What's next? City of Lee's Summit begins the process of adopting amended Charter and filling vacant Council seat

After all the noise of the recent election season, things seemed awfully quiet in the days following the April 4 municipal election.

In an unusually loaded off-year municipal election, Lee's Summit voters had a slew of issues facing them in the ballot booth. Approximately 14 percent of registered Lee's Summit voters turned out to pass 12 proposed amendments to the City Charter, elect three new members of the Lee's Summit R-7 School District, renew a capital improvements sales tax, and in City Council District 4, recall current Council member Chris Moreno.

Several of the issues created an uproar on social media as groups formed to support or oppose the amendments and/or the recall measure. But suddenly, on April 5, all was quiet and some residents found themselves wondering, "What's next?."  

Questions about when and how the new Charter would take effect as well as when Council member Moreno would vacate his seat have been swirling as voters wonder how and when these new changes will take effect.

The short answer, of course, is not yet. Lee's Summit City Attorney Brian Head said the Jackson County Election Board has up to two weeks from the date of the election to certify the results. At that point the processes of adopting the new policies will begin.

The new Charter rules

When looking at the 12 amendments to the Charter, Head said most will take effect rather quickly. There are four areas, he said, where residents will have to wait to see some of the new rules in action.

The first of those is an amendment altering how proposed ordinances are presented before the council and the amount of time taken before they can be voted on and adopted by the Council.

"The primary goal of this was to create a 7-day space for the public to have notice of what is happening and chance to review and be aware of actions being taken by the City," Head said. "This specific item will be held off until July 1, 2017.

"Things get kind of complicated because (this change) won't effect every item. Some items, for instance emergency items, will not be required to have the 7-day waiting period between introduction and passage. But the bulk of items will need to take two meetings before they can be passed and adopted by the Council."

Head said City staff is working on drafting the ordinance for this new piece and will present it to the Council's rules committee for consideration and recommendation to the full Council.

Another change residents won't immediately see, comes out of an amendment changing some of the roles and powers of the Mayor. By rule of the new Charter, the Mayor will be required to vote on all ordinances. Currently, the Mayor only votes to break a tie. The Mayor also currently has a veto power, but the amended Charter will eliminate that ability.

According to Head, this amendment was written so that these rules would not take effect until the start of the next Mayoral term. Mayor Randy Rhoads' term expires in April 2018. Because of term limits, he is ineligible to seek an additional term.

"Because this will dramatically change the powers of an elected official, the Charter commission felt it was important for the rules not to change during the Mayor's term in office," Head said. "With that being said, there is one portion of the changes to the Mayor's role that will take effect immediately. And that is the Mayor will appoint the next Mayor Pro Tem."

The position of Mayor Pro Tem serves in one-year terms. Currently, the Mayor Pro Tem is elected by the Council body itself, however the past two years, the Mayor has been forced to cast a vote in this process because the Council was split in its decision.

The longest wait for changes caused by the new Charter will possibly come as the Council is called on to draft and adopt a new code of ethics for itself. According to the new rules, the Council has up to year to create the code and pass an ordinance putting the code and consequences for violation into effect.

"This is an interesting portion because the amendment does not say what has to be in the code," Head said. "It just says they need to have one. So, we have provided  the rules committee with 15 or 17 different ethics codes, so they can see what other cities are doing."

Filling the vacant District 4 seat

While this is the first time a sitting Council member has been recalled, this is not the first time the City has had to fill a vacant seat on the Council. In fact, Mayor Rhoads was a member of of the Council on two previous occasions where a Council member was forced to resign after moving out of the district or City.

"I guess the good thing about this situation is that we don't need to create a process for this," Rhoads said. "The situations were a little different, but its happened twice before, at least in recent memory. It will take a little bit of time, but we will fill that seat."

Rhoads said once the election results have been certified and the Council has voted to accept the results, the City will begin seeking potential candidates. The City will post a link to a form for any District 4 residents interested in filling the seat on its web site as well as through its social media channels and the local members of the media. 

"I would think that part of the process would take 10-14 days at most," he said. "And then what we will do is put that list of interested candidates together so members of the Council can review and then set up a time for each of the candidates to come in and interview with the Council members. And then we'll have a vote."

While the Mayor will still have the authority to break a tie vote, the odd number of Council members voting on the issue, likely means he will not have a say in who will fill the empty seat.

Once a new Council member is elected by the body, that person will fill the seat for one year, until the next regularly scheduled municipal election. At that time, he or she will need to run in a special election to finish out the remainder of Moreno's original term ending in 2020.