City seeks ruling on primary election
Despite opposition from some residents, the Basehor City Council has voted to challenge the county's ruling regarding the city's home-authority ordinance on elections.
Last week, Leavenworth County officials said Basehor would have to conduct a primary election for the mayoral race. During a special session Monday, Feb. 5, the council voted 4-1 to ask a district court judge to overturn the ruling.
The controversy began when the Leavenworth County Election Office declared Jan. 23 that the city would have to conduct a primary election because four candidates had filed for mayor.
The city countered with an ordinance passed by the city council in 1972, which declared Basehor would only conduct general elections. County officials were then forced to interpret whether the ordinance conflicted with state law.
The ordinance exempts the city from sections of the Kansas State Constitution and provides alternate provisions relating to the election of mayor. Section five of the ordinance states that there shall be no primary elections in Basehor.
However, the county found the ordinance conflicted with state law and advised the city to conduct a primary election.
Basehor City Attorney John Thompson said with the council's decision to challenge ruling, he will submit a legal opinion to a judge for a declaratory judgement.
Before the council voted Monday, several residents attending the meeting wanted to voice their opinion. Council members did not allow the comments because they had already made a motion and those wanting to speak were out of order.
"It is not normal that we have public comment," Mayor John Pfannenstiel said. "What we had was a group of people who obviously were in favor of having a primary. Those who may be in favor of using the law as it stands, (having) no primaries, weren't here, they weren't notified and so they didn't have an opportunity to give their thoughts."
Council member Joseph Odle was not in favor of challenging the county's decision and expressed his displeasure to the remaining council members following the meeting.
"This council has done a good job of helping John (Pfannenstiel) get re-elected," Odle said.
"I hope we're successful," Council member Burl Gratny said to Odle.
Many of the residents who attended the meeting had sentiments similar to Odle.
"I think they shysted all the voters. I feel like all the voters from the city of Basehor got cheated by not having a primary," Bob Moore said. "I think that should be mandatory. I think that this law was hidden, and I think that some one has dug it up for this election only."
Basehor resident Joe Nick agrees with Leavenworth County's decision because they protected the rights of the voters.
"We don't have a right to vote any more," he said. "I take my hat off to the county and the state, they protected our right to vote. There is a lot of difference between these little old ordinances, but when it comes to voting, that is a right not a privilege."
Pfannenstiel admits that having a primary does not help his chances for re-election.
"From my own perspective, it is not in my best interests to have a primary election before my trial is resolved, because that issue is still out there. I have done everything that I can to get it resolved prior to now, but it is out of my hands," Pfannenstiel said.
Pfannenstiel said that there is more involved than just a primary election.
"It is not about the issue of the primary, it is about the home rule amendment," Pfannenstiel said. "It is not that I found myself in this predicament and I thought how can I get out of having a primary and then I go digging through regulations and come across that ordinance."
Thompson did not know when he would submit his opinion or when a judge would hear the city's case.
Under Kansas statutes, a declaratory judgement is a question of law. There are no disputed facts, no trial and no evidence. Legal opinions are heard from both sides when there is a legal disagreement from two different parties.
"It will be filed this week. When the judge will hear the case I don't know," he said. "We will bring it to the attention of the judge that we have a primary coming up very quickly."
Thompson said he will ask the judge to fast track the case and thinks under the circumstances the judge will do so.
"We will ask the judge to expedite this case and he should be able to do so because there is no testimony, there isn't any new evidence, there is just two legal opinions to decide from," he said.
According to Thompson, if the judge rules against Basehor, then the city ordinance in question would become invalid, and the city would be required to conduct a primary.
If the city does lose the judgement, it does have the option of taking the case to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Pfannenstiel said that decision is up to the city council.
"City council would have to take action again to go farther. So far the instructions are to go to declaratory judgment," Pfannenstiel said.
Thompson said that he believes in a city's right to home rule, so the city can control its electoral process.
" When a city does take action to exempt itself from the rule it is not done lightly. It is done with more stringent requirements than passing a regular ordinance and so it has a great deal of significance," Thompson said.