Tonganoxie City Council chats second-class status during forum
Tonganoxie City Council received plenty of feedback regarding how it should move forward as a city of the second class.
The council had a forum Monday at the Tonganoxie High School library where four community members joined for discussion.
Kansas statutes require that cities with a population of 5,000 or above become cities of the second class. Tonganoxie recently surpassed that threshold and city leaders have decisions to make in government.
The forum was broken down into five areas of discussion council members deemed most important in moving ahead as a city of the second class.
Discussion areas were: representatives being elected from wards or at-large, compensation for elected officials, issuing bond debt on planned capital projects, form of government and appointment of officers.
Kansas statute requires that cities of the second class be broken into four equally populated wards, with two representatives elected for each ward, though Tonganoxie can opt out and remain as it is.
Chris Donnelly is the only council member who has said he would like to move to wards, while other members say it’s a good system currently. With a five-member council and a mayor, there are no contested races for three council seats in April. With wards there would be eight members.
Tonganoxie Chamber of Commerce board member Greg Orscheln said he favors wards.
“Would the people have more interest in their ward and working with their councilman than we do right now,” Orscheln said. “I think that’s a valid question.”
Council member Bill Peak said voter apathy and citizen apathy raise concerns for him with the size of the governing body.
“Right now, personally, I like it the way it is,” Peak said. Part of the reason is I can see the use of wards when we get a little larger.”
Donnelly said the change would mandate involvement from citizens in specific wards.
“Right now it works really well, but 10 years from now, what’s it going to be?” Donnelly said. “Or eight years from now.”
After overall discussion of each topic, City Administrator Nathan McCommon surveyed visitors on each topic.
Regarding compensation for elected officials, those in attendance preferred compensation at some level.
City council members currently are to receive $1 annually for serving on the council.
McCommon researched various cities of second class for a cross-section of compensation. He said monthly pay ranges from no compensation to $655 for mayors and no compensation to $425 for compensation. Average compensation was $255 for mayors and $160 for council members.
Cecilia Harry, who lives in Tonganoxie and works for the Leavenworth County Development Corporation, said she thought elected officials should be paid in some capacity.
“It’s a sign of appreciation,” she said. “It’s a way to show time is valued.”
When it comes to issuing bond debt, cities of second class can issue debt on projects in an adopted capital improvement plan that is funded through sources other than general funds or enterprise funds such as county sales tax, but the debt must be approved by voters. The council can pass a charter ordinance to opt out of this requirement.
As for form of government, the mayor-council is the city’s current format in which the mayor presides over meetings and only votes to break a tie. It would maintain the city administrator whose duties the council and mayor determine.
A manager-council would allow the city manager to handle day-to-day administrative tasks that deal with all non-elected personnel matters.
McCommon said the city currently has a hybrid of the two. A change to the manager-council format would require a public vote.
The final topic, appointment of officers — city attorney, municipal judge, police chief, city clerk and city treasurer — would allow the mayor to appoint officers with approval of the council.
The next forum will be 7 p.m. Monday, April 1, at the Tonganoxie High School library on the school’s west campus.
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