Editorials

Is runoff for KC mayor, council a ‘municipal election’? Incredibly, some officials say no

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Two Light, the Cordish Companies' $120 million, 25-story glass tower has 296 apartments, ranging from $1,200 590-square-foot units to the $6,000, 1,558-square-foot two-bedroom penthouse with a private terrace.
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Two Light, the Cordish Companies' $120 million, 25-story glass tower has 296 apartments, ranging from $1,200 590-square-foot units to the $6,000, 1,558-square-foot two-bedroom penthouse with a private terrace.

The Kansas City Council has a chance Thursday to let common sense defeat absurdity — and to give voters a say in how the city is run.

Last year, a petition committee gathered enough signatures to force a vote on capping the economic incentives the city hands out, such as tax abatements and tax increment financing.

“Allowing the citizens of Kansas City to have a voice in deciding whether or not to continue subsidizing wealthy developers ... is critical,” said a statement from Jan Parks, one of the petitioners.

The city’s charter requires the council to put the plan on the ballot “at the next available municipal or state election.” The deadline for the April ballot was missed, so the committee wants a vote on June 18, when Kansas Citians will elect a new mayor and City Council.

Cue the absurdity.

Some at City Hall are now claiming the June vote isn’t a “municipal” election. You read that right. Some people, including some in the city’s legal office, are actually asserting that the election of Kansas City’s next mayor and council isn’t an official municipal election.

Why? The June election date conflicts, apparently, with some parts of Missouri law. That means the June vote can be — or, some argue, must be — limited to candidates, not ballot issues.

It’s ridiculous, of course. Electing a mayor and council is the very definition of a municipal election. And the charter says petition initiatives must appear on the next available municipal ballot.

It’s even crazier when you realize voters will decide a petition issue in April — a sales tax increase for early childhood education — when they vote in the mayoral primary. The April date is on the state’s calendar, the argument goes, so issue ballot questions are OK.

To review: The April primary is a city election, but the June runoff isn’t.

The Kansas City Council can address this silliness by voting Thursday to put the incentives proposal on the June ballot. If they don’t, the petitioners may go to court to force the issue.

In the unlikely event the courts agree with the bizarre no-June argument, state lawmakers will have to clarify the law before this year’s session ends. A citywide election is a city election, which apparently isn’t obvious enough.

The petitioners want to be on the June ballot for a reason. They want mayoral and council candidates to take positions on economic incentives and the plan to cap them. And the June election no doubt will have a much higher turnout than an August primary in an odd-numbered year.

There will be time to discuss the merits of any cap on economic incentives. Eventually, though, voters will have their say. That should be in June, when they’re picking a mayor and City Council.

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