Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Our view: Charter ordinance should be rejected

January 9, 2008

Next week, Tonganoxie voters have a chance to send a strong reminder to its City Council members: In Tonganoxie, the public's business should be done in public.

The Kansas Open Meetings Act declares that any meeting of a "majority of a quorum" of a public body must be open to the public. Currently, the Tonganoxie City Council has a three-member quorum, which, in effect, bars two council members from getting together privately to discuss city business.

In August, the council, using home-rule powers granted under the Kansas Constitution, approved a charter ordinance setting its quorum at four members, which would allow private meetings about city business among two council members.

A group of residents in September successfully petitioned to challenge the ordinance. The council could have ended the matter by voting to withdraw the ordinance; instead, council members decided to schedule Tuesday's special election on the question.

We said this in August about the council's attempt to change the quorum: "Council members might have had the best intentions in mind in approving the charter ordinance, but the increased quorum could open a Pandora's box and leave residents out of the debate on matters of public interest."

We have neither seen nor heard any argument to persuade us otherwise.

Proponents of the change say one-on-one private meetings would allow for more efficient council meetings. Efficiency should not be a goal of governing. If it is, perhaps the council should consider a charter ordinance allowing a dictatorship, which is, after all, far more efficient than a representative democracy.

Proponents say if somebody were to abuse his or her council position, he or she would do it regardless of the quorum size. Does that mean the law should be relaxed to make it easier to flout? By such reasoning, we should give thieves the key to the door because they're just going to break in anyway.

Proponents say the change will foster better communication among council members. This may be possible with the change, but as we said in August we believe the council should aim higher and make better communication with Tonganoxie residents its goal.

Tuesday's election will ask voters whether they support the charter ordinance. We urge a "No" vote on the question.

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