Danedri Thompson
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Four Gardner residents asked members of the Gardner’s governing body to censure council member Larry Fotovich. They asked that Fotovich resign, telling council that they believe Fotovich resides in Olathe.
“It is the duty of the remaining council and mayor to make the rest of the citizens heard,” Gardner resident Bruce Hughes said. “…The silence is taken as a wink-and-a-nod approval.”
Fotovich, who was elected in 2011, owns a home in Gardner and one in Olathe. By ordinance, to be eligible for council, members must be “qualified electors” electors of the city, or be registered voters within the city. Fotovich is registered to vote in Gardner.
Rich Melton and Lee Moore, Gardner, gave the council a petition requesting Fotovich’s resignation. The petition listed 176 names.
The residents addressed council during the public segment portion of the council meeting, and members of the governing body traditionally do not, and on May 5 did not, respond to the residents. However, council members discussed the charter ordinance that lays out eligibility requirements for office during a work session earlier that evening.
Cheryl Harrison-Lee, city administrator, told council that like Gardner, most Kansas municipalities use the term, “qualified elector” to define eligibility for office.
Council member Steve Shute said changing the terminology would add confusion and potentially bring legal problems. For example, he asked if a more stringent residency requirement would limit a potential council candidate who travels a lot for work or who owns a summer or lake home.
City attorney Ryan Denk said he has drafted residency requirements for city staff in other cities. To determine residency, Denk said he used several guidelines including whether a person’s children are enrolled in the local school district and whether a person’s drivers license lists an address in the community.
“If you just leave it at residency, the law is very forgiving,” Denk said.
Council member Kristina Harrison said the concern over residency requirements was obviously based on a very specific situation. Fotovich interjected that the discussion was based on a temporary situation.
“Trying to address a specific situation is a bad idea,” Harrison said.
Though council members agreed to continue discussing several changes to the ordinance, they appeared to reach a consensus to continue to only require council members to be qualified electors.