With member heading to county commission, Roeland Park council discusses change to process for vacancies

Becky Fast, whose departure for the county commission will open up a seat on the Roeland Park council, said she was opposed to the proposed change.

Three Roeland Park councilmembers have proposed that the city consider shifting its approach for filling unplanned city council vacancies by an appointment process rather than holding a special election. The question was raised following Ward One councilmember Becky Fast’s county commission win and pending city council resignation.

Roeland Park’s current code requires the city to fill vacancies that occur more than 180 days prior to the next regular election through a special election process. The special election costs $3,000 and takes 90 days to set up. If Roeland Park were to follow this established process and Fast resigned before her commission term starts in mid-January the special election would provide her replacement by March 2019.

However, if the vacancy occurs less than 180 days prior to next election the position is filled through an appointment by the mayor “with the advice and consent” of the majority of remaining councilmembers.

The discussion point was brought up by councilmembers Jen Hill, Erin Thompson, and Michael Poppa. Poppa said the group was bringing up the item because “it’s relevant” and “not for any other reason.”

Thompson said she felt the extra cost of a special election puts pressure on a councilmember who may need to resign.

Councilmembers Tom Madigan and Fast spoke out in strong opposition to shifting to an appointment process.

Fast said $3,000 was not a high price for people to cast their vote and said she strongly believed in the special elections process.

“That is a sacred right,” Fast said.

Madigan suggested the transition would trigger voter suppression and said if he had to resign he would not want a group of individuals that did not represent his ward choosing his replacement.

“Anytime you prevent people from voting that is voter suppression,” Madigan said.

Poppa noted his disagreement with Madigan’s characterization of the change as voter suppression.

During citizen comment five Roeland Park residents spoke out against shifting the model to an appointment process including former councilmember Scott Gregory. Gregory said bringing the item up for discussion now that there is an empty seat to fill was “not good business” and said the discussion had a “real Donald Trump air to it.”

Due to a heavy agenda, councilmembers agreed to pick up the discussion at the next workshop meeting.

Fast closed out the conversation by reminding councilmembers that if she decided to resign in the near future the existing code would go into effect and trigger a special election.