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PostPosted: Mon Dec 08, 2014 5:10 pm 
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Huge setback for Heartland Park this week in Topeka politics:

Quote:
The effort to push the city’s acquisition of Heartland Park Topeka to a public vote submitted 4,200 petition signatures Wednesday.

That is more than double the required amount and 1,500 more than the recommended number of signatures. The Shawnee County Election Office suggests petitioners gather at least 25 percent more than the required figure, in case some signatures aren’t valid.

Based on his review, petition organizer Chris Imming estimated at least 3,600 of those were valid, original signatures. He had until Friday to collect 2,132 signatures.

“We kept it open long enough to get as many as we could,” Imming said of the six-week petition effort. “There were people circulating the petition we didn’t know were circulating.”

If the petition is successful, it could jeopardize the city’s plans to take over the racing complex, the racetrack and the bank note, said city attorney Chad Sublet.

The agreement allows CoreFirst to foreclose on the racetrack if the bonds aren’t issued by Feb. 28, 2015. If the issue goes to a public vote, the city could need an extension, he said.


“The petition could jeopardize that,” Sublet said. “It’s hard to say without reviewing the petition.”

The Shawnee County Election Office should be finished validating and tallying the signatures within three days, said assistant election commissioner Mark Stock. After that, he said, the next move is up to the Topeka City Council.

Imming at noon brought to the Topeka city clerk’s office 475 pages of signatures. As of 4:30 p.m., the signatures hadn’t yet made it to the election office.

Imming said about 70 individuals — more than double his original guess — circulated petitions throughout the community. About 80 percent of the signatures came from those efforts, he said.

Common reasons people cited for signing the petition to force a public vote on the issue included wanting more time to understand the issue and a chance to vote on the acquisition publicly, rather than relying on the city council vote, Imming said.

Others indicated they were dissatisfied with prior local government projects and weren’t convinced by projections indicating the city would break even on about $17 million worth of Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bonds, when the previous projections fell so short, he said.

The city council on June 17 started a process to buy Heartland Park Topeka in an attempt to avoid about $8 million in existing STAR bond debt owed on the property.

The problem developed after the city council voted in 2006 to issue $10.46 million worth of STAR bonds to finance improvements at the complex. Plans called for those to be paid off using sales tax revenue from the track, but Heartland Park’s STAR bond revenues have consistently fallen short, forcing the city to use property tax revenue to make up the difference.

The city’s plan to avoid more of a strain on city taxpayers is to expand the existing redevelopment district around the park by issuing an additional $5 million in STAR bonds. That would allow the city to buy the property free and clear of any debt owed by and the reversionary interest owed to current owner Raymond Irwin.

Acquiring the park without any debt or interest is crucial for the city to meet its objective of selling the property or finding a new manager, city officials have said.

Officials expect the expanded district to generate just enough revenue to pay off the $17 million in STAR bonds during the next 12 years.

Petition effect

The petition drive could throw a wrench in those plans, depending on how long it delays the process.

The agreement approved by the city council requires the bonds to be issued by Feb. 28, 2015. If the bonds aren’t issued by that time, CoreFirst can foreclose on the racetrack — as early as March 1, 2015.

In that event, Irwin still would owe the bank, the Small Business Association and the Department of Commerce about $3 million.

The city, consequently, would be on the hook for $8 million in outstanding STAR bond debt, Sublet said.

Given pending approvals and election timelines, the Feb. 28 date isn’t looking promising.

As a general rule, the election office requires 120 days’ notice to organize a vote. From October, that would be February.

The next election could be the Topeka City Council primary on March 3, if one is needed. The general election is set for April 7.

And pending a vote, the Kansas Department of Commerce will stop its work on approving the bond, said Dan Lara, deputy secretary for public affairs with the agency. The department already has approved all but one step of the process: Setting the interest rate.

“There is no point in approving interest rates on the bonds now because if the vote doesn’t take place, say, until April, the rates would fluctuate greatly between now and then,” Lara said.

Setting the interest rate is “the point of no return,” he said, because it commits the state to the project regardless of which administration is in charge. A general election that could change the administration is less than one month away.

Finally, the bond process alone takes 30 to 45 days, Sublet said.

If the elections office finds the petition has enough votes, Sublet said, the city council will have to review its options — one likely being amending the agreement to give the city time to schedule and hold a vote.

