In a move coming shortly after a judge had approved an expedited schedule for a pending Sunshine Law violation lawsuit against the city, Platte City has pulled its aggressive annexation proposal off the November ballot.
The vote to pull the two annexation questions was unanimous by the six-member Platte City Board of Aldermen at a meeting Tuesday night. News of the impending decision by the city to drop its annexation effort was first reported by The Landmark on its web site last Friday afternoon.
City officials declined to comment beyond the content of a news release issued at the conclusion of the meeting. In that release, city officials claim the decision to drop the annexation was done “in an effort to avoid costly litigation.”
But The Landmark has confirmed a settlement is in the works between the city and Harold Coons, a Platte City resident who brought legal action against the city for allegedly violating the state’s open meetings law when it held a special June 7 meeting to pass the first reading of the annexation ordinances. Coons alleges the city violated the Sunshine Law in a variety of ways, including improper posting of the agenda and declining to state why a proper agenda posting could not have been done.
No settlement has yet been approved by the court, but it appears the city has agreed to drop the current annexation effort in exchange for, among other things, Coons’ dropping his lawsuit. Other details are likely to be included in the pending settlement. It is expected the city will have to pay the costs of Coons’ legal fees, for instance, and the city will likely have to cover any and all expense involved in pulling the measure off the November ballot.
“Hopefully we’ll have something to talk about by the end of the week,” said Bob Shaw, attorney representing Coons in the lawsuit against the city. Shaw said he has been tied up in a jury trial in a separate case this week and did not have an opportunity to confer with Chris Williams, the city’s special annexation attorney, on Tuesday. Both the city and plaintiff will need to appear in court when a settlement is reached for the pact to be approved by the judge.
“There’s never a settlement until everything is in place,” Shaw said.
Written discovery had been due from the city last Friday, in a fast-paced schedule approved by the court. That potential evidence requested by the plaintiff included documents and electronic correspondence related to the development of the June 7 agenda and other relevant internal and external communications between city officials and other parties.
The discovery was not turned over on Friday, apparently because a verbal settlement has been reached.
Depositions of mayor Dave Brooks, city administrator Keith Moody, and attorney Williams would have begun the week of Oct. 2.
Williams, meanwhile, said the city is not necessarily admitting to a Sunshine Law violation.
“We’re just saying what it says there,” Williams said, pointing to a copy of the news release handed out by the city.
The decision by the city to drop its current effort will not prevent it from coming back with another, or perhaps the exact same, proposal at a later date. The next available election for a ballot issue will be in February.
The news release issued by the city indicates city officials will contemplate options on future annexation, apparently including the option of resubmitting the exact same proposal.
Brooks, in the release, is quoted as saying: “I know many people in Platte City are disappointed to see a technical glitch slow the progress of our developing community.”
According to city officials, annexation is a necessary move to help balance future growth and economic conditions.
“Annexation really provides the city with a consistent style of growth,” says Brooks in the news release. “At the same time, this balance will help our community to be more resilient to economic downturns.”
The release also claims Brooks and a majority of the board continue to believe that annexation will provide added benefits to area property owners.
“The board’s actions this evening will place the city in its best possible position for success in the future,” Brooks is quoted as saying.
Brooks denied further comment when questioned by The Landmark, saying he had nothing more to say other than what was in the release.
It presumably will cost the city considerably more to run a special election in February than it would have for the questions to appear on the November ballot, as the city in February will not be able to split special election costs with other jurisdictions.
The city had proposed to annex roughly 6,500 acres, with the questions set to be voted on Nov. 7 by registered voters in Platte City and in the proposed annexation areas.
In August the board had voted by a 4-1 vote with one abstention to place the annexation questions on the November ballot. The city was proposing to annex 3,100 acres north and east of the current city limits and about 3,400 acres south and west of the city.
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 costs 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 areas.
Opponents have also indicated it would better serve the interests of the city for officials to be working on a plan to get sewer service to potential commercial areas east of Interstate 29 rather than concentrating on an involuntary annexation effort.