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Chevy Nick

Future of Heartland Park in question

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Chevy Nick

Huge setback for Heartland Park this week in Topeka politics:

 

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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Chevy Nick

City of Topeka moves to declare petition invalid:

 

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

 

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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Chevy Nick

Shawnee County counselor on unpaid suspension following Heartland Park emails

 

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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Chevy Nick

City will continue effort to try to invalidate Heartland Park petition

 

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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Chevy Nick

The city of Topeka released the following statement today:

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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Chevy Nick

Jayhawk Racing seeks to join Heartland Park petition case

 

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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Chevy Nick

Heartland Park depositions to go forward, but under seal

 

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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Chevy Nick

We're in the midst of litigation and legal maneuvering now.

 

Attorney: Topeka city manager can't file suit to challenge Heartland Park petition

 

The city of Topeka’s challenge to a petition requiring a vote on the purchase of Heartland Park is invalid because the city council never voted on it, according to a defendant’s motion filed Monday.

 

The city has argued the additional $5 million in STAR bonds to purchase Heartland Park would allow it to expand the sales tax district surrounding the race track, allowing it to continue paying back the roughly $10 million in bonds it issued in 2006 to finance racetrack improvements. The city and the state both would give up sales tax revenue in the expanded district to pay off the combined bonds. The existing bond district has never produced enough sales tax revenue to pay off existing bonds.

 

Topekan Chris Imming had collected signatures to a petition to force a vote before the city of Topeka could issue Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bonds to purchase Heartland Park. The city filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court after receiving a legal opinion that Imming had collected the required number of signatures, but that the petition language was flawed.

 

Imming’s attorney, Robert “Tuck” Duncan, filed a motion for summary judgment Monday. The city and Jayhawk Racing, which owns Heartland Park, also have filed motions for summary judgment. Such a motion essentially argues the opponent’s case has so little merit or is so flawed legally that a full hearing or trial isn’t necessary.

 

Duncan cited Mayor Larry Wolgast’s statement in a deposition that the city council hadn’t voted to file a lawsuit challenging Imming’s petition and city manager Jim Colson’s statement that he had made the decision to file the case. He also referred to the description of the city manager’s duties in Topeka’s charter ordinance, which he said doesn’t give the city manager the power to file legal actions.

 

City communications and marketing director Suzie Gilbert said the city couldn’t comment on pending litigation, but will file a response with the court.

 

The city had argued Imming’s petition was invalid because it didn’t include the correct language for the type of petition needed to challenge a STAR bond project. Jayhawk Racing, which is owned by Ray Irwin, argued the petition was likely to confuse voters because it didn’t include the text of the ordinance or mention the public process surrounding it.

 

Duncan argued in his motion the petition substantially complied with all requirements, and people who read and signed the petition weren’t confused about its meaning. He also argued Imming’s petition affected only the portion of the city ordinance related to Heartland Park that authorized the sale of bonds, and that the purchase could be paid for another way, citing city financial services director Doug Gerber’s deposition.

 

Duncan also was scheduled to take depositions from county counselor Rich Eckert and city attorney Chad Sublet on Thursday. The filing Monday didn’t mention any statements made by either attorney.

 

A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Thursday.

 

http://m.cjonline.com/news/business/2014-11-03/attorney-topeka-city-manager-cant-file-suit-challenge-heartland-park#gsc.tab=0

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Chevy Nick

Heartland Park lawsuit: City files response to counterclaim

 

Topeka’s city government disagrees with a petition drive organizer’s argument that the lack of a city council vote to approve the move rendered invalid the city’s challenge to the petition seeking to require a public vote on the city’s proposed purchase of the Heartland Park Topeka racing facility.

 

Attorneys for the Overland Park-based legal firm of Lathrop & Gage LLP on Wednesday filed an answer on the city’s behalf to a counterclaim Topeka attorney R.E. “Tuck” Duncan filed last week on behalf of Chris Imming, the petition drive organizer.

 

In addressing Imming’s claim that the lack of a council vote to approve the lawsuit made it invalid, the response said simply that the city “denies” that allegation.

 

Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks plans to hear oral arguments Thursday regarding the lawsuit, which the city filed last month challenging the petition’s legality. The hearing is to begin at 9 a.m. in Room 320 of the Shawnee County Courthouse, 200 S.E. 7th.

