Heartland Park fight over, city wins

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

TOPEKA (KSNT) – The Kansas Court of Appeals has ruled against Chris Imming in the City of Topeka, Kansas and Jayhawk Properties, LLC v. Christopher Imming case.

The Court of Appeals sent a statement to KSNT News Wednesday morning saying they affirmed the district court’s denial of Christopher Imming’s request for a writ of mandamus compelling the City of Topeka to either repeal Ordinance No. 19915, the ordinance purchasing Heartland Park racetrack, or hold an election and let the voters decide if the purchase should be made.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the City’s lawsuit against Imming could have been dismissed by the district court because the Topeka City Council neither authorized nor ratified at an open meeting the act of the City Manager in filing this declaratory judgment action. The court held that for municipal government to validly ratify the unauthorized actions of its agents, the governing body, at an open meeting, must either specifically approve the prior action of the agent or take some step consistent with ratification.  Inaction of the governing body, or acquiescence, is insufficient to ratify such acts.  Since there was no action taken at any open meeting in this case, the City Manager’s act of filing the lawsuit was not ratified.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court that Ordinance No. 19915 was an administrative ordinance and not legislative. Because the ordinance more than doubled the size of the STAR bond district and secured an unencumbered title to the Heartland Park real estate for the city, the court held the ordinance was legislative.

“A citizen must challenge the issuance of STAR bonds by circulating a protest petition. If that protest petition garners enough signatures, the matter of the issuance of STAR bonds must be placed for a popular vote.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals noted that there is but one way by law to obtain initiative and referendum in Kansas while there are almost 40 issues where the law permits one to obtain a referendum election on specific public questions through the use of protest petitions.  By exempting from the initiative and referendum process “ordinances subject to referendum or election under another statute” the legislature has declared that such questions are to be decided by using the more specific statutory provisions.  The court examined Ordinance No. 19915 and ruled the specific STAR bond referendum statute applied in this case and not the general initiative and referendum law.

The Court of Appeals says that because this issue is exempt from the initiative and referendum statute, Imming was not entitled to a court order, or writ of mandamus, compelling repeal of Ordinance 19915 or in the alternative, an election on the subject.

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