcar, is workable and fair.
But the voter-approved ordinance wasn’t aimed at answering those fundamental questions. It was designed to throw a wrench into planning for a streetcar extension. The voter-approved ordinance was almost certainly illegal and had to be changed or scrapped.
The City Council, exercising its prerogative, did the best it could to protect the city, while leaving intact the possibility of a later citywide streetcar vote. That was the right thing to do.