County government change now in hands of voters

The circuit court-appointed Constitution commission charged with drafting a new form of county government has completed its work and submitted ballot language to the county election board to appear on the November ballot. If passed, the Constitution would expand the county commission and limit its powers while also providing an option for commissioner recall.

CLAY COUNTY — The circuit court-appointed Constitution commission charged with drafting a new form of county government submitted ballot language to the county election board to appear on the November ballot.

“We’ve met three times a week for the last two weeks. We’ve spent a lot of time reviewing model charters and all the charters and constitutions in the state of Missouri, in Johnson County in Kansas and then national model charters with the idea of having best practices and coming up with the best document we can,” said commission co-chair Greg Canuteson, adding the commission has met for about three hours each session in various locations throughout the Northland at night so that members of public from across the county can provide input as well as watch the commission work.

At the polls June 2, Clay County voters, with 11,142 of the 19,670 votes cast, said they wanted the circuit court to create a commission of seven Democrats and seven Republicans to frame a new form of county government that would be put to voters at a later date. The passed ballot measure was Proposition C.

The ballot language that will appear on the November ballot asks the question, “Shall Clay County adopt the County Constitution?”

Changes proposed under the constitution form of government include expansion of the county commission from three to seven commissioners with a presiding commissioner and six others with some in redistricted eastern and western districts and some serving at large. Proposed pay structures do not include benefits for district or at-large commissioners.

Other proposed changes that would take effect if voters approve the question include structure for and duties assigned to a to-be-hired county administrator, who shall oversee daily operations of the county and be the county’s budget officer. The administrator would report to the county commission.

According to the ballot language, the constitution “prohibits officeholders from voting on their own pay increases, requires nonpartisan elections, requires term limits for commissioners, allows recall of officeholders, allows for citizen petitions, requires campaign contribution limits, prohibits officeholders from hiring family members, prohibits former commissioners from being hired by the county within two years of leaving office, adds restrictions on public debt and creates a citizen review commission to propose constitutional amendments for voter approval.”

The draft constitution was unanimously approved by the 14-member court-appointed commission.

Appointed commissioners had to apply to be on the commission and were vetted by county circuit court judges before being sworn in to serve. Three of the commissioners — Greg Canuteson, Jennifer Langston Justus and Kenneth Honeck — also served on the county commission-appointed exploratory committee last year and early this year. That group met for eight weeks with members of the public to gather input on how Clay Countians would like to see their government changed.

The informal committee found residents want an expanded governing body.

More details on what passage of the ballot language would mean will be printed in future editions of the Courier-Tribune.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.

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