Businesses seeking $450,000 from city
Owners of three downtown Tonganoxie businesses have filed a $450,000 claim against the city, saying their reputations and businesses have been harmed.
Jean and John Lenahan, owners of Lenahan Hardware; Roger and Phyllis Shilling, owners of Shilling Electric; and Don Pelzl, owner of Do It Best Hardware, filed the claim, seeking a $150,000 settlement for each business.
The business owners had filed a lawsuit against the city last year over a proposed bond issued to finance a portion of the downtown renovation project, which was completed in 2000. That lawsuit was settled out of court.
Bob Eye, a Topeka attorney representing the business owners, sent a letter last week addressed to city council members, Mayor John Franiuk and City Clerk Karen Daniels.
In that letter, Eye said:
"The claimants (the Lenahans, the Shillings and Pelzl) continued their public criticisms of certain aspects of the bond issue after the settlement agreement. On or around December 1, 2000, the city of Tonganoxie, by and through its city administrator, directed that city employees not make purchases at the claimants' businesses. According to the city council's approved minutes of February 26, 2001, the boycott was done specifically in retaliation for the claimants' public criticisms of the subject bond issue. The boycott is still in place."
The letter says that the business owners will accept a settlement of $150,000 for each business, in exchange for not taking legal action.
Mike Crow, city attorney, said the matter has been turned over to the city's liability insurance company.
"I've instructed council members not to discuss it," he said.
In addition, City Administrator Chris Clark said he could not comment on the claim.
"We were all given strict instructions last night to maintain strict confidentiality," he said on Tuesday, apparently referring to an executive session that he and city council members conducted with Crow during Monday night's council meeting.
However, he did say that the decision to not do business with the three companies was reversed last February or March. So the contention in Eye's letter was incorrect.
According to Eye's letter, the city has 120 days to respond.
However, it also says the business owners may file suit in U.S. District Court before that, "if the boycott is not lifted by the city within 14 days of the receipt of this correspondence."
Clark said the city received the letter on Friday.
The letter alleges that the business owners' personal and business reputations have been harmed and that they have suffered loss of business revenues.
Eye's letter alleges that these officials were involved in the matter: the mayor; Crow; city council members, including those on the council in December 2000; and Clark and former City Administrator Chris Eppley.