A special question to expand the Pottawatomie County Commission may end up on the November ballot if a petition effort is successful.

Doug Kern, who currently sits on the Planning and Zoning board, tells KMAN that he’d like to see the county commission expand from three to five seats.

“So I thought, if they had five commissioners, then they could talk to each other outside of the commission meetings on Monday morning, without potentially violating that open meetings law. So that’s really what’s motivating me,” he said.

A five-member commission would mean two members could talk privately about county business. A majority of Kansas counties have three-member commissions, but a few have expanded to five. The most recent to expand was Reno County in 2021.

Kern’s petition was drafted by local attorney Bernard Irvine and was recently approved by Pottawatomie County Counselor John Watt. Kern says he’s now in the process of gathering signatures.

“The elections office sent me the exact number, but in round numbers, you have to have 900 signatures, which means you don’t just want to turn in 900, because if you get 899, you’ve wasted all your time and have to start all over,” he said.

A petitioner has up to 180 days to gather signatures. The county elections office then has 60 days to verify the signatures and if successful, the question will be placed on the November ballot.

Kern is hoping to gather upwards of 1,000 signatures or more.

Expansion could mean broader representation for citizens from more rural areas and small towns. It also creates the issue of a super-majority, which under a three-member commission would require a unanimous vote. With five members, a super-majority is four. Protest petitions, as an example, by state statute require a 75 percent approval from an oversight board.

As the county considers updating its regulations governing conditional use permits and writing solar farm regulations, this could potentially impact those processes.

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