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JOCO SPOTLIGHT

With election season approaching, county budgeting grabs the spotlight

BY ROXIE HAMMILL

Special to The Star

The Johnson County budget is a topic that’s never far from the minds of most county commissioners. But with elections looming in the fall, it promises to be the center of attention this year even more than usual.

The commission kicked off its budget writing season with a workshop earlier this month. But even before that, there was plenty of talk about the lessons that could be learned from last year.

Commissioner Ed Peterson, who wants Ed Eilert’s job as chairman, has made the budget his No. 1 talking point, saying the county needs to look beyond a steady tax rate to maintain a high quality services for citizens.

Commission Chairman Eilert maintains that an improving economy will add more revenue without raising taxes. He also pledged that county officials would quit relying on reserves to fund overly optimistic budgets projections — a criticism that’s been made the past year by some involved in budgeting.

Meanwhile the county has launched an online budget calculator and public forums to get the public interested in how the tax money is spent.

In a year of shortfalls in the mental health and sheriff’s offices, some of the sharpest words exchanged at county commission meetings have had to do with the budget. Recently, for instance, Sheriff Frank Denning pushed back at suggestions that the commission involve itself in day-to-day spending decisions of his department, saying, “…if you attempt to do a takeover, then I’ll be standing at the gate.”

Before that, two members of the former mental health governing board accused the county manager’s office of urging them to use inaccurate numbers in their budgets — an assertion the manager’s office denied. The mental health center ended up in the red at the end of last year, requiring a bailout of $520,911.

In both those cases, department representatives said they had been asked by the commission to present budget numbers that were rosier than reality. Denning said he did so with the understanding that the shortfall would be made up for at the end of the year with reserves.

Denning said he agreed to go into the year short-funded, “in an effort to be a team player,” for three years. But the lack of staff led to so much overtime that he had to come back and ask for reserves to cover about a $4 million shortfall, he said.

Eilert acknowledges that the county management has relied on reserves to close end-of-the-year funding gaps in the past.

“That process has been changing and needs to change to the extent that it should not and will not continue,” he said in a recent interview. “The budget should be fully presented,” at the upcoming spring budget meetings, he said.

During one uncomfortable meeting with the sheriff, Eilert suggested the commission might consider approval or disapproval of individual items in Denning’s budget. It was during that meeting that Denning made his “standing at the gate” comment.

That exchange points out another aspect of the budget battles of the past year — separation of power.

As an elected official, Denning said he has ultimate control of how to spend money within the sheriff’s department. The commission sets the dollar amount, but how it is spent is up to the sheriff, he said. That allows him to move money within his budget to balance spending when expenses come in higher or lower than expected, he said.

Although Eilert suggested at the time he might look into more commission involvement in Denning’s budget, he now affirms that Denning has the authority to make his own spending decisions.

“We all understand that,” he said, adding that both sides need to keep talking about budget-saving alternatives.

In the mental health center’s case, the commission disbanded the governing board, which had set the day-to-day spending decisions.

That, plus the sheriff’s controversy, has riled Eilert’s critics, who say the commission and Eilert in particular are overreaching the limits on their power. One such critic, Ken Dunwoody, filed suit on the matter.The lawsuit is pending.

Peterson said although the budget problems in the sheriff’s and mental health department are complex, the emphasis on a constant, low tax rate played a role. “This is an example of what happens when the only focus is on a constant mill levy,” he said.

Since he entered the race for chairman, Peterson has been saying the commission needs to take a more forward-looking approach to budgeting to preserve the county’s quality of life. Officials should look first to what each department needs, rather than start with the mill rate and then work backwards to make everything else fit, he said.

“We need to look ahead to what the community is going to be like,” he said. “Once we’ve identified the needs or wants, then we would try to find how to fund them.”

This year the county is seeking that input with a budget calculator in which residents can dial hypothetical funding up or down for each sector of county government. They can submit their preferences to be saved, if they wish.

