Form of government

Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

Goodbye Council, Hello Commission.

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved changing the form of government in Eudora from a Mayor-Council form of government to a Commission-Manager style.  The measure passed 1546 – 768.  This is slightly over a two thirds majority.

“I’m really thankful to the citizens of Eudora for supporting this change in government,” Councilwoman Ruth Hughs said. “We’re growing up.  This set’s us up for even more success in the future.”

With voters approving the change in style, the next step will be for the current City Council to pass a charter amendment that will move the number of Commissioners from the state regulation of three Commissioners to the Council preferred number of five.  This move will allow the current sitting Council members who are not up for election in 2013 to become part of the new Commission.  All five Commissioners will be at large and there will be no split into wards.  In May when the The  new Commission is seated, the first agenda item will be to determine how they will select a Mayor from among the five Commissioners.

“This is the right move at the right time,” Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson stated. “I’m very happy with the outcome.  I just wish more people would have come to the public hearings we had on this so that those who voted against the change could have understood why we were asking for this.”

City Administrator John Harrenstein, who will likely inherit the title of City Manager, also weighed in on the change.

“It represents a commitment to professional and ethical government by the citizens of Eudora,” Harrenstein said. “It’s now up to us to use that structure to move us into the future.”

One of the trivial items to note about the form of government change is that Scott Hopson will go down in history as the last elected Mayor for the city.

“I’m honored to be the last elected mayor,” Hopson said.  When we asked Hopson about his future plans now that, when his current term expires in May, he will be out of a job, he was very non-committal.

“Right now I’m not sure what to do. Eight years of elected service is a long time,” Hopson explained. “I’m torn between taking a break and keep moving on.  I’ll be sitting down with my wife and talking with her about it and at the moment, I just don’t know.”

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This November, there will be a question on the ballot asking citizens to approve a change in the form of government from Mayor-Council to Commission Manager.

While we have written stories about this possible change in government in recent months, I still have people come up and ask me “what’s this form of government thing all about?”

The city mailed a letter to all the citizens in Eudora recently that explained many reasons for the change, but we wanted to try to help explain this in a little more plainly.

Q: Why is someone wanting to change the form of government in Eudora?

City Council Answer:  In the letter to citizens, the City Council outlined how “it became apparent that a professional management team was needed to administer the affairs of the city government.”   Later on they stated how it “will improve the ability of the City Council to work as a policy making team which is crucial for any organization to move forward.”

Editor Answer: The statements by the City Council are true.  With that said, from my observations as a reporter covering the City Council for the last two years, this change they wrote about has happened over the course of the last couple of years already. Making the city Commissioner-Manager based by a vote makes it formalized.

The proposed change in government was brought about when the City of Eudora moved from a City of the Third Class to a City of the Second Class in 2010. This reclassification was done because of population growth in the city limits.  This was not a change that someone just wanted or thought would “be neat” or “make us more important”, it had to be done according to state law.

Q: What will this change do to our city government?

A: The short answer: hardly anything.  The longer answer:

1) We will no longer elect a “Mayor”.

2) Instead of having a City Administrator, we will have a City Manager

3) We will no longer have City Council members, we will have City Commissioners

Q: Why are they getting rid of the Mayor?

A:  The city would not be getting rid of the Mayor, citizens just would not elect a mayor by popular vote.  A mayor would be appointed from the City Commissioners by the City Commissioners. The mayor in our current form of government,  presides over City Council meetings, breaks a tie vote at those council meetings, signs proclamations, attends ribbons cuttings and that’s about it. (Side Note: He can rattle his sabre loudly in an attempt to get something done like cable median barriers on K-10, but he has no official power to get anything done.)   The mayor can sit up there on the dais during Council meetings and say whatever he or she wants to say but they have no vote unless there is a tie. A tie vote has occurred once since August 2010. The mayor’s position is 99% ceremonial.

Q: What is the difference between City Administrator and City Manager?

A: In Eudora’s case, not much.  It’s a different title but the job functions are similar, and in Eudora’s current form, the Administrator acts as a de facto manager already.  He gains no more powers by going from Administrator to Manager.  He has the the same purchasing and personnel authorities that he has now.

Q: Wont we have to move to three commissioners instead of the five Council members?

A: No.  State law says that a commission is to be three members, but the City Council will pass a charter amendment that will allow them to stay at five commissioners.  This has been openly discussed and being planned on if the ballot measure passes. This charter amendment is allowed and has been used in other municipalities before.

Q: Won’t there have to be wards?

A: No. While wards are also part of the Commissioner based system, the Council will also pass a charter amendment so that the five commissioners will all be at-large commissioners instead of breaking the city up into wards.  In future Commissioner elections, citizens will continue to be able to vote for the number of open seats on the Commission, just as they vote on the open seats for the Council now.

Statement:  Money collected in wards only gets spent in those wards.

Response: There will be no wards. Taxes will not go to certain parts of the city, leaving others out.  For the record, there has been never been any City Council member, the Mayor or city staff talk in an open meeting or interview about dividing the town into wards other than to ask the question about whether they had to do so.  The answer they received was no.

Q: Won’t we have to vote for all new commissioners in the next election?

