While the discussion of a new form of County government continues, Clay County Commissioners weigh in on the options and implications.
Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway, said a constitutional form of government would return the power of self-governance to the citizens of the county.
“This means Clay County citizens would have all powers of self-government unless they are in conflict with Federal or State law,” she said. “Generally, these counties are governed by a County Legislature directly elected by the people, but county functions are performed by professional managers who report to the County Legislature. Voters determine how the Charter or Constitution is drafted and can vote to amend it as necessary in the future.”
The basic change would transform the County from having multiple officeholders to a “home rule” form of government. This means, Ridgeway said, the voters would have the opportunity to decide the organization of the County government. Currently, state statute determines County government and voters cannot change anything without changing state law.
“It also empowers the voters so that in the future, if something is not working out well for Clay County, they don’t have to go to the legislature and the governor to try to get a change,” she said. “They can propose and themselves vote upon just in this county, a change that would impact the government structure in this county.”
Clay County would become the fifth first-class county in the state to adopt this form of government.
Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte said his main concern includes the Commission being involved so directly in the process. He said the idea of an individual Commissioner being involved to not be as concerning. However, the idea of the Commission putting together a committee to advocate for the passage of the proposed charter government concerns him.
“I’m not sure that’s our place to do that,” he said. “I don’t think as government we should — and I’m making a distinction here — as government, we should not be advocating for the passage or the non-passage of something like this, I think.”
In the past, Ridgeway said she did oppose a change to the constitutional form of government. She said she didn’t think the transition to be well thought out. Also, she said she didn’t believe some included tax issues to be fully vetted.
“I have opposed one past effort because I believed the proposal was flawed,” she said. “Even so, I knew reasonable people served on the drafting committee and believed they did their best to produce a good document I have spoken to some who served on past Charter or Constitution Committees and sought their views as to why those efforts failed.”
After these conversations, she said she learned the existing constitutional and statutory framework did not allow enough time for the Committee to fully vet a proposed Constitution or Charter. Sufficient time must be provided, she said, to get the voters’ approval. Past attempts also revealed the need for a committee to begin work on a draft Constitution or Charter so work could begin early, allowing more time for vetting.
This committee, she said, would gather information, including looking to see what worked in other areas in and out of the state. They would then determine a respectable transition and implementation time from the non-charter form of government to a constitutional home rule charter.
This committee will help overcome the issues encountered in the past, Ridgeway said.
Nolte said because this committee will be the creature of the County government, their actions will be reflective of the County.
“We should not be taking sides as government in the passage or non-passage, especially something that so closely affects the government anyway ... as government, we should not be trying to affect the outcome of an election,” he said.
He said he would simply like to gain more information on this committee, it’s proposed actions and if and when it will be disbanded.
However, Nolte said the idea of a charter government does not concern him. He said he simply believes the County government should not be expending taxpayer money and assets, albeit in a modest way, to impact the outcome of an election.
“To me, that’s a big issue,” he said.
The same information the Committee would be gathering could take place in other ways, he said, such as public grass-roots meetings.
OTHER POTENTIAL ADVANTAGES
Currently, with the current form of government, two of the Commissioners cannot meet to discuss any potential conflict resolution, Ridgeway said.
“If I have a personality conflict that may not have to do necessarily with policy, it may just purely be a personality conflict, every professional person knows the first thing you do is you go to the person you have a problem with and try to peaceable resolve it,” she said. “I can’t do that. Every question, every suspicion, every accusation always gets played out in front of the cameras. Nothing gets resolved. In fact, it worsens the distrust and the suspicion and it smears out the county.”
Nolte said he agrees and brought up the subject in the past.
“I’m glad that (Ridgeway) has come to that conclusion because yeah, I think that we need an expanded Commission so that we can have the ability to work out our differences somewhere other than the public forum and move forward,” he said.
This will not impact votes, Ridgeway said, a quorum would not be able to meet secretly and votes will be taken in accordance with the Missouri Sunshine Law. A larger group of a governing board would simply allow for Commissioners to meet and discuss personal problems without the scrutiny of the public eye and media, she said.
It would also allow each member of the governing body to stay closer to the residents they represent. Each member, she said, would represent a smaller group of residents, allowing each resident’s needs to be better heard. Smaller groups of Commissioners would be able to work together to problem-solve for the needs of the County.
“It would give two legislatures an opportunity to immediately respond to citizen concerns (and) take that back to the body of the whole, where the decision would be made,” she said.
On Wednesday, Clay County officials released the names of those appointed to serve on the Constitutional Committee.
According to the official statement, the Committee will soon begin the process of considering recommendations from Clay County residents regarding the new Constitution form of government.
Each Clay County Commissioner received the opportunity to make four appointments to the Committee.
Western Commissioner Gene Owen’s appointments included Greg Canuteson, Kenneth Honeck, Myron Neth and Larry Whiton.
Ridgeway’s appointments included Kay Peca, Tom Peca and Dee W. Rosenkrans.
Nolte’s appointments included David Slater, Jason Withington and Jennifer Langston-Justus.
Both Ridgeway and Nolte left one appointment vacant.