The Unified Government Commission deadlocked last week on selecting a commissioner, with three votes showing no change and no indication that commissioners or the mayor would be willing to change their votes.
Neither of the two finalists could line up the six votes necessary to be selected as the commission appointee. Part of the UG Commission is becoming increasingly frustrated as it has the majority of the votes, but it cannot get its candidate in office. At the same time, frustration also was visible from supporters of former Commissioner Nathan Barnes who wanted to make sure the vote was held, and also from the mayor at the commission’s refusal to end the selection process.
Reminiscent of impasses that have been seen recently in Washington, D.C., and Topeka, Kan., the deadlock has roots that go deep.
The divide on the present commission between Mayor Mark Holland and Commissioner Ann Murguia, who was a mayoral candidate in the spring, is well known, as is the ethics dispute between the two some years ago. And it’s well known that former Commissioner Nathan Barnes, one of the two finalists, ran for mayor this past spring, and after not making it through the primary, endorsed Holland’s opponent.
But fading from memory may be a negative campaign that was run two administrations ago. Developer Don Budd Jr., one of the two commission finalists, advertised on signs around town urging people not to vote for Carol Marinovich. According to observers, Budd at that time was against consolidation of the city and county into the Unified Government. Holland, endorsed by Marinovich, was seen as a continuation of the Marinovich and Joe Reardon administrations.
Why is there currently such a fight over just one vote? After all, if commissioners who supported Budd decided to vote together as a bloc (which they don’t always do), they already have five votes. The mayor appears to have two solid votes on the commission, and in the commission selection vote, Nathan Barnes had two more solid supporters.
Part of the answer could have something to do with how many votes are needed on the commission for certain actions. One group on the commission has the majority, if they choose to vote together, and the mayor also is able to veto anything they pass. The number of votes needed to override the veto is seven, according to the UG’s ordinances.
Then, whenever the UG Commission considers a planning and zoning issue, the commission needs eight votes to overturn the Planning Commission’s recommendation, under the ordinances.
Issues that are of great interest in the community that could come up in the next year or so would include a northeast area grocery store that could be supported with tax incentives, the Wyandotte Plaza redevelopment planning, which was mostly finished except for a few loose ends involving an entrance, the Argentine grocery store and retail development, and the redevelopment of Indian Springs Shopping Center. Budd had formerly been selected for the Indian Springs project, but when the economy went into a decline and a California principal in the project died, the project did not move forward.
Already in the past year, there have been some different visions for Indian Springs, with some neighborhood groups advocating a mostly retail redevelopment, and other ideas advocating a recreational focus for the development. I would guess that certain groups could be trying to get a new commissioner’s vote to support the retail idea and to block ideas that would allow youth recreation there. (As an example of one of the ideas proposed for Indian Springs, about a year ago a resident started a petition drive for an aquatic center there; however, the idea did not seem to advance at the time.)
There are also a number of proposals on the table that could be under consideration this year, such as building a new YMCA downtown, improving the county fairgrounds, and fixing up Sunflower Hills Golf Course. The campaign issue of lower property taxes is a consideration for many, as well. Whether there will be any funds for these projects is another question.
Besides the frustration on not seating the commissioner of their choice, the commission is showing some other little signs of friction. A few members of the commission currently might be feeling that they cannot express themselves as freely as before and their freedom of expression has been curtailed. Lately, the commission has been asked by the mayor to wear suits and not use swear words. Perhaps that was the basis for a remark by one commissioner at the June 20 meeting about how hot it was wearing a suit. Another commissioner, Mike Kane, wore a polo-style shirt, no suit, that day.
Whether the two finalists owed taxes (both said they were not the ones responsible for those taxes) was a focal point of last week’s commission selection meeting, but it wasn’t the real reason for the commission’s deadlock. The real reasons are many, including past political campaigns, and they go much deeper into the past than last week’s developments.
Mary Rupert, editor, may be reached at email@example.com. If you are a Wyandotte County resident and have a printable comment or letter to the editor on the issues of the day, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your name and contact information.