Archive for Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Error dating to 2002 causes McLouth to set April elections

Mayor, entire City Council to be on ballot this year

January 16, 2008

This is no joke: McLouth plans to hold an election to determine all five council seats and the mayoral position.

The proposed date? April Fools' Day.

A procedural error in 2002 is forcing the council to schedule the election and clear up any confusion about the city's governing body and when its members are elected.

City Attorney Carol Ruth Bonebrake said that while going over documents with Mayor Mike Graveman in preparation for last week's council meeting, she discovered an issue with an ordinance that was approved more than five years ago.

A 2002 ordinance regarding elections was found to be incorrect. A regular ordinance was passed to amend a charter ordinance - a right that cities have to implement home rule regarding certain state laws. However, proper procedure requires that a new charter ordinance is needed to amend a previous charter ordinance. A charter ordinance requires two publications in the city's official newspaper, as well as a 61-day protest period.

The original charter ordinance, which passed in 1983, called for a city election to be held every first Tuesday in April. A 1983 charter ordinance also laid out a plan for staggering elections of council members - three seats would be up for election for two-year terms beginning in 1984. The mayor and the remaining two council members, meanwhile, would be up for election for two-year terms beginning in 1985.

The 2002 regular ordinance, which the council approved at the time, called for all elections to be held in April during odd-numbered years. The ordinance also laid out a plan for council members and the mayor to serve four-year terms instead of two-year terms.

But because the 2002 law was not done as a charter ordinance, it was ruled invalid.

Fixing the problem

Fast forward to this year.

If the 2008 charter ordinance successfully survives the protest period, the city would incur costs associated with the election because it is not a regular election. Mayor Mike Graveman said Wednesday he was unsure how much the election would cost the city.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the council voted to approve a charter ordinance that calls for the April 1 election in which all five council seats, as well as the mayor's seat, will be voted upon.

The top two vote-getters for council seats, as well as mayor, would serve three years terms, while the remaining three each would serve a one-year term. That would then put all of them up for re-election in regular cycles - three in 2009 and two in 2011.

After McLouth officials discussed the election situation with the Kansas League of Municipalities, the council decided the best option was to follow through with a new charter ordinance.

If the charter ordinance survives the protest period, it becomes law.

The deadline for candidates to apply for the election - which is open to all McLouth residents - is Jan. 22 at McLouth City Hall. Applications are available at McLouth City Hall and the Jefferson County Courthouse in Oskaloosa.

If the ordinance becomes law, the election would be on the first Tuesday in April, which is April Fools' Day.

"We had a good laugh in the irony in that as well," Graveman said.

Sandy Jacko with the Kansas League of Municipalities said Friday that a situation such as McLouth's "occasionally happens."

Elections since 2002 haven't exclusively pertained to voting candidates into office. For instance, in 2006, voters approved retail liquor sales in the city. And in 2007, a proposed 1 percent increase in sales tax to fund utility improvements failed at the polls.

Laws still valid

Jacko explained that those measures were valid because council members were serving as de facto officers.

"They were acting in good faith as the governing body," Jacko said. "Any action taken would be lawful. They were in fact serving as the governing body."

She added that, although McLouth got "off-track" through the error in procedure, all elections still are valid.

"That doesn't invalidate any of the actions they took," Jacko said.

Graveman said he's not received any feedback regarding the charter ordinance, other than from residents in attendance at Tuesday's meeting.

"It seemed to be very positive," Graveman said. "People in the meeting recognized that we are reacting to the situation of which we had no control over. And, that we're trying to do the right thing with voters."

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