Apr. 13, 2019

Mallory Herrmann

The subject of expanding the number of city districts in Lee’s Summit has come and gone again. Councilmember Bob Johnson proposed that the rules committee consider an expansion from four districts to five, in hopes of taking the idea to the voters in 2020, at the committee’s Apr. 4 meeting.

But skepticism that it’s not something constituents want, given that such a change was not included in the recent updates to the charter, and concern that the initial election would be too complicated split the vote.

The city currently has eight councilmembers, two from each district, and a mayor. That structure has not changed since the city’s first charter in 1996. The charter was revised and approved by voters in 2006. A citizen-led charter commission last updated the city’s charter, which was approved by voters, in 2017.

Councilmember Diane Forte said that one charter commission member told her the subject of changing the city’s districts came up three times during the 2016–2017 charter review but was either voted down or didn’t move forward to a vote.

“We just had a charter review and I think it would have been important, it would have come up then,” Forte said.

Johnson said that when the charter commission considered the proposal it was a discussion of changing the four districts, each with two representatives, to eight separate districts. He said that people seem used to the idea of having two people to contact, which led him to the five-district proposal, which would keep two representatives in each district.

Councilmember Trish Carlyle, the committee’s chair, agreed with Forte’s comments and also expressed concern that term limits could cause confusion. In order to maintain staggered terms, one of the councilmembers elected to a new district would only serve two years.

Brian Head, city attorney, said that they could identify one seat as a two-year term and one as a four-year term or draw lots to determine the terms for the two fifth district councilmembers. Carlyle maintained that it was an unnecessary complication and that potential candidates may not be willing to put in the work to run for council if they knew it would only be for two years.

But Johnson argued that two-year term limits hadn’t been a detraction in past elections or special elections to fill vacancies. He said that this is an opportune time to consider expanding the districts since the boundary lines will be redrawn in 2021, per statute requirement to reapportion districts every ten years.

Johnson also pointed to other cities in Missouri that have eleven representatives (including a mayor) like O’Fallon, which has a slightly smaller population than Lee’s Summit, and Independence, which has a slightly larger population. Given the city’s continued growth, he said that increasing the representation would give more people a chance to run for local office.

Councilmember Phyllis Edson agreed, noting that the city has seen huge growth since the first charter and will likely continue seeing a population increase.

Edson said expanding the districts would be “just preparing the city for the future.”

She also reminded the committee that this wouldn’t be a city council decision, but something that would be up to the voters to decide.

Edson and Johnson voted to ask staff to draft an ordinance establishing five districts in conjunction with the 2021 reapportionment; that language would be considered by the rules committee and voted on by the full city council; a positive vote would put it on the ballot in April 2020.

Carlyle and Forte voted against.

“Okay, well, we’ll let it die. We’ll think about it and maybe bring it back next time,” Carlyle said.