TOPEKA — A bill which would have eliminated the sorts of “seat-swapping” incidents which took place in Crawford County last year has died in committee.
Senate Bill 370 was introduced into the Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government on Feb. 6 and stated that “No member of the governing body of a municipality shall resign from the member's position on the governing body for the purpose of being appointed to another position on the same governing body if this would result in lengthening the member's term of office on that governing body.”
The bill defined “municipality” as a city or school district.
However, the bill was slated for a committee hearing on February 14, but the hearing was cancelled after there was apparently no interest for or against the bill.
Kansas Senate Majority Whip Elaine Bowers said Thursday she introduced SB370 at the request of Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, but that with no committee hearing, the bill is effectively dead for this session.
“It’s already written,” Bowers said. “It’s ready to go for next year.”
The impetus for the bill was likely the two seat swapping incidents which occurred in Crawford County in 2017.
In perhaps the most egregious case, in tiny Arma, recently-sworn-in Arma City Council Member Mary Lou Peace ran alongside incumbent council members Richard Kerley and Ray Vail in the 2017 election for two open council seats. Kerley and Peace won the two seats, but at the first meeting following the election, Vail resigned his seat and was re-appointed to a vacant seat with two years still left on its term — a seat which had been held open for five weeks.
Similarly, earlier in 2017 Frontenac School Board Member Mike Bitner resigned his seat and was immediately re-appointed to an open seat with two years remaining. After his re-appointment to the council, Bitner was also renamed board president.
In both cases the appointments were completely legal.
The Morning Sun had called for legislation similar to what was introduced by Bowers, asking for a one-year “cooling off” period after resignation before someone could be appointed to — or run for an open seat on — the same governing body.
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.