The Shawnee city council needs to elect a president and vice chair. Here’s what could happen at Monday’s meeting

Recently seated Councilmember Kurt Knappen, shown above in a file photo, won’t be able to attend Monday’s governing body meeting. He’s asked members of the council to table voting for a new council president and vice chair until the following meeting, when he will be in attendance.

It appears the Shawnee governing body on Monday could make a second attempt to elect a council president and vice chair for 2020 — even if not every member of the council is in attendance.

At its previous meeting Jan. 13, the city council had 4-4 split ties on multiple nominations for the two positions. Mayor Michelle Distler then declined to break the tie votes and ultimately tabled both items to the next meeting, which left the positions up in the air.

Election of the two positions requires a simple majority, and attendance of the full council Monday could possibly yield another round of 4-4 ties. However, Councilmember Kurt Knappen has already announced to his fellow members that he will be unable to attend because of work obligations.

In an email he shared with the Shawnee Mission Post, Knappen asked his fellow councilmembers to table the discussion to the following council meeting “in order to include the full council in this decision.”

“This would allow me to be part of the process and allow us to decide this as a unified council,” he wrote his council peers on Jan. 18.

However, Distler said she has concerns about tabling the item simply because Knappen will be absent.

“There’s no way to predict when the entire council is going to be there,” she said. “We’re going to try to move forward with the process, and if it doesn’t move forward, then it does end up getting tabled again. At this point, I can’t predict what’s going to happen, but I can’t table it just because someone’s not going to be there because then somebody could maybe not be at the next meeting as well.”

Coming up with alternative solutions

Per the city’s charter ordinance, the city council elects two of its members to sit as council president and as vice chair. However, there has been interest in recent months in looking at alternatives to the current system.

Nolan Sunderman
Shawnee City Manager Nolan Sunderman will present the council with an outline of possible changes to the existing process in the coming months.

In a memo to the governing body, City Manager Nolan Sunderman said the mayor has directed him to prepare alternatives for the council committee to review in March regarding the process of selecting a council president.

“I’m hoping that…the council can come to a solution that fixes this so it is not an issue every single year,” Distler said. “We definitely need to fix the process. We can’t keep doing this.”

In his email to the council, Knappen also suggested the council consider adopting an alternative approach to electing a council president and vice chair. For example, the city could establish a set rotation that gave each councilmember a turn serving as president. Other Johnson County cities use such an approach.

City Attorney Ellis Rainey said he foresees some challenges with the idea of taking turns — some councilmembers may never get to serve as president if their terms expire and they aren’t re-elected — but he said the city council can work out the details and find a solution that fits Shawnee.

If the council does not elect a president or vice chair next week, then the councilmember with the most seniority (longest time serving on the council) will preside over all future council committee meetings until a president is elected. That would be Councilmember Mike Kemmling, who would also become acting mayor in the absence or disability of the mayor.