Douglas County keeps mandatory penalty amid claims of favoritism

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Amid accusations of favoritism toward a top Kansas official, Douglass County commissioners decided Wednesday to keep a building code that requires anyone who starts constructing a home without a permit to pay a fine.

The mandatory penalty became an issue last year after an inspector discovered Secretary of State Kris Kobach was building a home inside a barn classified for agricultural use only.

Instead of fining Kobach, chief Douglas County building officer Jim Sherman issued Kobach an occupancy permit even though he did not have an approved water source and the plumbing beneath the concrete foundation had not been inspected, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

At a meeting Wednesday, several people argued Kobach had received special treatment because he did not have to pay the mandatory penalty and had received an occupancy permit for the building without having an approved water source.

Commission chairman Jim Flory acknowledged the county had made a few mistakes but said there was no favoritism.

Kobach signed a sworn affidavit in 2013 stating he was planning to build a 2,250 square-foot steel barn on his 159 acres that would be used only for agricultural purposes and would not be “a place for human habitation,” a place of employment” or “a place used by the public.”

In spring 2014, county inspector Pat Wempe found Kobach had the framework inside the barn for a 1,250-square-foot, two-bedroom home with electrical hookups and plumbing for a kitchen, laundry room and bathroom.

Sherman told Kobach that if he did not abandon construction of the residence he would have to get a building permit, Flory said. Soon afterward, Kobach confirmed he wanted to build an inhabitable structure.

Kay Pettit, another county inspector, insisted at the hearing that there had been favorable treatment, and that she had tried to tell Sherman there were problems with Kobach’s case.

“I hope you will finally hear my voice when I say that there are nearly 30 violations of the administrative (code) in the Kobach case,” she said. “There are also several life safety code violations in the house, and there are seven questionable zoning items on the Kobach project. This isn’t just about the fine.”

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, County Administrator Craig Weinaug asked the commission to change the code so it would be up to the chief building officer to decide whether to fine someone who started to build without a permit.

The current mandatory penalty is 100 percent of the cost of the building permit fee, which in Kobach’s case would be $700 on top of the $700 permit for a $70,000 home.

Kobach said last year news of the permit issue was overblown, and that he resolved it once he learned of the county’s requirements.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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