Shawnee Co. Counselor apologizes for Heartland Park emails

TOPEKA (KSNT) – Shawnee County’s chief legal advisor issued an apology Monday for his role in a series of e-mails involving organizers of the Heartland Park petition and the City of Topeka.

Richard V. Eckert, the Shawnee County Counsel, has been embroiled in controversy since a published report linked him to a series of e-mails last week to the Topeka City Attorney, who announced Wednesday the city will try to block implementation of the petitions.

The petitions would force a public vote on a City proposal to acquire the financially troubled Heartland Park race track and sell an additional $4.7 million in STAR bonds to help improve the district surround the track. The City already has some $10 million in outstanding bonds in the markets to pay for improvements now underway.

Eckert provided advice on the wording and format of the petitions to organizer Chris Imming. It’s that wording and format the City is now challenging in court, saying the petitions are flawed as to their intent and specificity. In a series of e-mail exchanges between Eckert and Topeka City Attorney Chad Sublet, Eckert voices his hopes the petition would ultimately fail, and appears to offer some advice to Sublet on who to best legally challenge the petition should the matter head to court.

In his Monday statement, Eckert apologizes for the exchange, but maintains his belief the petitions are valid.

“I am sorry for the tone of my emails regarding the Heartland Park protest petition. Shawnee County residents deserve confidence that the legal review process will be conducted with the highest integrity and my emails did not reflect my commitment to doing just that. The County Commission was unaware of the content of these emails until just recently. It continues to be my legal opinion that the petition is sufficient as to form, which is why my office approved it as such. I have personally reached out to Chris Imming who has worked countless hours on this issue. It is my hope that the City Council will honor this petition and allow the citizens of Topeka their rightful vote.”

The statement came just hours after Shawnee County Commissioner Bob Archer voiced his concern and disapproval of the email trail.

We all have personal opinions on things,” he told Kansas First News “. but county email and communications from Shawnee County are county business and its business only.

Earlier in the day Topeka City Councilman Chad Manspeaker, who himself signed the petition, made public a list of options he’ll has the city council to consider at its Tuesday night meeting. Manspeaker says the council faces three options: to reconsider the entire Heartland Park purchase deal; to drop its court challenge and hold the vote the petition demands or for the city to hold its own referendum on the purchase.

 

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