With Shaffer possibly leaving, Prairie Village cleans up procedure for filling mayoral vacancy

Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer may not see the end of his fourth term in office if his bid for a County Commission seat is successful.
Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer may not see the end of his fourth term in office if his bid for a County Commission seat is successful.

Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer’s announcement that he’s seeking a move to the Johnson County Commission raises the prospect that the city will need to fill a vacancy in its highest elected office come January 2015.

But a recent review of the city’s ordinances dictating the procedure for replacing a mayor found a potentially problematic discrepancy.

A city ordinance passed in 1973 laid out a process by which the acting city council president automatically fills the remainder of the mayor’s term. But in 2001, the city council passed a charter ordinance that established the following procedure for replacing a departed mayor:

  • The city council president acts as mayor for a time not to exceed 30 days
  • Members of the city council vote before that 30-day period expires to appointment a current council member to serve as mayor until the next scheduled city election
  • At the next city election, the public votes to elect a mayor to fill the unexpired term

Because a charter ordinance overrides normal city ordinances, the 1973 code essentially became invalid in 2001 – but the code still remained on the books, which could have caused confusion. Current city staff noted that city staff at the time should have updated the code in 2001 to reflect the passage of the charter ordinance, an oversight that troubled councilor Ruth Hopkins, who was on council at the time of the charter ordinance’s passage.

“I’m worried that the will of the council was not adhered to,” she said. She noted that the council had carefully crafted the procedure laid out in the charter ordinance to produce the best candidate possible for replacing a mayor.

Council tradition holds that the role of council president is traditionally held by the most-recently elected councilor who has not already served in the role – meaning that the council president is often among the least experienced members of the governing body. Before being ousted from the council, David Morrison was council president.

Hopkins said the process adopted in 2001 gives the council the ability to appoint the best candidate possible from among serving councilors.

“Yes, it could be contentious, absolutely,” Hopkins said of the councilors voting among themselves. “But I think you end up with a better selection than just having the council president in there automatically.”