Property owners wage battle at city hall
Three downtown business owners are taking their battle with the city to new ground.
The three Jean Lenahan, Roger Shilling and Don Pelzl sued the city over assessments on the Fourth Street renovation project. They said the city overcharged all downtown property owners for the project and they filed a lawsuit over the matter, with the backing of all downtown property owners but one, according to Lenahan.
The city and the three property owners reached an out-of-court settlement, but the matter left a bad taste in several mouths.
City administrator Chris Clark told city staffers not to do business with businesses that sue the city. And now, the three property owners are circulating a petition in an effort to oust the Tonganoxie city clerk, Shilling said.
"We probably have enough qualified people that could do the job who live in town," said Shilling. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to do the job she's doing."
On Jan. 8, Tonganoxie city council members approved a charter ordinance that allowed the city clerk to live in Leavenworth County or an adjoining county.
Kathy Bard, who began work as clerk in November, lives in DeSoto. She is a former deputy DeSoto city clerk.
City administrator Chris Clark said it was Bard who discovered that an earlier charter ordinance required that the clerk live in Leavenworth County. So the council adopted another ordinance in January.
The ordinance states that it will take effect 61 days after Jan. 17 on March 19 as long as no one submits a petition against it. If a petition is approved, it could force a public vote on the charter ordinance.
"All we need is 42 signatures," Shilling said.
Linda Scheer, county clerk, said she would verify the signatures once the petitions are submitted. If it's determined the petitions are valid, the city council must call for an election within 30 days, and the election itself must be held within 90 days.
It's possible the question over the charter ordinance could be piggybacked on the April 3 general election ballot. If not, a special election would be required, which would cost taxpayers $1,200 to $1,400, Scheer said.
"A lot of it's going to depend on the petitioners, the petition carriers, and then the city and if they react in a timeframe," Scheer said. "If they don't, it won't go in April."
Clark defended the city's choice of a clerk outside the county. Clark, who began work in August, said he didn't realize the clerk had to live in Leavenworth County. Had he realized that, he would have asked the council for a charter ordinance, he said.
The city held two searches for a city clerk. The city's initial selection declined the job offer. In early fall, another group was interviewed. The top two candidates both were from outside of the county one from Jefferson, the other from Johnson.
"We shouldn't limit ourselves because we're located in the southwest corner of Leavenworth County," Clark said. "She brings a lot of experience in areas that none of the other applicants presented."
Bard, who now holds the title of acting city clerk, said a move now would be difficult.
"I'm sure the citizens think, it's the taxpayers money and they live in the county, but they do allow for other key officials to live in an adjoining county," Bard said.
She said moving to Tonganoxie is an option, but she'd have to wait until at least this summer so her children wouldn't be moved during the school year.
"It's expensive to move," she said. "I had a house built in DeSoto. I'd have to sell it. It has to be the right time financially. I don't want to go backward in life."
At Monday night's city council meeting, Lenahan questioned the council about Clark's decision not to do business with firms that sue the city. She asked the council to rescind Clark's decision.
"I will entertain a motion," said Mayor John Franiuk.
No motion was made.
Then Franiuk asked for a motion to table the matter until the council discusses it with the administrator and the city attorney. Kathy Graveman made that motion, with David Hernandez seconding it. It passed, 5-0.
Shilling said Tuesday morning that he's considering a lawsuit against the city over the administrator's decision.
"It's monetary discrimination," he said. "We're blacklisted."
Shilling said he and the other two merchants are serving as "watchdogs."
"We're gadflies," he said.