Hearing on city changes sought

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Iola Mayor Bill Maness said he would like to see public hearings set so that Iolans can sound off on what form of city government they would like to have.
Commissioners will decide in the coming months whether to adopt a new charter ordinance that could:
— Speed up the process in which the existing city commission is disbanded for a larger commission or city council.
— Decide on the size of the new governing body, including the mayor’s role.
— Alter the schedule in which the new city councilmen or commissioners are elected.
— Decide whether the new elected officials are elected at large or as representatives from each of the city’s four voting wards.
Iolans in April voted to expand the council’s size.
Under Kansas law, the vote effectively erases all of the city’s existing charter ordinances and puts the new governing body — a mayor-council form of government — in place in April 2011. The new council will have eight members, two from each of Iola’s four voting wards, plus the mayor elected at-large.
The problem was, most voted for the referendum without realizing the specifics, Maness said, in response to a question from Iolan Ray Shannon.
“The question was restrictive and confusing to voters,” Maness said of the proposal’s obtuse language.
Shannon was at Tuesday’s Iola City Commission meeting to ask commissioners whether they’d already decided to deviate from what the voters approved in April.
City Attorney Chuck Apt confirmed previously that the city can deviate from the plan if commissioners adopt a series of charter ordinances to put a new form of government in place.
“I’ve heard we’ve already decided to go to a five-member commission,” Shannon said. “We voted for nine (eight councilmen and a mayor). I’d like to see us go back to the plan that we voted on.”
“Nothing has been decided,” Maness said, “and I don’t think it’s our intent to rush and go afoul of the voters’ intent.”
But, Maness clarified, he’d like to know precisely what the voters intended.
The commissioners directed Apt to draft a letter to Iola citizens, informing them of the city’s options. Apt will visit with attorneys from the Kansas League of Municipalities as well.
From there, Maness said he would like to see a public hearing — “a brainstorming session” — to hear whether Iolans would favor an eight-member city council, a five-member commission, or other combination.
Regardless of what route the city takes, boundaries for Iola’s four voting wards must be redrawn, Apt said, because of significant population losses in the south part of town, largely due to the 2007 flood.
The four wards must have roughly the same population in each, Apt said.