 

Hendricks recently issued an intervention order allowing the track’s owner, Jayhawk Racing LLP, to participate in the case. Kansas statute requires the case to be decided by Nov. 11.

 

Imming initiated the petition drive after Topeka’s governing body voted Aug. 12 to purchase the financially troubled Heartland Park racing facility 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.

 

The petition drive gained more than the number of signatures required to get the matter on the ballot, but Lathrop & Gage last month provided the city government a legal opinion stating reasons it considers the petition legally invalid.

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Chevy Nick

Path is clear for City of Topeka to purchase Heartland Park

 

Shawnee County judge rules Heartland Park petition invalid

 

The petition to force the city’s plan to purchase Heartland Park Topeka won’t go to a public vote.

 

Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks at 3:52 p.m. Wednesday issued a judgement in favor of Topeka and Jayhawk Racing, ruling invalid a petition submitted by Topekan Chris Imming.

 

“The effect of this finding is that the Imming Petition is invalid as a matter of law,” Hendricks wrote in his conclusion.

 

Hendricks presided over the proceedings in the Topeka city government’s lawsuit challenging the validity of an initiative petition seeking to force a public vote on the city’s proposed purchase of the Heartland Park Topeka racing facility.

 

“The city of Topeka respects the judicial process, and the decision of Judge Hendricks,” city manager Jim Colson said in a news release. “We plan to take this issue back to the Governing Body for further discussion at the next scheduled meeting.”

 

The council next is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in its chambers in City Hall, 214 S.E. 8th.

 

Hendricks during the Nov. 6 oral arguments stated that a 2011 Kansas Court of Appeals ruling says judges should try to validate citizen petitions seeking ballot question elections if they can.

 

But, he added, judges facing such decisions also must take into account statutes approved by Kansas lawmakers and direction received from the Kansas Supreme Court.

 

Over the course of nearly two months, Imming collected 3,587 signatures on the petition. He was required to get 2,132.

 

Imming initiated the petition drive after the city’s governing body voted Aug. 12 to approve the ordinance authorizing the purchase of the financially troubled Heartland Park racing facility and the expansion of 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.

 

The plan includes issuing another $5 million in STAR bonds to purchase Heartland Park free and clear of debt. The extra debt is necessary to expand the current STAR bond district — an effort to capture enough state sales tax revenue to pay off $17 million in debt toward the facility. Sales tax projections are based on what facilities in the expanded district currently report.

 

Hendricks offered his comments on Nov. 6 in response to Topeka attorney R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, who said the 2011 ruling in the case of City of Prairie Village v. Morrison directs judges to “bend over backwards to try to find that what the public did was compliant.”

 

The petition drive organizer in that particular case lost it because he failed to attach copies of the ordinance he was seeking to overturn to his protest petition, Duncan said during a nearly four-hour hearing Thursday.

 

About 25 people, which Duncan said included petition carriers, were present for most the proceedings Nov. 6, which lasted nearly four hours.

 

Hendricks heard oral arguments from Duncan, representing petition drive organizer Chris Imming; Catherine Logan and Ken Weltz of Lathrop & Gage, representing the city; and Kevin Fowler of Topeka-based Frieden Unrein Forbes & Biggs LLP, representing Jayhawk Racing LLC, Heartland Park’s owner.

 

Hendricks heard arguments first on Imming’s motion to dismiss the case, then on separate motions by the city, Jayhawk Racing and Imming each asking that Hendricks issue a summary judgment deciding the case in their favor.

 

Imming asked Hendricks to order the city to overturn the ordinance in question or put it up for a citywide vote, and the city and Jayhawk Racing asked Hendricks to declare the petition invalid.

 

Attorneys for the city and Jayhawk Racing argued the petition is invalid because an initiative petition can’t legally overturn an administrative ordinance, and the ordinance authorizing the racetrack purchase was administrative.

 

Logan said the administrative nature of the ordinance was illustrated by the fact that it executes and implements a state law, the STAR Bond Financing Act.

 

She said the steps required to implement the ordinance, including holding public hearings and preparing a feasibility study, could be carried out by city administrators but not by an ordinary citizen.

 

Duncan replied that any decision by a city to purchase a racetrack isn’t merely an administrative move but a “huge public policy decision.”

