With the approaching election to fill two seats on the Independence City Commission, City Manager Craig Whitehead recently invited all commission candidates to an informational event designed to offer deeper insight into city operations, including an overview of the City Manager-Commission form of government used in Independence. Candidates Leonhard Caflisch, Dean Hayse, Harry Karl Johnson, Tony Royse and Louis Ysusi joined Whitehead, Assistant City Manager Kelly Passauer, attorney Tim Emert and 10 department directors for an informal “meet and greet” luncheon Thursday at Memorial Hall.
“We have a slate of candidates who are all very passionate about their community and have already made a significant commitment by throwing their hats into the ring for these positions,” Whitehead said. “I wanted to offer them this opportunity to fully understand the roles they are seeking and to meet the people inside City Hall who keep the wheels moving day in and day out.”
Whitehead opened the meeting with an overview of the city’s annual budgeting process, which he explained is of the utmost importance because it determines how the city functions and what it will accomplish each year. He included information on how the operating and capital improvement budgets are established, funded and managed, and outlined the annual budgeting calendar, from an organizational strategic planning meeting each March to the final budget adoption by the city commission in August.
Whitehead provided the city’s fiscal year 2018 budget, capital improvement plan and an abbreviated “citizen’s budget” document in an information packet for the candidates.
Also on the meet-and-greet agenda was a presentation by longtime local attorney Tim Emert, who is a former member of the Kansas Government Ethics Commission. Emert offered the candidates a primer on the various forms of municipal government in the state of Kansas and specifically discussed the parameters of the Manager-Commission model, which was established in the state 100 years ago (1917) and is used in Independence today.
Emert explained the distinctions between the roles of the city manager and the commissioners, noting that the commission carries no “administrative” authority when it comes to city business, and the role of the commission is to act only as a “policy making” (e.g., establishing city ordinances) and “legislative” (e.g., condemnation of property) body. He also offered clarification about the rules related to open meetings in Kansas and restricting commissioner-to-commissioner communication outside of a public meeting. He noted that this issue becomes tricky and often misunderstood in a small community of neighbors, and he reminded the candidates that commissioners are free to interact casually with one another and discuss personal matters – just not city business – outside of a formal meeting setting.
The commission candidates also had the opportunity to hear introductions from each department leader, who shared his/her background and information on the functions and accomplishments of his/her departments. Leaders attending in addition to Whitehead included Shawn Wallis, Fire/EMS Chief; David Cowan, Public Safety Director; April Nutt, Director of the Independence Housing Authority; Jerry Harrison, Police Chief; Barb Beurskens, Park and Zoo Director; Mike Passauer, Public Works Director; Terry Lybarger, Utilities Director; Mike Borovetz, City Clerk/Finance Director; and Kelly Passauer, Assistant City Manager and Zoning Administrator.
Each candidate also shared an introduction, including his background information and motivations for seeking election to the commission.
The meeting concluded with the offer of informal one-on-one discussion with city leaders, and Whitehead encouraged the candidates to reach out to him with any future questions as they continue to advance their campaigns.