Shawnee council planning to discuss election of president, vice chair in committee next week

(From left) Matt Zimmerman, Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling discussed the process of electing a council president and vice chair with their fellow councilmembers at the Shawnee city council meeting Monday evening.

The Shawnee city council on Monday deliberated for about 45 minutes on the process for electing a president and vice chair.

Some nominations for the two positions were on the table, but ultimately, the council sent the issue to committee on a 4-3 vote for further discussion and perhaps development of a new process.

At the previous meeting, Mayor Michelle Distler had tabled elections of the two positions after the city council couldn’t agree on electing a council president or vice chair for council committee. Multiple nominations for the two positions had failed after 4-4 split votes.

Councilmember Kurt Knappen was absent. Prior to the meeting, he had asked his fellow councilmembers to table election of the president and vice chair until he could be present.

After debating for some time, the council decided to wait and instead put the item up for discussion in committee. Councilmembers in favor of moving to discuss the process in committee included Tammy Thomas, Matt Zimmerman, Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling. Councilmembers Lisa Larson-Bunnell, Lindsey Constance and Jill Chalfie voted in dissent.

The split votes at the Jan. 13 meeting had appeared to fall on philosophical lines for how council business should be conducted. (For context, councilmembers Thomas, Jenkins, Kemmling and Knappen stuck together on their votes, while councilmembers Zimmerman, Larson-Bunnell, Constance and Chalfie stuck together on theirs).

As such, Constance had suggested a compromise for the issue “as a way to move forward” and focus on other city business. Last night, she nominated Zimmerman as president and Kemmling as vice chair.

At one point, Jenkins became upset and pointed out “the elephant in the room”: that because Knappen was absent, then the other four councilmembers he disagreed with on the election would have enough votes to override their three votes.

Frustration on the dais was palpable, as some councilmembers put their names in the hat again, and the process was decried for failing to address the split.

“With my time on the council, never have we had a tie like this where we couldn’t eventually come up with something, so this is new ground,” Kemmling said. “We’ve already once before refined this process and we put a lot of time and effort in PS-7 (the city’s policy statement on conduct of public meetings) to talk about how we would break ties for who would get the first motion, but not how we would break any ties if we couldn’t get a majority. That was a weak spot in the policy statement that we have.”

Zimmerman echoed Kemmling’s sentiments and, like others on the council, asked to address the process first.

“If it takes until July, let’s get this fixed once and for all, because quite frankly this is kind of ridiculous,” Zimmerman said.

Since the council has still not elected a president, then Kemmling will chair the committee meeting and discussions of the election process. Under charter ordinance, the most senior councilmember (most years of service) takes over this position if someone has not been elected.

The next council committee meeting is set for Tuesday, Feb. 4.