Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Council calls for vote on road funding

Council’s attempt to seek ruling in district court in limbo

October 24, 2006

City attorney Mike Kelly hadn't anticipated what happened at Monday night's Tonganoxie City Council meeting.

But then, who would have.

After meeting behind closed doors with Kelly to discuss a legal matter, council members voted on an issue that had attracted nearly 50 people to their meeting that normally is sparsely attended.

The council, on a 4-0 vote, with member Jim Truesdell abstaining because of potential for conflict of interest, agreed to set a special election on a petition that local residents recently filed. The petition sought a vote on whether the city can spend any money to help upgrade Leavenworth County Road 1 south of town. The upgrade is a necessary move for a new interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. Truesdell works for an engineering firm that is involved in the project.

But then, things got more interesting.

The council, on a 3-1-1 vote, with Truesdell again abstaining and council member Ron Cranor opposed, agreed to order the city attorney to file action in Leavenworth County District Court, seeking a judge's opinion on the legality of the petition.

And that's when Mayor Dave Taylor did something that sent the city attorney to his law books.

The mayor vetoed the council's motion.

And immediately, council members questioned whether the mayor had the authority to veto a motion. He legally can veto ordinances. But Kelly -- after a half-block trip to his downtown law office to do some quick reading -- said the law doesn't speak to whether the mayor can veto motions.

"Nothing says you can," Kelly told the mayor. "But nothing says you can't."

And Kelly said a 3/4 vote of the council -- in this case, four members -- would be necessary to override the mayor's veto. With Truesdell's necessary abstention and Cranor's previous no vote, an override was doubtful. But council member Jason Ward was willing to give it a try.

"I move that should you have the authority to veto the prior motion, that we override your veto and that we reiterate the council seeking a legal opinion to challenge the legal authority of the petition as a valid referendum," said Ward, himself an attorney.

As anticipated, that override attempt failed on a 3-1-1 vote.

Kelly said he would discuss the issue of whether the mayor can veto a motion with officials at the League of Kansas Municipalities. He said he was hopeful he could have an answer to that question at some point on Tuesday.

"I didn't anticipate that," he said of the mayor's veto.

If the mayor cannot veto a motion, the call for the vote stands, but so does the council's decision to seek judgment in district court on the legality of the petition.

If the mayor can veto a motion, the call for the vote stands. And the request for a ruling in district court would be a dead issue at this point.

The petition is seeking to block the city from spending any money on the upgrade of County Road 1. The county will use sales tax revenue, as well as funding from the federal government and the Kansas Turnpike Authority, to widen the narrow county road. City officials have said they would consider spending up to $2.8 million on the project -- but they have committed no exact amount of funds.

Look in Wednesday's edition of The Mirror for more on what Kelly found in his research and on a study that examines the potential economic impact of a turnpike interchange on Tonganoxie.

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