The budget simulator can be found at http://maps.jocogov.org/budgetsurvey/

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POLITICS

Future is uncertain for suburban icon King Louie

BY RICK MONTGOMERY

The Kansas City Star

Inside the empty edifice at 8788 Metcalf Ave., everything is as gray as the iconic building’s future.

A concrete floor is striped with ruts a foot deep. They once carried bowling balls returning from the pins to patrons of the King Louie West family fun center.

Down a broad and colorless ramp, an oval expanse of dirt marks the site where ice-skaters once twirled.

The place closed five years ago. Johnson County taxpayers now own it.

Some are fuming about that, noting that the $3.6 million the county spent to purchase and stabilize the facility over the last 30 months could have been used to address other public needs.

The sprawling structure faces a fate uncertain though arguably suitable for the old King Louie, where bowling and billiards shared space with figure skating and hockey: The county’s plans are on ice.

“People are saying, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t have a compelling reason to be owning this,’ ” said county Commissioner Steve Klika.

In November, Klika joined a 4-3 majority of commissioners in voting against the issuance of $10.3 million in bonds to remodel the building so it could house the Johnson County Museum and other county projects.

County officials — still voicing support for relocating the museum but split over how to pay for it — now preside over highly visible property that could stand idle for many more months.

Motorists on busy Metcalf can’t miss it. Blending 1960s-era flair with the rugged sweep of a Colorado ski lodge, the former King Louie West is considered by many a shrine to the halcyon days of suburban expansion.

County officials hurried to acquire the building in late 2011 when owner Western Development Co. dropped its asking price by almost half, to just under $2 million. The county commission at that time approved the purchase by a 6-1 vote.

And with the local history museum in Shawnee desperately needing new space, exultations of “win-win” flew about.

But commission members who were later elected, including Klika, say they heard a different sentiment from constituents angered by the county’s rush to buy the 74,000-square-foot building when budgets for libraries and road improvements were being cut.

“One of the options we need to explore,” said Klika, “is what we can do to put it up for sale and get back as much investment as we can get.”

Officials recently let The Kansas City Star tour the vacated site, swept clean of debris, stripped of its bowling lanes and concessions, removed of its accordion-style ceiling and awaiting a decision on further funding.

Joe Waters, director of county facilities, stood on a concrete landing overlooking the former ice rink. He said an appraisal was underway. But thinking that a buyer might raze it, he winced at the idea of selling the place.

“We do consider this building to be an icon,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to maintain its historic character.

“Structurally, it’s quite sound … And with column-free spaces and high bays, it’s perfectly suited” for the county’s history museum, Waters said.

Despite the commission’s narrow refusal to issue bonds, supporters of the King Louie purchase still express hope for someday using it.

That dirt floor once covered by ice and refrigerated piping, Waters said, could be the ideal canvas for relocating the 1950s-style All-Electric House, which stands adjacent to the cramped and low-visibility museum on Lackman Road.

The county planned to fill other space — and there’s plenty of it — with a site for early voting and by relocating the subsidized Enterprise Center, a business incubator now renting commercial space at a cost to taxpayers of a quarter-million dollars annually.

No longer part of the county’s vision: A “National Museum of Suburbia,” an ill-fated concept rolled out by the museum’s foundation board that would have required heavy private funding.

“Everybody scratched their heads to that,” said commission Chairman Ed Eilert, who championed the purchase of the King Louie building and continues to support renovating it for county use. Providing space for a national museum and suburban policy think tank, however, “is completely off the table,” he said.

“Our original quest was to find a new location for the Johnson County Museum,” Eilert said. “The commission has never lost focus of that need.”

Still, the verdict remains split on whether or not the county needs an abandoned bowling alley and ice chalet.

Family fun

King Louie West’s opening in the late 1950s made a bold architectural and social statement.

Bowling alleys before World War II were squeezed into dives that appealed only to men who liked to drink and gamble. Rough-hewn “pin boys” performed the work that soon would be done by mechanized pin-setters and ball returns.

