Sparks fly as governing options debated

Register Reporter

Iolans may go to the polls again in 2010 to determine the size of the city’s new governing body.
Iola Mayor Bill Maness, speaking at Tuesday’s city commission meeting, said he would favor another citywide vote to adhere precisely to local voters’ wishes.
At issue is how the city responds to last April’s referendum it which the voters decided to abandon the current form of city government.
Commissioners are using a local advisory committee to consider a charter ordinance which would set forth the size and makeup of a new city governing body. If nothing is done, an eight-member council and mayor will be elected in April, 2011, and take over.
Former Mayor John McRae, a part of the 14-member advisory committee, spoke briefly about differing opinions among committee members about the incoming governing body’s size and nature.
Opinions on the advisory group are so diverse that coming up with a single recommendation is unlikely, he said.
“We’ll probably have two or three options for you to consider,” McRae said.
Under the Home Rule constitutional amendment, a city may issue a charter ordinance determining the nature of the city government its commission or council decides to adopt. The ordinance may be brought to a vote through a petition of the citizens. Without such a petition it takes effect.
Maness said he would like to see a charter ordinance go to a vote, even without a petition.
The advisory committee has embraced its challenge, McRae said, and meets each Monday afternoon to discuss the merits of various forms of city government, as well as other topics such as whether the new governing body should meet in the evenings, and whether Iola should consider using a city manager instead of a city administrator.
“It’s been a heck of a civics lesson for all of us,” McRae said.

THE ISSUE sticks in the craw of Iolan Ken Rowe, who maintained at Tuesday’s meeting that April’s vote specified an eight-member city council, with two members coming from each of Iola’s four voting wards.
The commission — by appointing the advisory group — is using “smoke and mirrors” to circumvent the public’s wishes, Rowe maintained.
The city does not need to further consider altering the size of the incoming city government, Rowe said, because “the people of Iola made that decision in April.”
Rowe then started asking questions of each member of the commission until stopped by City Attorney Chuck Apt, who stepped in, noting that the commissioners were not attorneys and should not be expected to give legal opinions.
“This is not an opportunity for you to play question-and-answer,” Apt told Rowe.
Maness noted that the advisory group’s meetings — by design — have had no participation from any of the city commissioners.
“I don’t see the city fighting anything,” Maness said. “I see this advisory group clarifying what the citizens want.”