A: No.  With the charter amendment that sets up five commissioners, we will not have to re-elect all members of the Council. In the current form of government, we would elect the Mayor and two City Council members in the next election.  If this change passes, we will only elect the two Commissioners seats up for reelection.

 

While this change may seen as a major shift in our city government, in reality it is not.  When the Council voted to move powers from the Mayor to the City Administrator a few years ago, we basically moved to this form of government at that time.   All this does is make it more official.

A good analogy is the couple who have been living together in the same house for 15 years finally going to the justice of the peace to get married. It doesn’t change how the household is being run or anything else.  It simply says the courts and government recognize that the couple is now in an official partnership. The form of government has been, in effect,  a Commissioner-Manager form for over two years now.

Having followed the process and asking many a questions over the course of the last year and a half, I can confidently say that I support this effort and this will not change the procedures of how the City is run.

 

John Schulz

Managing Editor

The opinions expressed in this editorial are the views of the Managing Editor and not necessarily the opinions of the staff or advertisers of eudorareporter.com.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

The November election ballot got a bit longer on Monday night.  The Eudora City Council passed a measure to ask the voters of Eudora to change the form of Government for the City of Eudora from a Mayor/Council form of government to a Commission/City Manager form of government.

The idea to change the form of government came about in December 2010 when the City of Eudora moved from a City of the Third Class to a City of the Second Class.  By state statute, cities of the Second Class are to have a Commission based form of government.  Cities of the Third Class, which Eudora was prior to the elevation in designation, have a Mayor/Council form of government.

“This is the best time to make a move like this,” Councilwoman Ruth Hughs said. “There is no point in having someone run for Mayor and then have the position eliminated a short time down the road.

Hughs also wants people to know the mayor is not being ousted or that it is some attempt to get rid of him.

“Our mayor is actively behind the idea to moving to this form of government,” Hughs said.

The duties of the mayor’s position, for the last few years,  has been to preside over Council meetings and other ceremonial activities such as proclamations and ribbon cutter.  The Mayor has no vote at City Council meetings unless there is a tie vote.  That instance has happened only once in the last two years.

The interesting part of this change is that, by law, the City Commission would then automatically be reset to a three member panel.  The City Council has already said that they plan on offering a charter ordinance if the motion does pass, that will take it from three members back to its current five members.  An additional charter ordinance would keep the terms staggered and allow current members who were elected in 2011 to finish out their current term.  The current Council members who were elected in 2011 include Ruth Hughs, Kenny Massey and John Fiore.   The Council positions currently held by Bill Whitten and Tim Reazin would be up for election.  How the person who would be named “Mayor” has yet to be determined.

The other interesting fact is the 2013 City Council election.  Councilman Bill Whitten has stated on the record to Eudorareporter.com that he does not plan on running for his seat. Councilman Reazin has said he is undecided at this time.  Would one of the winner’s of that election be named Mayor or would it come from one of the returning members?

Time will tell and the people of Eudora get to decide the issue first at the ballot box.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

The Eudora City Council is looking at changing how the city of Eudora is governed.

At the City Council meeting on Monday night, The Council heard a presentation from Dr. John Nalbandian, a faculty member in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Kansas. Nalbandian also served on the Lawrence City Commission during the 1990’s and served two years as Mayor of Lawrence during his time on the commission.  Nalbandian outlined how the city government of Eudora is currently setup and showed alternatives from nearby cities including Lawrence and Ottawa and some cities with larger population bases.

The form of government question came about when the City of Eudora became a City of the Second class in December, 2010.  The state has regulations on how cities of the Second Class govern themselves that are different from Third Class cities. Cities have the option of chartering out of the regulations and can continue governing as they had in the past. Eudora chartered out of those regulations earlier this year.

Currently, the City of Eudora is governed by the City Council who votes on all issues presented to the Council and the Mayor does not vote unless it’s to break a tie. As the Mayor learned during the presentation on Monday night, he also has veto power in Eudora, which can be overridden by the City Council with a supermajority.

Many on both the past and present City Council feel the Mayor should have more power than tie-breaking and purely ceremonial duties.  Newly elected Council member John Fiore stated “I feel the Mayor should be on more of an equal footing with the Council.”

Current Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson feels the city should move to a model similar to Lawrence and do away with a person elected solely as “Mayor”.  In Lawrence, three out of the five city commissioners are voted on every two years and they highest two vote getters in that election are then named mayor for a one year term during the next two years.

“I think a system like that (referring to Lawrence) would keep everything more honest” Hopson said. “With a powerful mayor, there is the possibility to manipulate the system.”

There are two ways the City Council can change the form of government. They have the option of simply passing an ordinance that allows more power to the Mayor’s position. The down side to this is that it can be easily changed or reversed by future Councils.

The other, more complicated way, is by offering a resolution to change the Eudora’s constitution. By offering a possible change to the City Constitution, it requires a vote by the citizens of Eudora in an election and it means that all City Council members would then have to run for election again.  The number of City Council members could also be enlarged or reduced, depending on what the current City Council would propose.

We want to find out what you think. Do you feel that the Mayor should be given more power in governing the City? Do you think that the city should move to a Commissioner based system in Lawrence? We have set up a poll question on the right hand side of our site to give you the chance to weigh in on your thoughts. You also, as with any story on eudorareporter.com, leave your comments below.

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