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City must pay $12,000 to plaintiff's attorneys
Court okays settlement in Sunshine lawsuit
by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

The City of Platte City must pay plaintiff Harold Coons' legal fees in the amount of more than $12,000 as part of the settlement of a Sunshine Law legal action against the city.

Coons, a Platte City resident, had alleged that the city board of aldermen failed to give proper public notification and posting of the agenda for its June 7 special meeting, where a first reading of annexation ordinances was held.

A settlement on the lawsuit was approved by Platte County Circuit Court Judge Owens Lee Hull on Friday.

As part of the settlement, the city agreed to remove its annexation questions from the November election ballot, and will have to cover any and all costs associated with doing so.

The plaintiff's suit is dismissed with prejudice, meaning he cannot file the suit again.

"The entire Platte City area community owes a debt of gratitude to Harold Coons. He has demonstrated that one individual can make a difference," Bob Shaw, attorney for the plaintiff, said Friday after the settlement had been approved.

Shaw said he is bothered by what he called "trash talk" from representatives at city hall.

"I am very disappointed with all of the trash talk from city officials we have seen in newspapers and in their news release," he said, referring to a previous comment from city administrator Keith Moody, who a few weeks ago downplayed the pending legal action by saying: "Anybody can file a lawsuit" and by mayor Dave Brooks referring to the violation of the Sunshine Law as a "technical glitch.”

Shaw was happy for his client.

"The settlement speaks for itself," he said.

City officials, speaking through a prepared news release as they had done last Tuesday after the aldermen voted to rescind the annexation ordinances as the lawsuit settlement was being finalized, once again referred to the situation as a "technical glitch.”

"Out of respect for the loyal taxpayers in our community, it's best to settle the lawsuit out of court," Brooks said. "I know many people in Platte City are disappointed to see a technical glitch slow the progress of our developing community.”

On Sept. 15, Judge Hull had approved an expedited schedule in Coons' lawsuit against the city, a schedule that would have allowed for a ruling prior to the scheduled Nov. 7 vote.

Under terms of the settlement, the city must pay $3,750 to McGinness and Shaw of Platte City and another $8,572.44 to Shaw's co-counsel, Murphy, Taylor Siemens and Elliott PC of St. Joseph.

In the news release, the city's annexation consultants have reportedly offered to waive a portion of their fees for work done on the annexation issue to date and for future work related to resubmission of another annexation issue to the voters, should the city choose to renew its annexation efforts.

The city has previously budgeted $50,000 in legal fees for annexation legal help.

The city has not yet indicated if or when it will come back with another annexation proposal, or perhaps the exact same proposal.

In June, Platte City announced its intent to annex two large unincorporated areas near the city's current boundaries. Platte City requested the right to annex 3,500 acres south of the river and another 2,900 acres east of the city.

City officials have said they see annexation as a necessary move to help balance future growth and economic conditions.

"Annexation really provides the city with a consistent style of growth," says Brooks. "At the same time, this balance will help our community to be more resilient to economic downturns.”

The news release says Brooks and a majority of the aldermen continue to believe that annexation will provide added benefits to area property owners.

Annexation opponents have been pointing to flaws in the city's plan of intent, including poking holes in what they say are the city's understated estimated figures of what it would cost the city to provide services to the proposed annexation areas. The annexation of the 6,500 acres would have quadrupled the geographical size of the current city.

Opponents had quietly expressed optimism in their chances of getting many Platte City residents to oppose the effort once they communicated how much it would cost the residents of the city to help fund the services needed to serve the annexed property.

Opponents have also indicated it would better serve the interests of the city for officials to be working on a plan to extend sewer service to potential commercial areas east of Interstate 29 rather than concentrating its effort and money on an involuntary annexation effort.



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