Archive for Friday, May 30, 2008

Crowded ballot

A move to eliminate many local government primaries may work for some Kansas communities, but it doesn’t seem right for Lawrence.

May 30, 2008


Taxpayers always appreciate local government efforts to save money, but a new move to save money on local elections may not serve the voting public well.

In the closing days of its 2008 session, the Kansas Legislature passed a bill that would eliminate, in many cases, primary elections for city commissions and local school boards. Primaries currently are required whenever the total number of candidates is more than twice the number of seats that are to be filled. That's six candidates for Lawrence City Commission and either six or eight candidates for the Lawrence school board, depending on whether three or four seats are up for election.

The new law takes two steps to allow much larger slates to advance to the general election. First, it would require primaries only when there are three times as many candidates as seats. Additionally, it says primaries won't be held unless at least two candidates would be eliminated from the general election field. Taken by itself, the second part of the measure makes some sense, but when coupled with the three-candidates-per-seat rule, it only makes the numbers even more unmanageable. Under this measure, the general election ballot for City Commission could list as many as 11 candidates; the school board could include up to 14 candidates for four seats or 11 for three.

The League of Kansas Municipalities, which represents the interests of local governments across the state, favored the change because it would save money. How much money? A primary election in Lawrence costs about $40,000, according to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, and costs in smaller communities probably are lower.

It's true that participation in primary elections often is low and that many smaller communities are more worried about finding at least one candidate for each seat on a government body than on eliminating candidates in a primary.

In a city like Lawrence, however, primaries serve a useful purpose in narrowing the field to a manageable size, allowing voters to examine more closely who the candidates are and where they stand on specific issues. Candidate forums and other events intended to inform voters already struggle to provide more than superficial treatment of important issues. Trying to provide a meaningful forum for twice as many candidates would be almost impossible.

There has been no move to eliminate primaries in partisan elections for county and state offices, regardless of how many names are on the ballot. The role city commissioners and school board members play in our everyday lives is no less important and those bodies deserve just as much consideration.

Although the Lawrence school board is stuck with this new law, the city can opt out of the law by passing a charter ordinance. It's an action that city commissioners should seriously consider - and their decision should be based on what best serves local voters rather than on what will save money. Even in tight financial times, $20,000 a year is a good investment if it helps facilitate the election of thoughtful, well-qualified city commissioners.


cato_the_elder 9 years, 10 months ago

What would be most refreshing would be having enough good candidates running that primaries were always needed. Locally, our major problem in the last 20 years or so has been finding a sufficient number of qualified candidates who are willing and able to run for these important positions.

KsTwister 9 years, 10 months ago

Ditto, no more "special" elections either.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 10 months ago

Removing primaries may be a means of reducing the large sums of real estate/developer special interest money that surfaced in the last City Commission election. Why is this a concern? It is these Chamber of Commerce candidates that have proven to be the ones that are prone to increase taxes,mil levies and user fees that accommodate the real estate/development community projects. These candidates have not proven to be fiscally conservative or fiscally prudent but fiscally irresponsible like Reaganomics and latest Bush administration.Projects serving the general public are ignored = NOT fiscally prudent.Forget tax dollars,increased taxes and user fees for new development. Legislate impact fees to cover the entire cost of all new development.These are also the candidates who hand out tax abatements( most of which failed to meet projections),tax rebates that would move with the receivers if they moved from Douglas County(Dicephera) and Tax Increment Financing (Oread Inn) without knowing much about the real return on the tax dollars given away. These take away tax dollars necessary for projects that serve the general public such as maintaining the roads of older neighborhoods,taking care of sidewalks,funding the T and replacing a library that was designed for a Lawrence population of about 30,000- 35,000. Here are three examples of NOT being fiscally prudent but special interest like:*North Lawrence Project

Richard Heckler 9 years, 10 months ago

Special Interest Candidates support plans that consistently increase our tax liabilities such as: Over built retailIndustrial Sites considering many 12-14 acre sites are now available sewage treatment plant Houses - If residential growth paid for itself we might not be in a budget crunch. Increased numbers of residential create increased demand on services. Historically revenues generated by residential housing do not pay for the services they require from a municipality thus increased taxes to cover the cost of maintaining: * water and sewer lines streets public schools fire & emergency med stations law enforcement manpower snow removal cross walksTraffic ControlParksHousing projects cost considerably more to maintain than a "Better T", excellent biking and walking options and a new library all of which serve the general public. A "Better T" plus walking and biking options encourage citizens to leave vehicles at home thus less abuse of expensive streets = fiscally prudent investment. 9th and New Hampshire library location makes use of a tax dollar supported parking garage = fiscally conservative approach. Converting the current library to a convention center makes use of an existing resource which is fiscally prudent rather than an expensive TIF project.

fu7il3 9 years, 10 months ago

If no one wants to ride the T, a better T isn't a good investment. I can't name the last time I saw a full bus in this town. People don't use it. They won't use it if you dump a bunch of money into it unless gas gets so expensive they can no longer afford to drive. Lawrence is a driving culture because there are so few jobs, and so many people who have to travel to Topeka or Kansas City for work.

Stephen Roberts 9 years, 10 months ago

Merrill:Don't forget your buddies Rundle, Boog, and Schuaner practiced very fiscally conservative spending practices. Deficit spending. They spent more than the taxes coming in. That is a huge part of the problem. Please start thrashing them also, to be fair.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.