A Thursday night Blue Springs Charter Review Commission meeting aimed to further push the City Charter toward accountability and balance of power, addressing past discrepancies and an increasing emphasis on the mayor’s role.
Earlier this summer, Council Member Dale Carter expressed frustration and concern about the last charter review process, in 2014. Specifically, he alleged that language varied significantly between a memo of proposed charter changes sent to the City Council, language on the ballot and language in the official charter. He attributes these disparities to a lack of close attention and explanation throughout the review, which he now said he intends to correct.
“What we did was embarrassing, and it might even be illegal,” Carter said, detailing that charter sections 3.14 and 3.15 – which place the mayor in sole control of appointing the city attorney and prosecutor – have caused problems for the council since April.
On Thursday, Carter brought and read all three contradictory documents to the meeting, reading them aloud for commission review members – who do not serve on the council – and council guests.
The published charter, available on the city website, reads that the city attorney and prosecutor “shall be appointed by the mayor, and may be removed by the mayor with the consent of a majority of the entire City Council.”
The memo sent to council members elaborated on this, saying removal requires “five votes as mayor votes too.”
In another slight change, the ballot that voters saw following the 2014 review read that the mayor can “appoint the City Attorney and city prosecutor without consent of the Council.”
These documents and the overall charter, which in 2014 also made the mayor a voting member of the council, raised a debate about mayoral power. This included mention of how the mayor evaluates city staff without required input from the council. In addition, the mayor can vote on his own staff appointments.
“This is not about (Mayor) Carson Ross or any of the specific council members,” said state Rep. Jeanie Lauer, who co-chairs the commission with former Rep. Bryan Pratt. “This is about best practice.”
However, Pratt expressed hesitancy about removing power from the mayor or council, arguing that the majority of city power lies with the city administrator.
“The mayor and City Council can make very little changes,” Pratt said.
Potential term limits stood out as another contested topic. The council has never had term limits. Members serve staggered three-year terms, and the mayor serves four-year terms.
Overall, the council expressed support for no term limits, but it did inspire discussion. Commission Member Becky Nace drew on her experience on the Kansas City Council.
“There were people who were not good stewards of the public dollar who were not able to be displaced because of being able to fundraise for four years and scare away other candidates,” Nace explained.
She also advocated changing three-year terms to four, emphasizing the cost of elections and requesting that the city look into this expense. In response, City Clerk Sheryl Morgan said that the election board estimated a cost of $70,000 per election.
The next Charter Review Commission meeting has yet to be scheduled, but will appear on the city website. To view the current city charter, visit https://www.bluespringsgov.com/DocumentCenter/View/262/City-Charter?bidId=.