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Blue Springs Voters Will Decide Whether To Join Other Cities With Gender-Neutral Charter Language

City of Blue Springs
Blue Springs residents will vote on a new charter in the upcoming municipal election.

Blue Springs, Missouri, could join a growing list of cities across the country replacing using “he” with “they” in its city charter.

Many city charters and municipal codes in the Kansas City-area include gender-neutral terms such as “councilmember” or use both “his” and “her” pronouns, but if voters approve the amendment on April 2, Blue Springs would be the first city in the area with more than 30,000 people to use “they,” “them” and “their” in its city charter.

Jeanie Lauer, who co-chaired this year’s charter review commission and is a former Republican state representative, said the commission chose to propose this amendment to the charter so that it would not “give a bias to one (gender) or the other.”

Around the country, cities such as Nashvilleand Philadelphiahave recently debated adding gender-neutral language in city charters or municipal codes. In Rochester, Minnesota, a group of high school students advocatedfor the change, which ultimately failed by one vote.

In Blue Springs, every five years the city’s mayor appoints a commission to review the charter line-by-line and propose changes its members believe are necessary. This year’s charter includes nine other amendment questions. The council unanimously approved this year’s changes in December, sending them to the April ballot.

Other proposed amendments include allowing city employees to campaign for and give money to candidates running for office, and raising the minimum age for the city’s councilmembers from 21 to 25 years old. This is because the mayor must be at least 25-years-old. Should the mayor be unable to fulfill his duties, the charter mandates that a councilmember take over, and as the charter currently stands, councilmembers under 25 would be ineligible.

Lauer expects all of the amendments to pass.

“I would say there’s overwhelming support. None of these are controversial. Some of them are just a matter of clean up,” she said.

Blue Springs residents will also vote for city council positions this April.

The ballot includes ten total charter amendments:

  1. Replace gender-specific pronouns with gender-neutral pronouns.
  2. Remove language from 1994 that is no longer applicable.
  3. Raise the minimum age of a councilmember from 21 to 25 and require that a councilmember and the mayor not be a registered sex offender.
  4. Amend the charter to ensure that the person appointed to fill Council vacancies will hold that position until the next regular municipal election; provide for public hearings within 30 days for councilmembers subject to forfeiture of office; require roll call voting by city council for the second reading of an ordinance, approval of minutes,  approval of routine items on a consent agenda, or at the request of the Mayor or any Councilmember; and delete a reference to to the mayor when the city administrator appoints the city clerk because the mayor is considered part of the council.
  5. Delete a section from Article III of the city charter, which duplicates another part of the charter.
  6. Require the city attorney and the city prosecutor be appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of a majority of the entire city council and may be removed by a five-sevenths majority of the council.
  7. Raise the minimum age of the City Administrator from 21 years of age to 25, clarify the number of city council votes required to remove the City Administrator as five-sevenths, and provide that the designation of acting city administrator may be revoked by a majority vote of the city council.
  8. Provide for random number drawing by candidates on the first day of filing for preparation of ballots.
  9. Allow City employees to campaign for and contribute to the campaign funds of any candidate for city office in Blue Springs and clarify penalties for violation of prohibited activity under Article XII.
  10. Change parts of the charter designating a special municipal judge and setting municipal elections.

Sonia Schlesinger is an intern at KCUR 89.3. Reach her at sonia@kcur.org or follow her on Twitter @soniaschlesi.

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