CLAY COUNTY — While Clay County commissioners voted down a purchase contract for land owned by a commissioner campaign contributor in Gladstone, no final decision on the Annex’s future was reached as expected Monday, July 15.
Commissioners on Monday voted with two against the motion and one abstention, resulting in a failed resolution to purchase nearly five acres located on three tracts of land surrounding the QuikTrip at Missouri Highway 1/Prospect Avenue and 72nd Street that is owned by Bill Mann and WB, LLC.
Those against the purchase were Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte and Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway. As promised in previous commission sessions because of his affiliation with Bill Mann, Western Commissioner Gene Owen abstained from the vote.
Nolte voted against the purchase for reasons he stated in previous public meetings including a lack of public input and inability of the county to take care of current property.
“We are treating the public with a lack of respect,” he said Monday.
Ridgeway said she voted against the Gladstone project near QuikTrip because the votes were not there regardless of whether she liked it.
“I pretty much knew where the votes were. Even I had voted ‘yes,’ Jerry is a solid ‘no’ and Gene had already said publicly he was going to abstain, so the motion fails. … Well, just get that off the table and be done with it,” she told the Courier-Tribune after the meeting Monday, adding she could also see pros and cons with the property. ”Regardless of the positives or negatives about that particular piece of property, it’s a nonstarter. The votes are not there.”
During the Monday meeting, tensions ran high as commissioners argued and members of public, upset by the process, shouted out frustrations from the packed commission chambers in the Clay County Administration Building on the Liberty Square.
Issues began early in the meeting when Ridgeway made a motion to amend the agenda to first take action on items not related to the Annex such as approval of routine items like law enforcement equipment, moving much of the Annex-related debate toward the bottom of the agenda. Ridgeway’s amendment also sought to remove action on contracts associated with potential purchases of two Kansas City properties and one in downtown Gladstone, moving them to discussion items. Her motion received boos from the standing-room-only crowd, a majority of which attended the meeting for the Annex debate and action.
“These are pretty short things, so I think the commission should consider moving the land acquisition things lower on the agenda to get more space cleared up in here so that other people can sit down that are here for the land acquisitions,” Ridgeway said.
Ridgeway’s motion to change the agenda passed with her and Owen voting in favor and Nolte against. Nolte then made a motion to move discussion items up on the agenda to where they would be discussed sooner, but the motion failed with Owen and Ridgeway voting against. Not moving ahead with the agenda as people expected, Nolte said, was disrespectful to the public who took time to be at the meeting.
“There are enough people here to where I think we need to make sure people are heard so that we can move on as they expected,” Nolte said. “The expectation was this would be at the top of the agenda and enough came out, so maybe we should have the people at the top of our agenda.”
As potential action on other possible Annex site purchases was squashed by moving them from action items to discussion items by commissioners, the future of the Annex remains unclear. The commission will meet next at 10 a.m. Monday, July 22, but no directive from commissioners to add Annex items to the agenda was made Monday.
Owen did what some considered an about-face Monday on the Annex matter. While previously saying the county was going to get a new facility and it would be in either Gladstone or Kansas City, during Monday’s meeting he said “all options are on the table,” including updating and expanding the current Annex and purchasing property not previously debated in public.
Nolte remains resolute after hearing from constituents that updating and possibly expanding the current Annex is the best course of action.
Despite hearing in previous commission sessions from elected officials with daily operations in the Annex and more than a dozen residents who said a new Annex is not wanted or needed, and instead repairs and possible expansion of the current facility is the way to go, Ridgeway said she has to think about the more than 100,000 other county residents and future growth when making her decision.
While she appreciates residents coming forwarded and providing their opinions, a new facility, she said, is needed to address population growth that will result in more people accessing the Annex and more space needs for safety, equipment, space and county personnel.
Ridgeway said her goal with all county facilities is to maximize the usage of what the county has.
“That’s where I ran into a problem with the current Annex. From day one, it was officeholder complaints, citizen complaints,” she said, adding the current configuration of the Annex is “a mess” and that a new facility would allow the county to reassess the location of all departments. With a new facility, Ridgeway said she’d like to see operational locations for some offices be reconfigured in the Administration Building in Liberty and the Annex.
“Why we would not do everything that we can so that the historic building over here becomes more of a satellite, feeder area for the two biggest offices we have, assessment and collector? Then we could put the flagship office for both of those offices in the Annex building, where we could have all the modern electronics, all the modern security, tons of parking, handicap-accessible, drive-up windows, all the things that are impossible for us to have here,” she said of the Administration Building.