City will ask for court ruling in Heartland Park petition

TOPEKA (KSNT) – At a late Wednesday morning news conference, Topeka City Manager Jim Colson said the city will ask for a court ruling to decide the validity of a petition that would ask for a public vote on whether the city should take over Heartland Park Topeka.

The city hired a third party law firm, Lathrop and Gage, for an opinion on the petition organized by Topekan Chris Imming. In their opinion, the petition is invalid, preventing the governing body from moving forward with an election at this time, according to a press release provided by the City of Topeka.

“I think it’s obviously outrageous but not surprising,” Imming said.

The city is planning to file a motion for declaratory judgement with Shawnee County District Court. If the court determines it is a lawful petition, the city will take the issue back to the governing body to determine the next steps.

“Based on substantial procedural issues with the petition the city is asking the court to make a judicial determination on that petitions validity,” city manager Jim Colson said.

The city argues that organizers of the petition made several technical mistakes in their petitions, and that some of the intent behind them violates Kansas law.

At issue is this: The city is in the process of buying Heartland Park and expanding the STAR Bond district. The city has already committed $10 million in STAR bonds to improving the area surrounding the park, and under a deal reach in August with the track’s owners another $4.7 million in bonds would be issued.

Imming started a petition drive to force the matter to a public vote. Last week, he gathered more than enough valid signatures for the petition.

The City turned to an outside law firm, Lathop & Gage, LLP, for advice and came up with the following conclusions.

  • Organizers of the petition used outdated language in stating exactly who was organizing the petition. The language was modified by state legislators in May, 2014 and organizers used the previous description that those circulating the petition were residents of the state of Kansas and registered “electors”.
  • That the petition is effective an “initiative petition” which cannot be used, under state law, to repeal an administrative ordinance, which is what the city used to set up the purchase plan.
  • That the agreement to purchase Heartland Park is in the form of a city administrative ordinance which is also not subject, under Kansas law, to referendum petitions.
  • That the petition does not qualify as a protest against a city ordinance because it does not contain the specific language, or actual text, or the ordinance in its entirety.
  • That the petition effectively offers two possible solutions, or decisions, to be made by those who sign the petition and that initiative petitions must, under Kansas law, but limited to a specific question or issue.

If an election were to be held at some point, the City would bear the cost which is estimated at somewhere between $168,000 and $200,000.

“Whether it’s the number of signatures required or some other, some other ploy the city will find a way to try to invalidate the effort to, to get this to a vote,” Imming said.

Imming also said he couldn’t comment on what he and other organizers will do next until he’s had a chance to read the specifics of the city’s arguments.

The city has 20-days to formally file it’s suit. No court date has yet been set.

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