“We’ll just have to get all the parties together and see where to go from there,” Sublet said. “I have no idea what that would look like, to be honest.”


http://m.cjonline.com/news/2014-10-08/heartland-park-topeka-petition-drive-collects-4200-signatures


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:54 am 
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City of Topeka moves to declare petition invalid:

http://cjonline.com/news/2014-10-15/poll-do-you-support-challenge-hpt-petition

Quote:
The city manager of Topeka will ask a court to rule on the validity of a petition by residents calling for a vote on whether the city should take over Heartland Park Topeka.

At a press conference Wednesday, Jim Colson said the city sought an opinion from law firm Lathrop & Gage on the petition’s legality.

“The opinion of the third party,” he said, “is that the petition is invalid.”

For that reason, he said, the city won’t move forward with preparing for a public vote at this time.

Instead, the city will file a motion with Shawnee County District Court “in the quickest manner possible,” he said.

That should be by mid next week, he said.

“This action is our effort to protect the substantial amount of taxpayer dollars at risk,” Colson said. “A court opinion is essential to clarify the issue for all parties.”

City attorney Chad Sublet said the city has had concerns about the validity of the petition since August. Asked why he hadn’t communicated those to the petitioners, who gathered more than 3,500 signatures, Sublet said the city can’t serve as legal counsel to them.

Sublet said he hopes for a court decision within 20 days of filing.

In an email, petition organizer Chris Imming said the city’s announcement “comes as no surprise.”

In September, Imming had told the Topeka Capital-Journal he and others gathering signatures were concerned that “even if the required number of signatures are submitted and verified, some other deficiency or an objection will be raised that will nullify all of the work during the drive.”

“All of us involved in this effort understand the environment associated with taking a position opposite that of the city of Topeka, Shawnee County Commission, Chamber of Commerce, Go Topeka, Visit Topeka, Kansas Department of Commerce, the Topeka Lodging Association, CoreFirst (Bank & Trust) and (Heartland Park owner) Ray Irwin,” he said at the time.

On Wednesday, he expressed disappointment, noting the work put into the petition.

“Many people made extraordinary efforts just to get in to sign the petition,” he said. “There were seniors, people with disabilities. Some had other people drive them there so they could sign. By the same token some of our circulators made amazing efforts as well.”


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:54 am 
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Documents show city, county discussed Heartland Park petition's validity for weeks. County counselor details his reasoning as to why petition is valid


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:55 am 
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Some letters to the editor of the Topeka Capital-Journal

Heartland Park is an asset to Topeka

Heartland Park petition is a terrible mistake

Consider the options with Heartland Park


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:56 am 
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Some letters to the editor of the Topeka Capital-Journal

Heartland Park is an asset to Topeka

Heartland Park petition is a terrible mistake

Consider the options with Heartland Park


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:57 am 
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Shawnee County counselor on unpaid suspension following Heartland Park emails

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Shawnee County counselor Rich Eckert has been placed on a two week, unpaid suspension following the release of emails between him and the city regarding the Heartland Park Topeka petition.

Shawnee County Commission chairman Bob Archer Tuesday morning announced the commissioners are reprimanding Eckert for what they view as “inappropriate email comments.” The suspension started Tuesday.

“Although Mr. Eckert strongly believes that his work on the documentation regarding the Heartland Park Topeka petition is legally sufficient as to form, his personal views should not have been expressed,” Archer said in the news release. “The commission wants to make it clear that county email is strictly for county business and there is no room for editorializing or personal views.”

The commission, Archer added, was not included on the email exchange and will take no position on Heartland Park, as it “is a city of Topeka issue.”

Eckert on Monday issued a statement apologizing for the tone of his emails and stood by his legal opinion on the subject.

The Topeka Capital-Journal on Oct. 16 published email correspondence between Eckert and Topeka city attorney Chad Sublet after making a Kansas Open Records Act request for the documents. The emails discuss a petition effort to force to a public vote the city’s acquisition of Heartland Park.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:57 am 
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City will continue effort to try to invalidate Heartland Park petition

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Two Topeka City Council votes taken Tuesday evening cleared the way for the city government to seek to legally invalidate a petition targeted at forcing a public vote on the city’s purchase of Heartland Park Topeka.

Council members voted 6-3 to reject Councilman Chad Manspeaker’s motions:

■ To suspend the council’s rules so it could consider his proposal to direct city attorney Chad Sublet not to pursue litigation challenging the petition.

