Several election related-items on Monday's Shawnee City Commission agenda were deferred; the board is choosing to address them at the March 5, 2018, City Commission meeting, which would mean they will go before voters at the June general election, as opposed to a special election in November. Some are charter changes involving amended language to line up with state law.

Several election related-items on Monday's Shawnee City Commission agenda were deferred; the board is choosing to address them at the March 5, 2018, City Commission meeting, which would mean they will go before voters at the June general election, as opposed to a special election in November. Some are charter changes involving amended language to line up with state law.

The board had the option of calling for a special election to fill the unexpired term of Ward 6, presently held by board-appointed Ben Salter after Micheal Dykstra's resignation. But, since the Ward 6 seat expires in 2018, deferring action until the official filing for the June general election will enable the elected candidate to go ahead and fill a whole term, instead of going through the election process twice between November and June.

Some City Code changes that also will be brought before voters include:

• In Article III, Section 4, of the City Charter, the proposed ordinance would amend the code's language from specifying that commissioner terms have to be a literal four-year term — changing it to read “until their successor is elected and qualified.”

• In Article III, Section 6, of the City Charter, the board is obligated to appoint one of its members vice-mayor for one year on the first Monday in the month following the general election, and then again annually on the first Monday of the same month each year.

The proposed change takes out literal dates that have to be strictly followed (e.g., the first Monday in the month), and adds some flexibility by replacing them with less restrictive wording. In this case, the proposed amendment reads, “or after the runoff election if applicable that particular year, or on the first Commission meeting in July in years without an election.

• Currently in Article XIV, Section 7, of the City Charter, the board orders the holding of all elections, except as otherwise provided in the Charter, by ordinance. The proposed change would allow commissioners to do it by resolution, which conforms to state law.

What's the difference?

A municipal ordinance generally means that a municipal act is adopted that has the force and effect of a law, the violation of which may be enforced in city municipal court — it's a law. A resolution is a formal expression of the opinion or will of an official municipal body adopted by a vote — it's a position, or a policy.

Background

At a board retreat in January, City Commissioners spent a lot of time hashing out election processes and current issues with the city charter to clarify the terms of office and realign those currently in conflict.

Mayor Richard Finley said, “We need to consider the swearing in immediately following an election instead of waiting two or three months.”

Though a provision states swearing in of newly-elected officials should be immediate, the issue with cutting out the delay is that it causes another portion of the charter — which requires commissioners to serve specifically four years — to become an impossibility for existing commissioners to fill.

Representing the city, Joe Vorndran, an attorney with Stuart Clover Law Firm, explained the problematic issue.

“Between June and September there exists within the charter some ambiguity relating to elections and when new commissioners are to take office,” he said. “… the commission will recall, we have a provision that says new commissioners are to be sworn in immediately — the first Monday following the certification of the general election results.”

The city's charter defines general election as meaning the date on which the state primary is held, which is somewhat confusing, in and of itself, Vorndran said.

“So, essentially you're looking at a charter provision that says you are to be sworn in once elected (and certified the Monday after the June election), which would be the first Monday in July, typically,” he said.

The problem with that, and what prior council interpreted, is there is a potential for a runoff election, which then would place swearing-in the first week of September, Vorndran said.

He said to further complicate matters, Shawnee's charter also requires each commissioner to serve a literal four-year term, and, where we stand right now, the last charter amendment that said to swear in immediately after the June election makes no reference or accommodation for the fact that the first time a new group of commissioners will be sworn in, in July, the outgoing commissioners would not be serving a full four-year term.

“So, we've kind of got all of this at play; I believe the consensus ... was for new commissioners to be sworn in immediately after their election — the first meeting in July — rather than having a “lamed up” period for outgoing commissioners during that 60 days,” he said.

Vorndran said he and City Manager Justin Erickson both did a brief overview of communities of similar sizes.

“It's a little bit of a mixed bag, but I would say, by and large, the majority swears in relatively immediately. … We already have a charter provision that says it — it's just in conflict with two other charter provisions,” he said.

He suggested a charter amendment that doesn't specify that it be a full four-year term, but simply specifies that it be four years between the elections, so there can be some flexibility, to remove that ambiguity, and then go ahead and clarify within the existing charter provision.

“You have to look in another title to find the definition of general election, so if we go ahead and define general election and place the state statutory definition within the charter provision, I think it would remove that ambiguity and you would be left with a situation where, whether it's exactly four years, a little over or under, each commissioner would be sworn in the Monday immediately following the certification of the election results,” he said.

Ward 2 City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr. said he was in favor of looking at the change, citing that he could see a lot of pluses to it.

Ward 5 City Commissioner Lesa Shaw asked how the commission began the delayed swearing-in process in the first place.

Vorndran said, “I would say, best efforts of (former) legal interpretation.”

He said the last charter amendment that simply says new commissioners are to be sworn in the first Monday after the certification of election results, was an amendment ... in 2011, and it, standing alone, makes perfect sense.

“But, combining it with the other existing provisions in the charter — specifically the one that requires you to serve a four-year term — then it creates a conflict between the two,” he said. “Prior counsel (former City Attorney Mary Ann Karns), with whom I have spoken about this issue, essentially gave favor to the longstanding provision that you serve four years, and she was giving deference to the fact that there is a possibility for a runoff election which would take place in August, which would mean the swearing-in would take place in September.”

Vorndran said her rationale was that September is the more appropriate date and it was precedential, because that had been historically when it occurred.

Such charter changes must go before voters to be approved.