Mission begins grappling with how to transition city elections; three-year term possible to make the move

Vote_hereA new Kansas law that changes when municipal elections are held has cities trying to figure out how to make the transition in the face of conflicting opinions on what they can and cannot do. In some places, it will mean that current officeholders get their terms extended.

The transition is especially difficult for those that now hold their elections in even-numbered years. The new law, which takes effect in 2017, moves the elections from April to November and only in odd-numbered years. Leawood, Mission, Prairie Village and Westwood are the northeast Johnson County cities that currently hold their elections in even-numbered years and can’t satisfy the new law by simply extending a term from April to the next January (when candidates elected in November take office).

The Mission City Council began its initial planning Wednesday night in advance of a joint meeting next week among attorneys and administrators from Mission, Prairie Village and Westwood. Leawood plans to extend terms ending in April 2016 to November 2017 and make a similar move in 2018.

“It’s kind of a mess,” said Mission City Administrator Laura Smith. An interpretation of the law by the Kansas League of Municipalities raises questions about whether cities can hold an April election next year as part of the transition. “Every day that we talk to someone, we hear something different,” Smith said. The law apparently allows even-year elections in some conditions.

Mission Councilor Dave Shepard, whose term expires in 2016, said he preferred a one-time election for a three-year term in 2016 to get the city on track for odd-year elections. Shepard opposed the 20-month Leawood extension scenario, saying he was elected to fill a four-year term and not a six-year term. He said the council benefits from new members periodically. “You’ve got to have this rotation.”

Shepard said keeping municipal elections on their own cycle would give more focus to those issues. And, he advocated that they remain non partisan. “Ideology doesn’t fill potholes,” he said. Councilors were in strong agreement on remaining non partisan and several expressed support for Shepard’s views on the short extension, possibly to November 2016.