By erecting modern bowling centers around the metro area, King Louie International joined a nationwide movement to make strikes and spares a family affair.

The company’s core business was clothing, mostly uniforms and shirts. Its leap into bowling helped King Louie sell bowling shirts.

The Metcalf Avenue facility cost $900,000 to build. Designed by architect Manuel Morris, it included meeting rooms, a pro shop, a snack bar, a lounge and a supervised children’s area. An expansion in the mid-1960s brought the ice rink.

Overland Park was booming.

In the Nall Hills neighborhood, “we had a barbed wire fence in our back yard with cows on the other side,” recalled Scott Lane, a real estate broker and advocate of suburban preservation. He said King Louie West and a subsequent development, the Glenwood Theatre, brought a luster to Metcalf that has since faded.

Today, he said, “I drive down Metcalf and just get depressed.”

A peek inside the old King Louie wouldn’t lift many spirits.

Near a cold fireplace, a painted mural of skaters on a pond is sullied by graffiti. At least the entryways have been fortified with new doors to keep intruders out, part of the county’s effort to prevent further deterioration.

All bowling equipment had been ripped out by the previous tenant, AMF Bowling Worldwide Inc.

The county tore down the scoreboards and bleachers near the ice rink, replaced outdated wiring, installed a temporary heating system and made structural and roof repairs.

But a lot more needs to be done to prepare the place for occupancy, said facilities director Waters. It lacks an elevator and a stairwell; the only access to the sublevel, where patrons skated, is by way of the ramp.

Commissioner Ed Peterson, who favored issuing the bonds, said a $15 million infusion was estimated for relocating the museum. And even if the county were to sell the Metcalf site, the museum’s space issues would need to be addressed.

The cost of building anew, he said, could be double that of moving the museum into a renovated King Louie.

“This is history that we need to preserve,” Peterson said. “But a lot of people just want basic services.”

The building’s fate might be settled after the next commission elections in November, some officials said.

Tight labyrinth

Starting in the confines of a 1927 schoolhouse, the 19,000 square-foot Johnson County Museum has gone through eight expansions since opening in 1967.

Visitors wind through a labyrinth of corridors too tight for large-group tours. The basement flooded in 2009, sending the staff into quickly erected offices in all corners of the building. Mold problems arose.

There are no overhead doors for hauling in large items. A vintage BelAir on display is trapped by walls erected in one of the expansions. “We built around it,” said museum director Mindi Love. Much of the county’s collection is hidden in storage miles away.

Like many museum supporters, Love’s enthusiasm for the cavernous environs of the old ice rink is buoyed by childhood memories of “playing itsy-bitsy spider” in the King Louie nursery while her mother bowled in a league.

Fond memories, however, have no place in governance, said Darrel Dougan, a critic of county politics who owns an insurance company in the Stilwell area.

“Sure, I liked going up there for dances when I was at Stilwell High School” in the 1960s, Dougan said. “But I was a kid. Now I’m an adult paying taxes.”

Even Mike Lerner, whose family managed King Louie until selling the business in 1982, is puzzled by the county’s investment.

After AMF moved into the facility, “they pretty much trashed it,” said Lerner, a managing member of King Louie’s clothing plant in Baxter Springs, Kan.

“I can’t begin to fathom what political entities do,” he added. “You’ve got to move on. You can’t be nostalgic about that.”

During the 2013 Five Year Planning Sessions, the Solid Waste Management Committee did allow public input from citizens present.  When Mr. Dennis Batliner and Mr. David Losey began supplying statistics that contradicted information supplied by County Staff, the Committee was faced with some serious decisions.

Solution-  The Chairperson along with County Staff changed the Committee’s By-Laws making the public input under the discretion of the Chairperson. Batliner and Losey have been virtually silenced.

On February 6, 2014 an Ethics Complaint JOCOSWMCcomplaint–Jorke was filed with the County Board of County Commissioners.

On April 10, 2014 during a public meeting the BOCC addressed this complaint captured in this 4 minute video.

