Legal opinion stalls talks

Committee members appointed to recommend a charter ordinance for a new Iola governing body put their efforts on hold Monday evening, but the delay may be temporary.
Discussion ended after Steve Centlivre, one of 14 committee members, said he talked with the secretary of state’s office and was told that the April referendum required eight councilmen and a mayor to be elected and take their seats. That new body could then pass a charter ordinance to restructure government a second time, if that was their desire, Centlivre was told.
A conversation with Brad Bryant of the division of elections and legislative matters of the secretary of state’s office this morning discovered that a misunderstanding occurred.
The advice given was made on the understanding that the April 7 ballot question not only stated that the present form of city government would be abandoned but also specified that a council form of government would take its place. The ballot question did not make that statement.
When that fact was made known, the secretary of state’s office withdrew its statement, agreed that the city had acted properly and advised the advisory group to depend on the Kansas League of Municipalities for legal advice. In fact, the group had already had an hour-long session with Sandy Jacquot, director of law and general counsel of the League of Municipalities, who assured them that they were on the right course.
John McCrae, former mayor and a member of the agenda committee of the advisory group, planned to explain this sequence of events to the City Commission at today’s meeting.
Committee members had proceeded on the premise that city commissioners had latitude after the election to restructure the governing body through a charter ordinance. Three proposals have been discussed: four members and a mayor, all elected at-large; eight members elected by wards and a mayor elected at-large; six members, four elected by wards, two at-large and a mayor elected at-large.
The 14 committee members are working under the assumption that the current commmission may, by a charter ordinance, authorized through the Home Rule amendment to the Kansas Constitution in 1961, determine whether Iola should have a commission or a council; decide how many members a commission should have and decide whether commissioners should be elected at large or by wards.
This is the assumption on which the current commission acted when it created the advisory committee. Ms. Jacquot confirmed that premise.
All agree that a charter ordinance, once passed by the city commission, can by challenged by citizen petition and put to a vote.