■ To suspend the rules so it could consider his proposal to call for a special, citywide ballot question to be held on whether to proceed with the purchase.

Votes from two-thirds of council members were required to suspend the rules to get either proposal onto the agenda.

Council members Manspeaker, Denise Everhart and Elaine Schwartz voted in favor of suspending the rules.

Council members Karen Hiller, T.J. Brown, Sylvia Ortiz, Michelle De La Isla, Nathan Schmidt and Richard Harmon voted against the move.

Hiller then made a motion to suspend the council’s rules to take up the Heartland Park matter as a discussion-only item.

Hiller said she had heard a tremendous number of comments from people who “don’t know what the deal is,” and she wanted to get the word out that the city has as much as $10 million in future tax dollars at risk, as well as the risk of losing racing indefinitely.

Council members voted 8-1, with Ortiz dissenting, to approve Hiller’s motion.

Tuesday evening’s discussion was linked to the governing body’s 9-1 vote on Aug. 12 to purchase Heartland Park and expand its redevelopment district. The purchase was among steps required to carry out the city’s plan to buy Heartland Park and solve a problem regarding Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bond debt.

Topekan Chris Imming then led a petition drive that appeared to have successfully gained the 2,132 signatures needed to force a citywide ballot question on the matter. But Topeka city manager Jim Colson said last week he would ask a court to rule on the petition’s legal validity.

Council members met behind closed doors in executive session for nearly 50 minutes near the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the matter with city attorney Chad Sublet.

As a result of the approval of Hiller’s motion, they then talked about the matter for 70 more minutes during the meeting’s public portion.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:58 am 
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The city of Topeka released the following statement today:
Quote:
In the simplest terms, the City is purchasing Heartland Park for $5 million dollars, and in exchange, is receiving $16.4 million dollars in sales tax revenue from the State. The State is willing to do this because they recognize Heartland Park as having a “significant economic impact on the state attracting people inside and outside the State of Kansas.” This economic impact also allows the all Kansans to assist with debt service, rather than just the citizens of Topeka.

This plan is similar to the expansion of the T-Bones STAR bond district to incorporate portions of the legends in Kansas City to address the debt service associated with the construction of the T-Bones stadium. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County purchased the T-Bones Stadium and in exchange the state allowed them to expand the district to increase revenue to address debt service. This is a mechanism that has been used statewide for projects from the salt mine museums in Hutchinson to the NASCAR facility in Kansas City. It is a mechanism that allows for local use of state sales tax dollars to encourage local economic development.

Many people have seen this as the City getting into the racing business which is in no way the plan of the City. To repeat: the City of Topeka has no interest or plans to run a racetrack. The City is in the process of identifying a management group with expertise in the racing industry and the financial ability to effectively manage the track. The City has been contacted by three different entities interested in managing the facility. All three entities have expertise in racing and the financial ability to manage the facility. The selection will go through a public and competitive Request for Proposal process and the best organization will be identified by a committee of internal and external experts in racing, finance and entertainment venues.

One of the most exciting aspects of this plan is that the NHRA has committed to continuing their relationship with Heartland Park for an additional 3 years if the STAR bond plan is completed. They have also committed to devoting their extensive marketing and promotional department to assist in making sure the event is as successful as possible. The ability to identify a first class organization to manage Heartland Park and garner $16.4 million in new revenue for the City to address debt service with the full support of the NHRA is a unique and exciting opportunity for the City.


The city of Topeka has created a website with much information on the Heartland Park situation here: http://www.topeka.org/HPT/

Sadly, if Topeka had taken this approach of transparency and communication back in July, new management would probably already be in place.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 9:59 am 
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Jayhawk Racing seeks to join Heartland Park petition case

Quote:
It could be the end of the road for Jayhawk Racing if a petition to force a public vote on Heartland Park Topeka goes forward, according to court documents filed Monday.

Jayhawk Racing, which is owned by Raymond Irwin, petitioned Shawnee County District Court to let it intervene in a case between the city and petition coordinator Chris Imming to decide whether the petition met its legal obligations. If a party is allowed to intervene, it can file arguments in favor of its own interests for the judge to consider.

Imming led the petition drive, which appears to have gathered the 2,132 valid signatures needed to force a ballot question before the city can buy Heartland Park and issue $5 million in new Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bond debt to finance the purchase.

