After a discussion that got tangled up in Robert's Rules of Order, Sedgwick County commissioners passed a legislative platform Wednesday that did not include pushing for voter approval of increases to the property tax rate.
Commissioners Kelly Parks and Karl Peterjohn wanted to include such a measure on the county's wish list for the Legislature, but a majority of board members did not.
Peterjohn made a motion to pass the platform, and Parks gave it a second.
But then Unruh made a subsequent motion that replaced Peterjohn's and pulled out voter approval of tax increases.
That's where things got messy.
The board voted to approve that version of the platform, but Peterjohn momentarily thought they had voted on the original.
After a break, he announced commissioners had approved the platform without the measure.
Unruh said he couldn't support asking for voter approval of tax increases in part because commissioners are elected to decide how to spend taxpayer money. He said having a vote for every project that could raise the mill levy would be costly to the county.
He said he thought it would be "bad government and bad leadership" to push for voter approval.
Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said she had worked to reduce the county's mill levy during her four years on the board and typically would support giving voters a say. But she noted that voters did not re-elect her to represent District 5.
She said that several speakers Wednesday complimented the commission for cutting the mill levy.
"I didn't get that kind of recognition out of District 5. It just hasn't been an issue for them. Someone told me they just weren't paying attention. Well, if they weren't paying attention, do they want that responsibility then?"
Several speakers voiced support for voter approval.
Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity — and the wife of treasurer Ron Estes — said it was important to give voters that right.
"Please allow us to tell you what we can afford to do," Estes said.
Wichita resident John Todd complimented commissioners for reducing the mill levy but said he thought voter approval would make it less tempting to raise taxes.
At some point during the discussion, Parks, who opted not to run again, asked to call for a vote.
Peterjohn consulted with county attorney Rich Euson about how to proceed — either to continue to discuss the issue or vote. Euson said Peterjohn could go either way.
"You're captain of the ship," Parks told Peterjohn.
Unruh made a substitute motion to pass the legislative platform without the push for voter approval.
Peterjohn thought they were voting only to remove that part of the platform and not on the platform itself. Commissioner Tim Norton explained how substitute motions work.
He then called for another vote on the platform "so we are clear for the public." But Parks had left the bench, so commissioners decided to take a break instead.
When commissioners returned, Peterjohn said the platform had passed without that part.
Peterjohn said that he's hearing from people who are hurting to pay their property taxes. He noted that surrounding states give voters the chance to either approve or oppose tax increases.