Archive for Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Federal lawsuit filed over ‘boycott’

Business owners sue in federal court

December 24, 2002

Owners of three downtown businesses have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the city of Tonganoxie violated their civil rights by boycotting their companies.

The lawsuit was brought by John Lenahan, Roger and Phyllis Shilling and Don Pelzl against the city of Tonganoxie, as well as Mayor John Franiuk, city attorney Mike Crow and former City Administrator Chris Clark. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

City Administrator Shane Krull and Franiuk referred all questions to Crow.

"I have not been served," Crow said. "I have not seen the pleadings."

He said he could not comment further. Attempts to reach the attorney for the city's insurance company was unsuccessful.

The lawsuit alleges that because the business owners were critical of the city over a bond issue in 2000 to partially finance a downtown improvement project, that the city refused to do business with their companies.

The $1.1 million project included a wider Fourth Street, new sidewalks, storm sewers and new street lights.

The three sued the city, alleging there were irregularities in the proposed $700,000 bond issue. That lawsuit was settled in November 2000.

"However, the plaintiffs continued their public criticisms of certain aspects of the bond issue after the settlement agreement," the federal lawsuit says.

In particular, the late Jean Lenahan, wife of John Lenahan, was a vocal critic of the city, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Clark directed city of Tonganoxie employees not to make purchases at three businesses owned by the plaintiffs: Lenahan Hardware, Shilling Electric and Do It Best Hardware.

At a February 2001 city council meeting, the lawsuit says, Mrs. Lenahan questioned the council about the boycott.

"During the meeting and on the record, defendant City Attorney Michael Crow answered Mrs. Lenahan's questions and stated the boycott was directed by then-city administrator Christopher Clark because city government would refrain from doing business with people who 'have not lived up to a handshake commitment and sued the city.'"

Mrs. Lenahan asked the council to reverse or rescind the decision by the administrator to initiate the boycott. The council tabled the matter, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges the city and other defendants violated the business owners' First Amendment right to publicly express their opposition to the bond issue, interfered with their businesses and portrayed them falsely.

The business owners, who are asking for a jury trial, are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

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