A tiff over council presidency after new Prairie Village members sworn in

David Morrison was forced to defend his suitablity for the role of Prairie Village City Council president.

A standard procedural move following the swearing in of three new Prairie Village City Councilmembers on Monday turned into an airing of grievances about the conduct of Ward 5’s David Morrison, who was set to assume the role of City Council president based on his seniority.

The council president is responsible for running the council committee meetings, essentially serving as the group’s moderator. Tradition holds that the longest-serving member of the City Council who has not already served as council president is voted into the role each April. But after Councilman Michael Kelly nominated Morrison, several councilmembers voiced concerns about his suitability for the position at a time when he was engaged in ongoing legal action against the city.

Morrison has appealed a series of rulings against him to the Kansas Supreme Court in a case involving a petition he distributed in 2009 seeking a ballot measure that would have allowed residents to vote on whether bond money could be used to fund parks projects.

The Prairie Village City Council passed a charter ordinance in 2008 that allowed the city to excuse itself from a state law preventing bond funds from such uses. Morrison attempted to delay the enactment of the charter ordinance by collecting signatures on a petition calling for a ballot measure — but failed to adhere to the state-mandated petition procedure, according to two court rulings. After the appellate court ruled against him in December, Morrison vowed to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Councilman Steve Noll was the first to question whether the time was right for Morrison to take the council presidency.

“I’m sure Mr. Morrison will do a fine job in the role,” Noll said, “but I wonder whether he would consider delaying accepting the position until he is no longer involved in legal action against the city.”

Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins echoed those sentiments, saying Morrison’s insistence on appealing the case again was a distraction and had cost the city considerable time and money. City Attorney Catherine Logan said to date Morrison’s legal actions have cost Prairie Village taxpayers more than $13,000. (At one point, Morrison had said he would pay back any legal costs incurred by the city if he lost his appeal. He has since rowed back that position).

Councilman Dale Warman said that while he didn’t see any ethical problems with Morrison assuming the presidency, he had found the councilman’s actions “very irritating.”

“I think what you’ve done is to take it upon yourself to represent the actions of the City Council in ways that aren’t very flattering, that cause people to start asking themselves questions about everything we do here,” Warman said. “The truth is, everything we do here, we’re trying to make Prairie Village better. I hope you can view this as a learning experience, and understand that you have a responsibility to represent the city.”

In the end, Noll, Hopkins and Wassmer voted against Morrison. Newly sworn-in members Ashley Weaver, Brooke Morehead and Ted Odell voted in favor of Morrison along with Warman, Kelly, Andrew Wang and David Belz.

Weaver, Morehead and Odell were welcomed at a reception prior to the start of the official council meeting. Their predecessors — Al Herrera, Dale Beckerman and Diana Ewy Sharp — did not attend the meeting, though there was an item on the agenda during which Mayor Ron Shaffer was scheduled to present each with a commendation for their service.

City Clerk Joyce Hagen Mundy administered the oath of office to the City Councilmembers elected April 3.