Wanted: Iolans willing to ‘shape history’

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Iola voters overwhelmingly opted in April to disband their existing city commission in favor of a larger governing body.
Now, city planners are hoping for more public input in deciding how the new city council will be comprised.
“This is a truly historic opportunity to shape our future,” Mayor Bill Maness said at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, calling for applicants to serve on a committee to study the new council.
Applications for the committee will be accepted through 5 p.m. Oct. 2. The only requirement is that committee members be residents of Iola and that they be eligible voters.
The committee will be called upon to discuss Iola’s options, such as the size of the new council, when the council will meet and each elected councilman’s length of term.
If nothing is done, the new city council will be elected in April 2011, with eight councilmen — two from each of Iola’s four voting wards — and a mayor, all elected to two-year terms. The new system would also require Iolans to elect a city treasurer.
Sandy Jacquot, an attorney for the League of Kansas Municipalities, told Iolans last week that nearly every city of Iola’s size within the state has deviated from that system through charter ordinances, which essentially allow communities to declare “home rule” and set up their own governing bodies.
The committee’s official charge will be to recommend various charter ordinances, Maness said.
Ideally, the ordinances will be in place next April, giving the city a full year to plan for the new council. But in order for them to be in place, they must be adopted in January because state law dictates a two-month window for any challenges to the new system.
That, in turn, will mean a busy October, November and December for the committee, Maness said.
It would be up to committee members to figure out how often, when and where they will meet.
“I would have preferred to have the new council in place by next April,” Maness said, “but we allowed too much time to pass. Now, the best thing is to have the new ordinances in April so that we can prepare for 2011.
“We have an absolutely perfect opportunity for Iola’s citizens to decide their future,” the mayor continued. “I’d like to see us do it right.”

THE commission — reversing course on a previous decision — agreed to partially fund a “Vision Iola Master Plan,” a comprehensive study of converting unused flooded properties to park areas or trails, beautification of downtown Iola and improving signage around town.
The plan will be developed by Thrive Allen County and Landworks Studio of Wichita. Iola will pay $25,100, while another $49,900 comes from the Kansas Health Care Foundation.
David Toland, executive director of Thrive, was at Tuesday’s meeting to further clarify what the plan would entail. He opened his presentation with an example of what’s already occurring.
With Iola now the sole owner of more than 100 flooded properties in the south part of town, the city has been inundated by requests to convert the land to soccer fields, garden space, a dog park and now an arboretum, Toland noted.
“You’re going to continue to be hit by proposals, probably until all of that land is gone,” he said. “We would look at a comprehensive way to make the best, most efficient use of that land that benefits the community as a whole.”
Instead of a “hodge-podge” of proposals, the master plan would consider all of the alternatives at once, Toland said. “This is a smarter way for the community to make decisions. We have an opportunity in front of us as long as we don’t squander it.”
Just as importantly, Landworks and Thrive will pursue outside funding sources to help pay for any or all of the proposed projects.
Landworks will seek grants to help implement any changes brought about by the master plan, Toland said. “Part of their job is to go after dollars.”
That aspect was enough to tilt Mayor Bill Maness’ decision back in favor of the master plan.
“We already have money budgeted for planning,” Maness said, to the tune of $20,000. “It’s worth the extra $5,000 to ensure a quality plan.”
Commissioner Craig Abbott, absent from Tuesday’s meeting, wrote in an e-mail that he thought the master planning proposal was “a dead issue” and that he was opposed to “Jumping through hoops at the last minute.”
Abbott acknowledged that Toland’s visit would shed new light on the proposal, and Maness and Commissioner Bill Shirley agreed. The plan passed 2-0.
It’s important to note, City Administrator Judy Brigham said, that the Vision Iola plan should not be confused with Iola’s master plan, which has been in place for years and is periodically updated, most recently in 2005.

IN RELATED matters, Howard Ross, who lives along the 900 block of South Washington Avenue, presented a petition signed by him and his neighbors in opposition to a dog park farther to the south.
The petition carried 12 signatures.
“That may not seem like much, but if you look at the signatures, it’s all of us who still live in the area,” Ross said.
And Don Hillbrant, representing the Iola Tree Board, asked commissioners to consider developing an arboretum, a botanical garden devoted to trees. In addition, young saplings would be planted, then sold to Iolans to be transplanted elsewhere in town as they grew.
Other towns in Kansas, such as Parsons and Overland Park, have arboretums, Hillbrant said.
Commissioners promised to consider the proposal, figuring it would tie in to the aforementioned Vision Iola plan.

CODE Enforcement Officer Jeff Bauer said the city is nearly ready to officially close its voluntary buyout of flooded properties. All of the 120 properties that could be sold to the city have been. Bauer told the Register a few remaining properties — “I can think of three off the top of my head,” — could not be sold because the property owners could not attain clear titles.
The city likely will have to go through a condemnation process for those properties so that damaged houses or other structures can be removed. The condemnation process cannot begin until the buyout is officially complete, Bauer noted, perhaps as early as next week.