Voting curbs headed for referendum
Petitioners challenging a proposed charter ordinance that could eliminate voters’ rights to approve or reject adding to Marion’s debt got an expensive taste of their own medicine Thursday.
Rather than do as petitioners suggested and abandon the ordinance — written by a firm the city hires to sell its bonds — the city council voted 3-2 to spend an estimated $4,000 for a referendum on it Dec. 20.
Council members Ruth Herbel and Jerry Kline voted against scheduling an election that could eliminate future elections. Herbel stressed that the Kansas Constitution said an election was necessary “if called” and that the city could drop its attempt to preclude future bond elections by simply not scheduling a vote on the proposal, officially known as Charter Ordinance 22.
Herbel asked Mayor David Mayfield where he wanted to read that part of the law.
“No, I don’t need to,” Mayfield said.
He then moved to approve the referendum.
Herbel said she would actively campaign against the charter ordinance and encourage people to vote against it.
Mayfield, cutting her off at times, said that was her prerogative.
County clerk Tina Spencer said in an Oct. 10 letter to city clerk Tiffany Jeffrey that nearly twice the required number — 79 registered voters — had signed the petition, filed by planning and zoning commission member Darvin Markley. Spencer deemed the petition valid.
Under the Kansas Constitution, the ordinance cannot take effect unless voters approve it at a referendum conducted in the manner of a normal municipal election. The council, however, could have opted not to schedule an election and the charter ordinance would have died.
Spencer estimated cost of the election at $4,000, not including city legal ad fees.
Mayfield, who has supported allowing the city to borrow money without voter approval, asked Herbel: “You don’t think the balance of residents have a right to vote?”
Council members passed the charter ordinance on a 4-1 vote — with Herbel opposed — July 25.
Gilmore Bell, a company that charges the city to sell its bonds, wrote the charter ordinance.
Statutes specify that bonds for public improvement may be issued after a city engineer has developed a master plan for development and the borrowing is approved in a referendum.
The charter ordinance would allow elimination of voting and specify that a master plan be submitted by the city administrator, not an engineer.
The ordinance also would allow the city to borrow not just for improvements but to acquire land not already part of the city and to purchase vehicles or other personal property for use related to improvements.
The ordinance would allow the city to pass a resolution specifying the amount and purpose of bonds. It would not be required to publish the resolution. A two-thirds majority would not be required.
At the time of the July vote, city officials had been discussing issuing $1.875 million in bonds to be paid with revenue from a 0.75% sales tax. That tax, imposed 21 years ago to pay for industrial park improvements has paid off a bond and, rather than pay for additional improvements in the industrial park, was used for other purposes, including paying for an economic development director.
Of the bond money, $850,000 would be used for the industrial park. The rest of the new borrowing would pay for 10 city blocks of street work. However, most — if not all — of those blocks do not appear to be priorities on the most recent version of the city’s capital improvement plan.
Last modified Nov. 3, 2022