The tiny town of Frederick is trying again to vote itself out of existence.
The few residents left tried to kill it during the November 2016 election. Or at least, that is how the town’s mayor had hoped would be the outcome.
But just like a county seat election during the Wild West days, more people cast votes to determine Frederick’s fate than the town had registered voters.
And with that - what should have been an overwhelming decision to dissolve the state’s second smallest city instead kept little Frederick’s incorporation intact for another year.
But Nov. 7, townsfolk again have the chance to decide Frederick’s fate, said Rice County Clerk Alicia Showalter.
“They do have the question on the ballot,” said Showalter. “That is the question - whether to dissolve it as a third-class city.”
Voting yes will keep the town incorporated. Voting no will dissolve it, she said.
Robert Root, who is the acting mayor by law, said everyone left in town - he counted roughly eight - have committed to voting no.
The town hasn’t set a budget in more than two years, which is required by state statute. No one ran for reelection when positions were up in April 2015 - including Root. No one wrote in a name or, it appears, even voted.
Acting City Clerk Melode Huggans had been paying the electric bill for the town’s streetlights. Root said he has been taking care of the mowing.
Root said he can’t run the town on his own.
“Melode has cancer and everyone is getting older,” he said.
Too many voters
The voting snafu occurred during the Nov. 8, 2016, election. Thirteen people voted to keep Frederick incorporated, Showalter said at the time. In all, 20 people cast ballots.
The problem: Frederick only had nine registered voters. And, by election day, only six went to the polls.
At the Eureka township voting precinct in Bushton, election workers accidentally gave ineligible township residents who didn’t live in the community ballots with Frederick’s incorporation question.
Because the mistake was caught after the results were canvassed and certified by the Rice County Commission, the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office considered the vote “official,” despite the voting numbers.
Root was surprised to learn about a month after the election that the town hadn’t unincorporated.
“They let outsiders vote,” he said. “We couldn’t get it to pass.”
Frederick wasn’t always in dire straights. It once held church suppers and school programs. Farm families would come to town on Saturday nights to buy groceries and socialize.
Frederick once had as many as 150 people, along with grocery stores, a lumberyard, blacksmiths and restaurants.
But plague after plague kept knocking the town down to its knees. It lost the railroad roundhouse to Hoisington and a tornado in the 1910s did considerable damage. A fire in 1934 wiped out much of its business district.
Over the years, as progress marched on, one by one, residents moved away.
Today, the schoolhouse is empty, stripped of its desks. A jail cell sits in the middle of a farm field, the metal bars and innards rusting. Old playground equipment and paint-worn cars are barely visible amid the trees after decades of neglect. A monument marks where one of the town’s three churches once stood.
There is one business remaining - a grain elevator.
No one wants to serve
The last blow came in April 2015. For the first time since the town’s inception in 1887, Frederick had no leaders.
Towns have unincorporated in the past - but in recent years, it doesn’t happen often.
State statute has these rules for a city that wants to unincorporate, according to the Kansas League of Municipalities. For Frederick, the former council - obligated to remain until replaced - had to call for an election on the matter. A decision must pass by a two-thirds vote.
The Kansas Legislature could also officially disincorporate a town through legislative action. The last time this happened was for the town of Treece, a polluted mining town that had 130-plus residents in 2010 but was abandoned by 2012 due to government buyouts.
In 1895, the Kansas Legislature vacated a number of Kansas cities that sprang up with a settlement and then disappeared, according to The News’ archives. That included the town of Cash City in Clark County, which at one time was reported to have 500 people but was empty by the time lawmakers took action.
The city had more than $90,000 in funds when it filed its last budget in 2014, said Showalter. If Frederick dissolves, that money would go to Eureka township, which would maintain the area.
Root said he didn’t know what would happen to Frederick's street lights if the town officially unincorporated.