The city administration and members of the council might not be happy about it. But by the end of next month, they’ll have to have a plan in place for shifting the city’s elections from April to November.
On Monday, City Administrator Quinn Bennion presented the council with two preliminary options for making the shift, which is necessitated by the state legislature’s passage of HB 2104 in May.
Bennion, who had previously characterized the bill as being extremely poorly written, gently elbowed Topeka lawmakers again for “eroding our local control over elections.”
“This is being forced on us by our state legislature,” he said.
Under the two options presented to the council Monday, the city could either shorten the terms of councilors and the mayor by three months or could extend them by nine months.
The two scenarios are illustrated in the following chart prepared by city staff:
Councilors asked to delay discussion of the options until they had time to think through the potential strengths and weaknesses of each route. Bennion told the council that he and city staff had been in talks with Westwood, Mission and Leawood — three of the other municipalities among the small minority of Kansas cities that currently have even-year elections. Bennion noted that Mission was currently leaning toward extending the terms of its officials to comply with the new law while Westwood was leaning toward shortening its terms. Some confusion still exists about whether the law mandates odd-year elections only.
To make matters more convoluted, Bennion said the legislature was likely to readdress HB 2104 when it reconvenes to clear up some of the many vagaries in the bill’s language. But the city must start proceedings to update its charter ordinance to comply with the bill as passed by early November — before the legislature makes any tweaks to the law — because changes to charter ordinances take so long to work through the council system.
Mayor Laura Wassmer suggested that the need to update the charter ordinance to comply with the state law might also provide a window of opportunity to review other fundamental changes to the council structure — like whether councilors should be compensated, how many councilors are elected, and whether council seats are elected by district or at-large.
The council will discuss their options in detail in the coming weeks.