A woman signs the petition to recall 4th District councilman Eric Bunch Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Update: The recall campaign against 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch failed to collect the number of signatures required to force a recall election.

It’s been 16 years since the last City Council recall election in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2005, Saundra McFadden-Weaver was forced to campaign against four opponents to keep her City Council seat after a recall petition was approved by voters. McFadden-Weaver successfully defended her seat and continued serving as a councilwoman until 2007.

In 2020, there was a push to recall Mayor Quinton Lucas, but it failed to garner enough signatures to be put on the ballot. Now, there’s an ongoing campaign to recall Councilman Eric Bunch, who represents the 4th District. 

The Kansas City Beacon gathered some common questions around the recall process to explain how it works. 

What are the reasons a city council member can be recalled?

To be recalled, officials must have committed either an act of misfeasance, defined as “the improper performance of some act which may lawfully be done”; malfeasance, defined as “the commission of some act wholly beyond the officials authority”; or an act of nonfeasance, defined as “the failure to perform a required duty.”

These acts have to directly affect the rights and interests of constituents and relate to the official’s administrative office. When attempting to recall Lucas, organizers cited poor judgment and inadequate leadership during the pandemic and what they saw as his part in encouraging civic unrest. 

When can a city council recall petition be filed?

A recall petition can be filed at any time, with two exceptions: A petition can’t be filed within six months of an official taking office or within six months of a prior recall election.

An official can be subject to multiple recalls.

How does a city council recall campaign start?

A voter from the elected official’s district must file an affidavit that includes the name of the official, their position and the grounds for removal. The city clerk will then make copies of the petition papers for distribution. If the clerk’s office doesn’t print enough copies, more can be printed by the voter at their own expense. 

After filing the affidavit, organizers have 30 days to gather signatures for the recall petition.

How many signatures are required?

To move forward, the number of signatures collected for a petition must be at least 20% of the total number of votes cast for mayoral candidates in the preceding municipal election. These signatures must come from registered voters of the district the official was elected in. 

Once submitted, election officials will examine and verify the signatures. They can be thrown out due to duplication, false names or being from a resident of a different district.

If a petition lacks the minimum number of signatures, the petitioner may be granted a 10-day extension to gather more signatures. If there are still not enough signatures after the extension, the petition will be dismissed.

What happens after enough signatures have been collected?

Once the recall petition is approved, it will be submitted to the City Council. The city clerk or election officials will notify the official of the recall. 

If the official resigns within five days of notification, the city will determine a day to hold an election, excluding the official from the race. If the official does not resign within five days, the city will again determine a day to hold a recall election, which the official can participate in to defend their position. 

Those interested in participating in a recall election must sign and file a nominating petition, specifying that they are a candidate to succeed the official who is under recall.

Does signing a city council recall petition count as a vote in the recall election?

No, signing a recall petition does not mean you’re voting for a specific candidate. The petition determines whether or not to bring an issue to the ballot box — it does not carry any obligation to vote. 

How many successful city council recalls have happened in KCMO’s history?

None in recent history. 

There have been several attempts that failed to garner enough signatures throughout the years, including a 2009 push against then-Mayor Mark Funkhouser, a 2012 push against then-Councilman Jermaine Reed and the 2020 push against Lucas. The Bunch recall election push is currency collecting signatures until Sept. 9.

McFadden-Weaver was the last councilperson to actually participate in a recall election, and she successfully defended her seat.

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Emily Wolf was a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She was a Report for America corps member.