Commissioner Joyce Warshaw is not required to face election this year, since statutory silence on the issue of appointee term lengths gives supremacy to a city ordinance that says three commissioners compete in an election every two years, the city attorney said.
After searching through state and city laws that determine how cities handle elections and filling vacancies, Dodge City Attorney Ken Strobel concluded that the City Commission seat held by Joyce Warshaw will not be up for election until 2016.
Warshaw was appointed by a unanimous vote of the City Commission in Sept., 2012, after Michael Weece resigned to move to Topeka. As one of the top two vote-receivers during the 2012 election, Weece was to serve a four-year term of office in April of that year.
County Clerk Sharon Siebel, who is also the county election official and will be overseeing the city election, requested clarification from the office of the Kansas Secretary of State, which asked Strobel, as the city attorney, for the opinion.
Siebel contacted the Secretary of State based on a reading of the Kansas Election Standards, a document adopted in 2002 "to promote consistency in election administration across Kansas." It states that elected officials appointed to fill a vacancy commonly must face a mid-term election if they are appointed before the middle of the assumed term.
"We just wanted to make sure we were following what was supposed to be done since that vacancy did occur right after the election," Siebel said.
As a city of the first class, there are few state laws that apply to certain details of Dodge City elections, Siebel said. The laws used to be more explicit, but through ordinances, cities could opt out of the state rules. Opting out was so common among those cities, that many of the relevant state laws have been repealed, Siebel said.
One repealed statute, KS 13-1806, stated that commissioners appointed to fill a vacancy would serve "in such capacity until the next city general election." Despite the clause being "confusing and ambiguous," as was written in a 1981 opinion by Attorney General Robert T. Stephan, he, and preceding attorneys general claimed officials appointed to elected positions needed to face the voters in the next election.
Since that statute was repealed in 1998, "no similar statute currently exists," Strobel wrote.
The statutes "were just silent about it," Strobel said in an interview.
In his opinion, Strobel wrote that Charter Ordinance No. 16, passed in 1977 was still in effect and specified that during elections two commissioners would be elected for four years and a third commissioner would be elected for two.
"After looking through all the statutes, none of them said (appointed commissioners) were appointed until the next city election, so there was no indication one way or another. ... In my opinion, there was no real authority" dictating the length of term for elected officials, Strobel said.
Concluding the opinion, Strobel wrote: "I can find no authority requiring, or allowing, the term of a properly appointed member of the governing body to be required to stand for election until such time as the four year term to which said person has been appointed has expired."
The other vacated commission seat, filled by the appointment of Jim Lembright, was at the end of its term, regardless.