Clay County Commissioners Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway have done little to quiet or answer the controversy surrounding the proposed land deal to build a new county Annex, nor settle the issue of conflict of interest on the part of Owen and what looks to many as bid rigging.
A crowd that showed up to the June 24 commission meeting exceeded the seating capacity of the commission chambers. Commentary by the public was, for the most part, negative to the proposed Annex, with pointed questions directed at Owen and Ridgeway.
Rather than reaffirming the sanctity of their three-year process, for most of the meeting Owen and Ridgeway looked uncomfortable. Owen made a few rambling, disjointed statements trying to justify his decision to support purchasing his campaign contributor Bill Mann’s Gladstone property. In typical fashion, Ridgeway looked down during public comments, rarely making eye contact with the speaker. In fact, people left the meeting with more unanswered questions.
At one point Owen said, “We’re going to have a new annex one way or another. If it’s not in Gladstone, it’s going to be in Kansas City" and “We’ve asked for a couple of proposals. We have two pieces of property. We’ve asked the owners to submit what they would take for the property. That’s what we’ve asked.”
Who is "we?"
Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte has indicated that he wasn’t aware the properties Owen put forward were being considered. Neither were recommended by the site selection firm the county hired. Who asked Mann to send in his proposal? We've learned from the property owner that it was Owen who solicited the proposal for their land at Missouri Highway 152 and North Brighton in Kansas City.
Why weren’t the owners of the North Brighton property given the same opportunity to purchase the existing Annex? Is there any documentation on how Mann knew about a way to transfer the current Annex to his control? How did Mann come to know the Annex’s current appraised value?
All these questions have been asked to Owen and Ridgeway by me, others from the public and members of the media. To date, both have refused to answer. By refusing to answer these questions, Owen and Ridgeway continue to erode the public’s trust.
Jason H. Withington