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Petition ruled invalid

By Burk Krohe

A local group’s efforts to secure guaranteed funding for the city’s social services programs appears to be all for naught.

Save Our Social Services (SOS) sought to pass an ordinance that would have kept the Social Services Advisory Board as the group responsible for making funding recommendations to the City Commission,  required the city to spend 2 percent of the general fund on social services funding each year and required unallocated funds to be carried over for future spending.

SOS passed the first hurdle, collecting 1,500 valid signatures, but it has stumbled on the next. City Attorney Katie Jackson late last week declared the petition legally invalid.

City manager Ron Fehr said it is the city legal department’s opinion that the proposed ordinance is an administrative ordinance that cannot be adopted using the initiative and referendum process. Therefore, the attorney has advised commissioners to take no action on the petition, which will go in front of the City Commission Tuesday.

The SOS initiative was started after discussions last summer about the 2012 budget. Commissioner Wynn Butler suggested looking at reductions for social services funding. Butler and Commissioner John Matta said they would like to see funding for those agencies move more toward private donations. Mayor Loren Pepperd also has supported looking at alternative ways to fund social services. Pepperd has said it’s something to consider, especially with fiscal uncertainty at the state and federal levels.

Had the legal department deemed the petition legally valid, it would have gone to a referendum. State statute requires the Commission to call a special election unless a regular city election is scheduled within 90 days after the 20-day ordinance adoption deadline has expired. Butler and Matta strongly oppose the petition and reserving 2 percent of the general fund budget for social services.

“If I have my choice, I believe it should be sent to the people of Manhattan to vote on the petition,” Pepperd said.

Butler stated his opposition more bluntly.

“I will never vote for this petition as a commissioner or as a voter at the ballot box,” Butler said.

Butler said it would result in a tax increase and characterized it as “totally ridiculous.” He said it might not be readily apparent to the voters that 2 percent of the general fund would be a 33-percent increase in funding for social services over the most recent budget.

K.S.A 12-3013 (e), says an initiative and referendum process shall not be applied to an administrative ordinance. In a memo to commissioners, Jackson said the Kansas Supreme Court has identified four factors when considering whether an ordinance is legislative or administrative.

An ordinance that makes a new law is legislative, while an ordinance that executes an existing law is administrative.  Jackson states the proposed ordinance does not make a new law.

The ordinance seeks to establish the advisory board, but Jackson notes that body has existed since 1988. Jackson also said the ordinance does set forth a legislative purpose — support for city funding of social services — but it mostly sets forth administrative measures to achieve that purpose. Additionally, the City Commission has broad authority to manage the city’s fiscal affairs, and an ordinance telling the Commission how to do so with certain requirements is “inherently administrative.”

Jackson told commissioners that ordinances dealing with a small segment of an overall policy question generally are administrative. She said the majority of the ordinance is not creating new policy but monetizing the support for social services funding.

She also wrote that decisions requiring specialized knowledge of municipal government and knowledge of fiscal affairs to make rational choices can be characterized as administrative. Jackson states there is “little doubt” that the preparation and adoption of the city budget requires specialized training and experience with in municipal government.

Finally, when the issue is of statewide concern and decision-making power is in the hands of local councils, rather than electors, it is an administrative function. Jackson states the city’s fiscal affairs are of statewide concern and subject to many state laws.

Fehr noted commissioners could choose to ignore the city’s legal opinion and vote on it.

Considering a majority of commissioners would vote against it, that’s highly unlikely. But even if the Commission takes no action, it doesn’t mean this is the end of the social services funding debate.









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