Five member commission to be on ballot

by Patty Decker

The Free Press

In less than three weeks, Marion County voters will determine if the commission should be expanded from three members to five when they go to the polls on Nov. 6.

Initially, Commission chairwoman Dianne Novak was circulating a petition, but early in September, Tina Spencer, county clerk, said a resolution could suffice if the commissioners approved it.

Novak said: “The response (to the petition) was overwhelming, and people were interested in it.”

If approved, what’s next?

Should the voters favor the expansion of the commission, other steps would include a resolution designating the county would have five districts.

Anthony Roy, Hillsboro Economic Development director, offered a few suggestions as to how the county could be redrawn if the commission expands to five members.

One thing, he said, was in making sure the population between the five are as close as possible to the same support in each district.

“There are different ways to draw and split the districts,” he said.

One example, he said, was using the townships.

Splitting into five districts, the 1st District (Commissioner Kent Becker) would include Logan, Blaine, Moore, Durham Park, Lehigh, Risley, Menno and West Branch for a total population of 2,596.

The 2nd District (Novak) would have the townships of Colfax, Lost Springs, Clark, Clear Creek and Gale townships and population of 2,474.

The 3rd District (Commissioner Randy Dallke) would include East Branch, Catlin, Fairplay, Peabody and Summit townships and population of 2,580.

The city of Hillsboro would be the 4th District with 2,950 population and the 5th District, the city of Marion and Burns with population of 2,478 (Grant, Doyle and Milton townships).

However, Roy said it ultimately would be up to the commissioners to approve the new district boundaries should voters give the nod to a five-member commission.

Selecting new members

Spencer said she wanted to help clarify how the two new members would be selected.

“The precinct committees would meet and hold a convention, similar to what happens when a vacancy occurs for a county commissioner.

“Rather than just doing it for the governor to appoint, the precinct would nominate their candidate to be placed on the general ballot,” she said.

Instead of having a primary election with people filing for the position, Spencer said it would be the parties voting and saying, “this is our candidate for the general election.”

This process would take the place of a primary, and once selected, those individuals would go on the ballot for a special election, she said.

“Potentially there would be a position for each—Democratic and Republican— but other people that are not affiliated with a party could file by petition,” Spencer said.

“It’s possible there could be multiple names on the ballot. And, if unaffiliated, they would need a petition, and the party would need to know.”

Counties with five or more

According to information regarding the number of commissioners with five or more members, there are only 13 holding that distinction.

And, only two counties have more than five to include Johnson County with seven and Wyandotte County, which has a unified government with Kansas City having 12 members.

Of the 105 Kansas counties, 92 have three-member commissions.

Salaries would be something the Marion commission would need to consider, but based on information provided, the salary range differs a lot.

Commissioners in Butler county are paid more than $30,000 annually as opposed to Saline County at $12,000.

Sedgwick County commissioners receive almost $96,000 annually, and Marion County commissioners receive $17,400 annually.

Novak said she wouldn’t have a problem dividing the three current salaries, but it was unsure how the other two commissioners thought about that idea.

Commissioners discuss it

Prior to adopting the resolution, Becker said he had no objections to having the question put on the ballot.

“I believe if the voters in this county want to decide to have a five-member commission, I am all for it.”

Novak said she heard good things about the change from three to five members.

“I have had people calling me in favor of this,” she said.

Early in September, Dallke said he was “amazed” that the idea of a five-member board was never discussed prior to now.

“I wonder if Commissioner Becker wouldn’t have won his primary, I don’t know if we would be sitting here addressing this issue.”

But, because they are addressing it, Dallke said, he doesn’t see how this will change anything.

“We know that two controls the vote in three and three controls the vote in five,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of people in a lot of different areas, and as I’ve said clear up in the north area and clear down south, it seems the farther away you get from Marion, they have discussed the five member ward for representation.”

Dallke added that if the five-member board gets good people on it, then it will be a good thing.

“But, it just seems to be brought up since this election and I don’t like spite,” he said.

Novak added that she doesn’t see any negatives to this.

“As for your other comments, it’s all up to the people.

“I think you will be bringing in two more people with life experiences, more varied careers, plus it also helps in calming and adding to the atmosphere and attitude change,” she said.

Novak said she also thinks this would be working toward a better future.

The question that will appear on the ballot requiring a “yes” or “no,” response.

Spencer read the resolution and special question, which states:

“Shall the following be adopted?

Shall the board of Marion County Commissioners change the number of county commission districts from three county commission districts to five county commission districts? Yes or No.”tNovak said she thought the response was awesome when circulating the petition.

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