Judge: CR 1 petition invalid
City’s commitment of funds to project to wait, mayor says
A petition calling for a referendum on the city of Tonganoxie's ability to help fund improvements on County Road 1 is invalid, a Leavenworth County District judge has ruled.
"In my judgment the proposed ordinance is invalid because it's overbroad," Judge David King said in his final statements. "There are means that proscribes to the city council that would not be subject to the issue of a referendum. There may be means that are proscribed that would be subject to the issue of a referendum, but the court would express no opinion on that matter."
The judge's decision came after listening to arguments by the attorneys representing the more than 300 petition signers and by Tonganoxie City Attorney Mike Kelly.
The judge ruled in favor of the city, citing Kansas Statute 12-3013, which states that petitions do not apply to "ordinances relating to a public improvement to be paid wholly or in part by the levy of special assessments; or ordinances subject to referendum or election under another statute."
The ruling means the city can now move forward with its proposed $1 million contribution to County Road 1 improvements. The Kansas Turnpike Authority is constructing a new interchange at County Road 1 but has asked for improvements on the road leading to the interchange.
Tonganoxie Mayor Mike Vestal said he hopes that by contributing money, Tonganoxie will have a voice in future developments around the interchange.
The decision "gives us the go ahead to go and put money to the project, but it's really going to be what the county wants to do or if they want us involved," Vestal said. "The ball is in the county's court right now."
Roger Schilling, who along with his wife, Phyllis, started the petition, says city officials are kidding themselves if they think it will have a say in future development.
"All they want are your funds not your voice," Schilling said.
In September, Shilling, owner of Shilling Electric, and a few other supporters began pounding the pavement gathering 354 signatures to bring the matter of contributing money to a vote. The city filed a lawsuit in November challenging the validity of the petition.
"All we wanted to do was let the people vote. If it passed, it would have been fine," Schilling said. "They didn't want to give us the opportunity to vote on this."
Schilling said he thought the petition, despite being ruled invalid, wasn't a complete waste of time because it was able to kill some time and keep the city from participating in any County Road 1 agreements. It also showed how many people wanted to put the issue to a vote.
He said voters would remember any contributions to the road project during the next elections.
"If (the council) agrees to give money to the county, well that's their political death," Shilling said. "People will remember in a year and a half. They will remember they were participants in denying them a voice."