Wichita petition effort successful

Today Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said that organizers of a drive to overturn a Wichita charter ordinance submitted 2,719 valid signatures on their petition. The statutory target that had to be met is 2,528. The number of valid signatures may increase with additional examination of some signatures.

Now that a successful petition has been filed, here’s what happens, based on a reading of the Kansas Constitution, Article 12, Section 5.

The Kansas Constitution provides for two course of action. Under the usual course of affairs the Wichita City Council could do one of two things. One choice the council has is to rescind the ordinance, which would end the matter, and the guest tax ordinance would not take effect. The other choice the council can make is to call an election so that voters can decide whether the ordinance will take effect.

Since the petition was submitted on December 5, the city has 30 days from then to decide whether to have an election. The election must be held within 90 days of December 5, if the choice is to have an election. These two dates appear to be January 5, 2012, and March 5, 2012.

But: The agreement between the city and the hotel developers that was passed on September 13 reads: “If Developer requests a special election solely for the purpose of passing the charter ordinance in the event a sufficient protest petition is submitted, Developer shall reimburse the City for the actual out of pocket costs and expenses of conducting such election.”

It sounds as though the city has turned over decision-making authority regarding the election to the hotel developers. More about this is at Wichita turns taxation over to private interests.

(Bill Gale, the former Sedgwick County Election Commissioner, had estimated the cost of a special election at $50,000.)

There is another course of possible action. The hotel developers — or anyone, for that matter — could mount a legal challenge to the success of the petition. This could be done by challenging the form of the petition, or by challenging signatures that the election commissioner has already deemed valid, or by some other avenue.


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