Two weeks later, County Staff addressed this complaint.

Loseyltr4-21-14

Jarrett.1 jarrett.2

The Ethics Complaint was filed with the County Board of County Commissioners per established policy.

VI. ETHICS ADVISORY BOARD

The Ethics Advisory Board shall be a standing committee, established by the Board of County Commissioners, composed of the following designated members:

1. The Director of Personnel for the County, or their designee;

2. The Chief Counsel for the County, or their designee;

3. The District Attorney for the County, or their designee; and

4. The County Clerk, or their designee.

.

The Chief Counsel does not have the policy authority to rule on an Ethics Complaint.  In the absence of an Executive Session since April 10, 2014 the Chief Counsel does not have the policy authority to speak for the BOCC.  A reasonable person would conclude the Ethics Complaint has not been legally responded to but is more of a decision made by Chairman Eilert.  The only thing compliant is the other six commissioners.

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Anyone Who Threatens It”
Ken Dunwoody                                                           GOD
Henpecked Acres                                      One Nation
14850 W. 159th St.
Olathe, Ks. 66062 (913)768-1603
kdunwoody2@aol.com
http://NOlathe.net

 

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Anyone Who Threatens It”
Ken Dunwoody                                  GOD
Henpecked Acres                    One Nation
14850 W. 159th St.
Olathe, Ks. 66062
(913)768-1603
kdunwoody2@aol.com
http://NOlathe.net

 

August 2, 1996

Eilert Law Suit

During his 1995 US Congressional District 3 primary, it was alleged that Mayor Eilert had his Police Chief conduct an illegal FBI criminal background check on opponent Patrick.  US Court dismissed the resulting lawsuit following an “out of court settlement”.  Prior to the settlement, Judge Vratil ordered the files sealed so as not to negatively influence the public at Eilert’s request.  Following the settlement, KC Star filed a lawful KORA request with the City of Overland Park for attorney billing information.  Eilert’s refusal made it’s way to the Kansas Supreme Court and provides the last date on The Act itself.

Cypress Media v. City of Overland Park

 

Cypress Media v. City of Overland Park was a case before Kansas Supreme Court in 2000 concerning the request for release of attorney billing statements.

Important precedents

This case established that exemptions for attorney-client privilege must be defended on a document by document basis, with each justification establishing why that particular document is to be considered confidential attorney communication.

Background

  • Cypress Media, or the Kansas City Star, requested of the City of Overland Park all billing statements from 1996 for attorney services provided to the city by outside firms.
  • The city responded to the requests by giving the star redacted copies of billing information which included the date of the work, the name of the firm, and the amount billed, including attorney fees and expenses. The information that was redacted under the attorney-client privilege exemption was descriptions of the services and descriptions of the legal issues on which the attorney’s had worked. The city claimed the attorney-client privilege material was exempt under Kansas Open Records statute 1998 Supp. 45-221(a), which exempts all things which are exempted under evidence and discovery rules.
  • The Star sued and the trial court, after much debate, ruled in favor of the Star and ordered un-redacted copies of all the documents the Star had requested to be released.
  • The City appealed the decision.

Ruling of the court

The trial court first established that a blanket exception for attorney-client privilege could bot be applied as all communications between attorneys and clients did not relate to legal advice. The court ordered the city to compile a line by line list of the documents in question they wished to remain exempt and justify that exemption for each document separately. The city released a number of documents but established a codified system for exempting a larger portion of the documents, again relying on the attorney-client privilege exemption found in the Kansas Open Records Act. The court determined that it had not met the court’s requirement of a line by line justification for exemption and ordered the release of all of the documents. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court and ordered the documents released. The Supreme Court first rejected the City’s claim of an expansive attorney-client privilege exemption which includes all communication between attorneys and clients. It however, also rejected the Star’s contention that only communication concerning legal advice constituted an exception under attorney-client privilege. Instead, the court affirmed the decision of the trial court to order a line by line justification of the exemptions, bearing in mind that material that is exempt under the attorney-client privilege is not only material relating to legal advice but any material that would reveal reasons for consulting the lawyer, or courtroom strategies. The court also felt that the same standard of analysis should be applied on a case by case basis to determine if the materials fall under the exemption for attorney work product, as the city argues they should. Finally, the court reiterated the opinion of the trial court that the exemptions mentioned required specific line by line justification for exemption. A mere mention of the statute used to exempt the materials is identical to the broad statutory interpretation the city urged, which would render all attorney-client communication exempt. The court thus affirmed all the decisions of the lower court and declared that it was well within its jurisdiction to order the documents released.

