by Mary Rupert
A resident recently asked a judge to order the Unified Government to fill an open commissioner seat, and UG attorneys responded with an answer April 10.
The UG answer was that the plaintiff, Carolyn Wyatt, lacks standing to bring the action; the petition fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and the appointment of a person to fill the at-large District 1 position is a discretionary act, in which the court action, a writ of mandamus, is not an appropriate remedy.
The UG’s answer to the petition also says that the UG has made a good faith effort to fill the vacancy, but no candidate received the necessary majority of votes for appointment, and that the appointment is a “political question over which the court lacks or should decline to exercise jurisdiction.”
A Kansas City, Kan., resident and human rights activist, Alvin Sykes, was working with the plaintiff in this effort to ask the court to order the UG Commission to fill the open spot. The UG Commission seat has had a vacancy around a year, and did not fill the vacancy when a tie vote was reached last year.
“The worst was when they said it was discretionary,” Sykes said. “It defies plain English and definitions.”
The UG’s charter says the vacancy “shall” be filled, he said, which means it must be filled. The charter states the commission shall solicit recommendations from eligible voters in the district that is vacated, and the commission shall appoint a person to serve until the next election.
Sykes is hoping that a court will find a way to resolve the impasse reached at the commission level on selecting a replacement for the seat formerly held by Mark Holland, who is now mayor. There are several ways that it could be resolved, and Sykes pointed out that all over the country, coin tosses are used to break ties for offices.
Sykes said he believes a court has jurisdiction over the issue because it is a legal question and the UG charter is a legal document.
The UG’s answer also claims that the defendant, Carolyn Wyatt, does not have standing. Sykes believes she has standing because she lives in the 1st District at large, and has been denied her commission representative, while others who live in the 2nd District at large are not feeling the same pain.
He added that he may be looking for other plaintiffs to join the suit. The case is in Wyandotte County District Court.
State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., said the UG attorneys’ answer “angers and saddens me at the same time.
“How could people refuse to bring representation for over a year? And how could they allow such weak excuses mistakenly believing they have the right to be brought in response?” Sen. Haley said.
Sen. Haley said he is considering joining the suit as a plaintiff.
“I certainly have been disaffected by the abject failure of the UG to name a successor to Commissioner Holland’s seat,” he said.
For example, he’s had to take a lot of constituent phone calls for county matters since there has been a vacancy, he said. The residents don’t have anywhere to go, because the commissioner position is not filled, and some of them call him with complaints about UG services, he said.
“The lack of an at large commissioner has greatly increased my workload as a state senator in the same district, so that disaffects me,” Sen. Haley said. “I’m under-represented myself.”
He had some strong words about disenfranchisement of the voters in the 1st District, at-large district.
“The attorneys that wrote this answer should leave that office and go work for Kris Kobach because disenfranchisement has underscored his administration as secretary of state,” Sen. Haley said. “That seat should have been filled a year ago.”