Judge listens to arguments in Heartland Park petition dispute

TOPEKA (KSNT) – After months of controversy surrounding the City of Topeka’s plan to purchase the Heartland Park Race Track, the issue went before a judge Thursday.

The hearing was on a city request a judge confirm its opinion that the petition demanding a public vote on the purchase is badly worded, doesn’t meet state statutes and asks voters to approve something they are not entitled to vote on.

More than 4,500 people signed the petitions, which circulated during the late summer and early fall, which were presented to The Shawnee County Clerk in October. That number was nearly twice the number needed to qualify for an initiative petition.

Two days later, the city said it would not place the petition on the ballot, citing a number of problems they had found once the petition’s wording was reviewed by an outside legal firm. The city says because of its concerns about the legality of the petition, it could not in good faith pay the estimated $250,000 for a special election on the petition if were later to be challenged and found improper.

Thursday, the Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks heard both sides of the argument during a hearing which lasted nearly six hours.

Hendricks said state Appeals Court rulings say whenever possible citizen initiative petitions should be approved, however  he noted that has to be balanced with the intent of existing state law.

Hendricks said he will make his decision public on Wednesday, November 12th.

The City has said previously that if a vote goes ahead it would delay the process of acquiring the financially trouble plagued race track, and could jeopardize negotiations with several organizations which might run the park which are currently underway.

Petition organizers argue the money the City plans to spend on acquiring the park, and issuing additional STAR bonds to improve the surrounding area warrant a public vote on whether the deal should occur.

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