 

10/21/2010

Mr. Dunwoody:

I must advise you that your request is more in the nature of a request for information or an interrogatory than it is a Kansas Open Records Act (“KORA”) request. The KORA affords public access to existing documents and does not require a public entity to create a new document in responding to a KORA request. Nevertheless, as an accommodation to you in this instance, we are answering your questions but without thereby acquiescing in an interpretation of the KORA that would require the City to do so in the future. There will be no charge to you for the costs incurred by the City in constructing this response. However, we do not thereby acquiesce in an interpretation of the KORA that would require this waiver of fees with respect to future requests.

The insurance policy of the City that responded to the Kerry Patrick claim and lawsuit was the law enforcement and police professional liability policy, an occurrence policy, issued through the First Mercury Syndicate, Inc., of the Illinois Insurance Exchange (“insurance company”) for the policy period from March 15, 1994, to March 15, 1995. The premium paid for the policy period from March 15, 1994, to March 15, 1995, was $128,588. The premium paid for the policy period from March 15, 1995, to March 15, 1996, was $128,438. The premium paid for the policy period from March 15, 1996, to March 15, 1997, was $116,322. In late 1996, the general managing agency for the insurance company indicated that law enforcement and police professional liability coverage was no longer being offered through the insurance company. Hence, the City moved to the St. Paul Fire and Marine for its law enforcement and police professional liability coverage and all other coverages for the policy period from March 15, 1997, to March 15, 1998. The premium paid for the law enforcement and police professional liability policy was $96,080 for the policy period from March 15, 1997, to March 15, 1998.

The cost to the City of defending the City, the Mayor and the Chief of Police in the Kerry Patrick matter was the $100,000 deductible paid by the City. This payment consisted of payment by the City directly to the Spencer Fane law firm of $10,274.08 for its initial defense of the City and the Mayor, and to the Bryan Cave law firm of $8,799.30 for its initial defense of the Chief of Police. These payments were made in 1995, prior to the assumption of the payment obligation by the City’s insurance company. The City was given a credit against its deductible for the payments it had made to the law firms. The City paid to the insurance company the balance due on its deductible of $80,926.62 on December 19, 1996, all of which amount was attributable to additional defense costs.

With respect to your request that the City “confirm that the lawsuit was settled out of court based on the recommendation of the city’s insurance carrier,” the City has found no record that provides such a confirmation. With respect to your request “for any settlement payments paid by the City of Overland Park outside of the insurance settlements to Mr. Patrick and/or his attorney Mr. Dennis Egan and/or court costs,” the City has found no record of such payments. Kerry Patrick and his attorneys voluntarily dismissed, with prejudice, all claims against the City and the Mayor. No funds, public or private, were paid to Mr. Patrick or to his attorneys in return for the dismissal. All claims by Kerry Patrick against the Chief of Police were settled and dismissed and the Chief of Police denies any liability. No public funds were paid to Mr. Patrick or to his attorneys in return for the settlement.

ROBERT J. WATSONCITY ATTORNEYLAW DEPARTMENT

CITY OF OVERLAND PARK

8500 SANTA FE DRIVE

OVERLAND PARK, KS 66212

913-895-6083 (w) | 913-484-0280 (m) | 913-895-5095 (f)

bob.watson@opkansas.org | www.opkansas.org

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