Petition protest may lead to vote
At their meeting Monday night, Tonganoxie City Council members will be asked to decide whether to conduct a special election.
Jean Lenahan, who owns a downtown business with her husband, submitted a petition last week protesting a charter ordinance that council members approved in January. That ordinance would allow the city clerk to live in Leavenworth County or an adjoining county.
Kathy Bard, who began work as clerk in November, lives in DeSoto. She is a former deputy DeSoto city clerk.
City administrator Chris Clark said it was Bard who discovered that an earlier charter ordinance required that the clerk live in Leavenworth County. So the council adopted another ordinance in January.
Now that a protest petition has been filed, it will be up to the city council to conduct a citywide vote on the issue, or withdraw the ordinance.
According to Linda Scheer, county clerk, the petition contained 83 signatures 77 of them from qualified voters in the city. Petitions only required 42 signatures. If city council members decided to conduct an election, it's too late to piggyback the issue on the upcoming April 3 election, Scheer said.
A special election could cost the city about $1,400, she said. That includes the cost of ballots, workers' salaries and other election-related expenses.
"They pay for all the expense of advanced voting, too," Scheer said. "They pay for all direct election expenses, except for my salary and my staff's salary when we're working 8 to 5."
The city administrator clearly is unhappy with the petition.
"I don't think we should allow one person to bully the city," he said. "I really do feel this is a mean-spirited effort. There was no thought to good government in this one."
Clark defended the choice of Bard as city clerk, regardless of where she lives.
"Kathy was by far the best candidate," Clark said. "She was unanimously accepted by the city council. She has my endorsement. I think she has done a great job since she's been here. I've heard nothing but good about her. I think this action has hurt the morale of the people who work in city government.
"I would hope that if this does go to the voters, I hope they show that quality counts and not zip codes."
But Lenahan said city officials hired the clerk illegally and they should be held accountable. In addition, she said the charter ordinance is illegal because it would allow the clerk to live outside the state of Kansas in an adjoining Missouri county which is contrary to the state constitution.
"We're just trying to correct an error the city has made," Lenahan said. "I don't have anything against the girl myself. It's not something I wanted to do, but are we supposed to sit out here like fat, dumb chickens and let the city run roughshod over us?"
Clark said state law requires that city employees live in Kansas.