The city argued, however, that the petition was worded incorrectly and therefore invalid, and brought the issue to court last week.

Jayhawk Racing had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the city, Visit Topeka Inc. and the Kansas Department of Commerce on June 23, according to the filing. In the memo, the city agreed to purchase Heartland Park from Jayhawk Racing for $2,392,117 by Feb. 15, or within 90 days of the Topeka City Council approving the STAR bond district. It also stated that if someone filed a petition to put it on the ballot, payment would be made within 60 days if the voters approved the purchase.

“If the transaction (with the city of Topeka) fails as a result of the Imming Petition, Jayhawk faces the very real possibility it will be forced out of business,” court documents said.

The city argued that purchasing the track would allow it to expand the STAR bond district to include more properties. STAR bonds are repaid by directing state and local sales tax collected in the affected district toward the bonds, rather than local and state general funds. The current district has fallen short of the collections needed by $8 million, and the city indicated the Kansas Department of Commerce won’t approve expanding the district unless the city buys Heartland Park.

An attached document included a host of arguments related to the wording of the petition, ranging from citing a wrong statute to phrasing that the majority of voters in Topeka, rather than the majority voting in any election, would have to approve the petition for it to be valid. That would require an almost unheard-of turnout of greater than 50 percent if the judge approved it, assuming all of those voters disliked the idea of buying Heartland Park. In reality, turnout would probably have to be much higher if the judge agreed with that argument.

The city and a company named Lario Enterprises had entered into an agreement to develop and manage what would become Heartland Park in 1988. Jayhawk Racing took over the management agreement in 2003, according to court documents. The city approved issuing about $10.5 million in STAR bonds in December 2005 to finance about half of the cost of redeveloping Heartland Park.

Jayhawk argued Heartland Park has a significant effect on Topeka, bringing in about 200,000 guests annually, for a total economic impact of $159.9 million per year.


http://m.cjonline.com/news/business/2014-10-27/jayhawk-racing-seeks-join-heartland-park-petition-case#gsc.tab=0


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 10:00 am 
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Heartland Park depositions to go forward, but under seal

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Jayhawk Racing will participate in the case surrounding a petition to force a vote on the purchase of Heartland Park, and a last-minute motion from the city to stop depositions scheduled for Thursday morning fell short — though the depositions’ content will be sealed.

A hearing Wednesday afternoon to determine whether Jayhawk Racing should be allowed to participate in the city’s lawsuit related to a petition filed by Topekan Chris Imming expanded in scope unexpectedly. The hearing touched on that issue and also what, if anything, Imming’s attorney should be able to ask city and county employees in depositions scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

Jayhawk Racing, which is owned by Ray Irwin, owns Heartland Park. The case centers around whether a petition Imming circulated to force a vote on the purchase of Heartland Park is invalid because of what the city alleges are flaws in its language.

Kevin Fowler, attorney for Jayhawk Racing, said the business had no choice but to intervene after Imming’s attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, filed a motion to challenge the city’s right to bring the suit. Fowler told Judge Larry Hendricks that Jayhawk’s rights were affected if the voters decided not to purchase Heartland Park.

“Because of the timing, (a vote) in and of itself may cause Jayhawk Racing to go out of business,” he said.

Duncan said Jayhawk’s argument was based on what the voters might decide to do, not whether Imming’s petition was valid.

“They’re whining about the fact that they could lose some money if the vote goes forward,” he said.

Hendricks ruled that Jayhawk should be a party to the suit, based on their concrete interest in its outcome, and the fact that no one would represent them if the city’s portion of the suit were to be dismissed.

Attorneys representing the city of Topeka filed objections to Duncan’s request to depose county counselor Rich Eckert, Mayor Larry Wolgast, city manager Jim Colson, city attorney Chad Sublet and city administrative and financial services director Doug Gerber beginning Thursday morning. Lawyer Curtis Tideman said Duncan had set out wide parameters for potential questions, which could reach into political issues or areas covered by attorney-client privilege.

Duncan said he needed to determine whether the city council reached a “consensus” in executive session without conducting a public vote.

“What (Duncan’s) telling you is he’d like to go fishing for an open meetings violation,” Tideman said.

“I’m not fishing,” Duncan responded.

Hendricks ruled the depositions could go forward, and that he would rule on whether any questions were out of order and whether any information gained should be used in the hearing on the petition’s merits. He also put a protective order on the depositions, preventing their public release.


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