Expansion of the Pottawatomie County Commission won’t occur until 2024.
County Counselor John Watt informed commissioners Monday that when voters approved expanding the county board from three to five seats this past November, the decision triggered a number of statutes, including whether expansion would occur as part of a special election or at the next general election – left to the discretion of Gov. Laura Kelly.
Kelly’s decision was to have it put it on the ballot for the next general election, which Watt says will be in 2024 rather than this year, according to Kelly’s chief counsel.
“That also triggered a number of statutes. One of the statutes that’s involved is KSA 19-202, and that statute says that when county commissioners are elected, you cannot have more than a simple majority of the commissioners elected at any one general election,” he said.
Both Pat Weixelman’s and Greg Riat’s second and third district seats will be up for re-election in 2024, when the two new commissioners are scheduled to appear on the ballot, putting the county in an unanticipated predicament when it comes to the state law. Watt does say exceptions apply to counties that expand their county commissions.
“The trouble is that the exception looks to me and (County Clerk) Dawn (Henry) like the fix applies only where the governor has ordered a special election. It does not anticipate that the governor could have ordered next general election,” he said.
Watt says a legislative fix is needed to correct the issue and has advised county officials to reach out to local legislators to make them aware. He’s drafted a letter for the commission to send to its legislative delegation and to Secretary of State Scott Schwab.
“The legislature has two years to do this. They can do it this year or next year. If they don’t do it, then when 2024 comes around, you’ve got some potential problems and potential lawsuits, by somebody running for office at that point,” he said.
The logical fix, he says would be to have the two new commissioners elected to two year terms in 2024, then running for four year terms, starting in 2026.