TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback wants state legislators to rewrite an obscure law that required him to fill two newly created seats on a north-central Kansas county commission so that voters fill such vacancies in the future, and a local lawmaker promised Monday to pursue the issue.
The Republican governor faced criticism over the Saline County Commission appointments because his office refused to release candidates’ names before announcing his choices last week. But the controversy also highlighted the law governing how vacancies are to be filled when voters expand county governing boards.
Saline County enlarged its commission in November from three to five members, and Brownback said the same voters who approved the expansion should fill the new seats. State Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, said he will work on a bill after lawmakers open their next annual session Jan. 12.
“I would prefer that the people have a direct line to vote on those new representatives,” Claeys said Monday.
The 1992 law giving Brownback the power to fill the Saline County positions applies only when a county expands its commission. When existing county commission seats or other county offices become vacant, the former official’s political party has a convention and names a replacement. The appointment goes to the governor, but the replacement takes office whether the governor signs off or not.
When a county commission expands, the new seats aren’t tied to a political party, so there’s no local convention. Legislators enacted the 1992 law after Seward County expanded its commission and the new positions remain vacant for months because there were no specific rules for filling them.
The law gave the three existing Saline County commissioners until Nov. 25 to draw new districts and Brownback a month after that to make the appointments. His office rejected three requests from the Salina Journal and one from The Associated Press for a list of the candidates, saying it was a personnel matter.
Brownback appointed a banker, David Smith, and a travel-agency owner, Luci Larson, to the commission, and their seats will be on the ballot in 2016. But Brownback questioned whether the process was appropriate.
“The people of Saline County voted for this expansion of the County Commission and they should have had the right to select its new members through the electoral process,” he said in a statement.
Salina County Commission Chairman Randy Duncan said it makes sense to have such decisions made locally. State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican who serves on the chamber’s Local Government Committee, said it’s not fair to have the governor make the appointments.
Of the state’s 105 counties, 91 have three-member commissions, according to the Kansas Association of Counties. Eleven counties have five-member commissions, and Johnson County has a seven-member body.
Greeley County in western Kansas has a unified government with the town of Tribune, with a five-member board. Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., have a unified government with a 10-member commission.
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