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What You Need to Know About the Charter Commission

Alleen VanBebber | Published on 10/16/2021

What is the Home Rule Charter?

Kansas is a “home rule” state. County Commissioners govern their counties as they see fit, unless their decisions conflict with the Constitution (Kansas or federal) or a Kansas statute. Home rule applies to all counties, but the State Legislature has declared that two, Johnson and Sedgwick, are “urban areas” that may choose to have a written Charter with certain authorities and limits (KSA 19-2654 and KSA 19-2680).  AHome Rule Charteris a legislative document that defines the structure, powers, purpose, and functions of a county government. The Johnson County Home Rule Charter was enacted by public vote during the November 2000 general election.

What is the Charter Commission?

The Johnson County Home Rule Charter requires that a group of 25 Johnson County citizens, called the Charter Commission, review the charter every 10 years. The members are appointed by various authorities specified in the Home Rule Charter. The 2000 Charter was not amended in 2011.  

What are the powers of the Charter Commission?

The Charter Commission does not have any independent authority to make changes to the Charter. It can only makeadministrative recommendations approved by a majority vote of its members and amendment proposals approved by a vote of four-fifths of its members (Charter Article 5 and Article 6, Sections 6.01 and 6.04), in the form of a final report presented to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.

What is the process for changing the Charter?

The Board must consider whether any of the Charter Commission’s administrative recommendations should be implemented. The Board has authority to decide whether it will make the recommended changes (Charter Article 7, Section 7.07). But the Board must send each lawful amendment proposal to the voters at the next available general election for a decision on whether to accept it or reject it.  

Who decides whether local positions are appointed or elected?

The general election statute is KSA 25-101. Subsections (10) and (11) require election of certain county officials: at each election when an incumbent commissioner’s term has expired; and at alternate elections, a county clerk, a county treasurer, a register of deeds, a county or district attorney, and a sheriff in each county. 

County governmental bodies do not have the power to change state statutes. Any statutory changes would have to be made by the state legislature. Counties are not permitted to opt out of statutes that apply uniformly to all counties (KSA 19-101a). However, the state legislature’s declaration of the two “Charter Counties” eliminated the uniformity of KSA 25-101(10) and (11). That allowed Johnson County voters in 2000 to “charter out” of electing the clerk, treasurer, and register of deeds and provide for their appointments by the County Commissioners (Charter Article 5, Section 5.05). The district attorney of Johnson County is specifically required by statute to be an elected judicial district officer, not a county officer (KSA 22a-101). 

Who decideswhether local races are partisan or nonpartisan?

Elections for county office are partisan, except for voting on judicial retention. Johnson County has opted for nonpartisan election of County Commissioners.