The Unified Government could not get enough votes tonight to move forward on a plan to reopen the commission selection process for the vacant 1st District, at-large seat.
The position has been vacant for more than a year, and is the subject of a resident’s lawsuit in Wyandotte County District Court. The resident stated in the lawsuit that she suffered a lack of representation as the result of the position being unfilled. The lawsuit was scheduled to come up in court in September.
Mayor Mark Holland proposed that the issue be reopened, with UG commissioners selecting from a list of 15 applicants that did not include the top two vote-getters last time, who were Don Budd Jr. and Nathan Barnes. The other applicants would be considered if they were still interested in the job, according to the new proposal.
In a vote tonight, the mayor’s proposal received a 4-4 vote, and the mayor then cast a yes vote. The motion failed 5-4 because it needed 6 yes votes to pass.
Voting for the mayor’s proposal were Commissioners Jane Philbrook, Hal Walker, Gayle Townsend, and Brian McKiernan. Voting against it were Commissioners Tarence Maddox, Angela Markley, Jim Walters and Ann Murguia. Commissioner Mike Kane was not present.
Holland said in his view, this is the last opportunity to address the issue before it goes to the voters at the polls next spring.
Townsend reiterated some comments from last year about a coin toss between the top two vote-getters to settle the issue; she said a special election was found to be too expensive; and she thought the best option would be to leave the seat open until the next election, allowing it to be open to everyone.
She said she didn’t believe the lawsuit was the way to resolve it. She also did not favor putting aside the top two vote-getters. But because she wanted the issue to move forward, recognizing public sentiment that wanted the seat filled, she would be agreeable to that option, “with the caveat, be careful what you ask for.”
She also disagreed with some language of the lawsuit that said complainants were not represented. They were represented, she noted, but “under-represented” may have been a better word.
Townsend also said the bigger issue was the structure of the UG charter that requires about half of the commission to give up their seats in order to run for mayor. The other half, because of the staggered terms, can return to their seats if they run for mayor and are not successful.
Murguia said she was not in favor of moving this issue forward without all the commissioners present to vote on it. Otherwise, she was not against the mayor’s proposal.
Maddox agreed with Townsend about a coin flip to determine the winner of the contest.
Walker pointed out the charter stated the commission “shall” fill this position, not may or will.
“We need to make a decision on this and put it to rest,” he said. “I believe the people deserve four representatives in theory that represent their interest.”
He said it was clear the commission would not agree on the two initial top vote-getters. If the commission voted on the top two again, he said the vote probably would be tied again.
Markley said the commission’s last voting revealed a flaw in the procedure, that there was nothing in place to deal with a tie situation. This proposal tonight had the same flaw, she said, that it was likely to go through the process again with the possibility to arrive at the same place.
Plus, she said some of the residents who were most vocal about this issue were not interested in throwing out the top two candidates.
The UG charter did not say when the position must be filled, and neither did it say how a tie could be broken.
Alvin Sykes, a human rights activist, recently said that if there was a plan to exclude any of the candidates, he was not in favor of it. He said he would not be against starting the entire process over, with the public allowed to apply for the position.
State Sen. David Haley last week said he wanted to call a meeting of Wyandotte County legislators, UG commissioners and the mayor in order to discuss filling the vacant position. If it is not filled, legislators could discuss a bill that might resolve it, such as a provision for breaking a tie vote.