Tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita City Council may proceed without a quorum. Or not.
Sec. 2.04.270 of the Wichita city code defines a quorum as “a majority of the members-elect of the council who shall be authorized to transact ordinary and usual city business at any council meeting.” That means four members. But the code doesn’t say anything about whether those members must be present in the council chambers, or may they participate remotely by telephone or other method.
Generally, assembling a quorum by including remote members is not legal. It’s not allowed in the Kansas Legislature, and also not in the United States Congress. (If you’ve seen season 2 of “House of Cards” there is a dramatic episode based on this principle.)
So will Tuesday’s meeting of the council be legitimate, in the sense of having a quorum present?
Maybe not. The city may realize there’s a problem, as the agenda packet recommends the council take this action: “Open the public hearing for public comment on the creation of a TBID, receive public comment, close the public hearing, and direct staff to return with an ordinance if appropriate.”
Generally, a meeting like this would have the recommendation to close the public hearing and pass the ordinance. So the city may contend that tomorrow’s meeting is only for the purpose of conducting a statutorily-required public hearing. Any actual lawmaking with ordinance-passing will be done later. Whether this makes the meeting legal, I don’t know.
In addition to the valid question concerning the legality of a City Council meeting when a quorum is not physically present, one needs to question whether or not it reflects good public policy to conduct a public meeting by telephone. Why wasn’t the TBID item on the council’s agenda postponed to a later date when a quorum could be present?