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Chevy Nick

Topeka to proceed with Heartland Park deal as planned

 

Topeka's plan to expand the state sales tax revenue district around Heartland Park will go forward as previously planned — the only remaining thing standing in its way being the potential appeal from the petition effort.

 

“I think it's important to hold the course,” city manager Jim Colson said during Tuesday's council meeting.

 

While some have called upon the city to hold an election to respect the wishes of the roughly 4,000 people who signed the petition that would force the plan to a public vote, Colson said any vote scheduled on the city council's authority alone wouldn't be legally binding and could put the city at risk for litigation.

 

In recommending the council proceed as planned, he referenced the memorandum of understanding the council agreed to in June, which obligates the city to go through the Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bond process by the end of February or Heartland Park faces foreclosure, and the upcoming racing season, which depends on a stable future for the track.

 

Proceeding as planned, Colson repeatedly said, is what is in the city’s long-term best interest.

 

Petition drive organizer Chris Imming and his attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, announced Monday they would wait a few more days to decide whether to appeal a judge’s ruling that invalidated the petition. Duncan said he and Imming also would monitor Tuesday's council meeting.

 

The Topeka City Council discussed Heartland Park for nearly 40 minutes at the end of its meeting Tuesday as a non-action item. While no votes were cast, several members of the council voiced support for going forward with the city's plan to acquire Heartland Park and expand the STAR bond district.

 

“We've asked the city manager to come forth with what he believes to be the best option,” said Councilman Richard Harmon. “It's not a perfect option. Nobody wanted to be in this position. But place the blame where the blame lies.”

 

That blame, Harmon said, should rest on his shoulders and on the rest of the council members who passed the original STAR bonds for Heartland Park in 2006, which relied on too small a revenue district. Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz also acknowledged being on the council at that time.

 

Back then, Harmon said, the STAR bond wasn't considered a “high-risk venture,” and no one could have predicted the 2008 recession.

 

“There wasn’t a hint of opposition to the STAR bond project,” Harmon said. “There wasn’t anybody who didn’t think this wasn’t in the best interest of the city.”

 

The petition effort this fall submitted more than 4,000 signatures — 3,587 were determined valid — before the city filed a lawsuit challenging the petition’s validity, a suit the city ultimately won after Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks on Wednesday ruled the petition invalid.

 

The city council on Tuesday heard from only one member of the public: Teresa Miller, with the North Topeka West Neighborhood Improvement Association.

 

“To the 4,000 people that trusted the city and the county, basically it’s a slap in the face,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”

 

Council members Tuesday expressed frustration with not being able to disclose information to the public earlier in the process because of the potential for litigation. The council had been discussing Heartland Park for about one year before anything was released.

 

“When you are at risk of litigation, it becomes very difficult to be able to express to the public things you aren't able to disclose,” said Councilwoman Michelle De La Isla. “While all of these conversations were being had, the No. 1 concern was how will we save the citizens of Topeka funds?”

 

Even with those limitations, Colson acknowledged he and the city could have done a better job engaging the public on the issue. The first vote by the council, which locked the city into the MOU and workout agreement with Jayhawk Racing and CoreFirst, was taken five days after releasing information to the public.

 

“We should have done more to help people understand this issue,” Colson said. “We could have done a better job. Let me be very clear, I could have done a better job.”

 

Colson and the council members used Tuesday as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of the city's proposal. By doing nothing, Topeka taxpayers would be on the hook for a nearly $10 million in outstanding STAR bond debt, Colson said.

 

The city's plan increases that debt to $17 million, but it relies on existing states sales tax revenues of an expanded district — as opposed to the lofty projections used in the previous STAR bond issuance — that show the city will break even by the time the debt comes due.

 

The city's plan, as opposed to doing nothing, also won't mean new taxes. The revenue for the additional debt already is being collected by the state, which would be redirected to pay off the Heartland Park debt. One of the main questions remaining for people concerns the consequences of the $17 million bonds if the racetrack doesn’t perform, said Councilwoman Karen Hiller.

 

“The economic viability of this plan is not based on the success of the track” because it relies on taxes generated outside the racetrack, Colson answered. One of the contractual obligations with the new owner, he said, would be to continue to operate the track so it remains as “a qualified investment under the STAR bond.”

 

Colson reiterated the city's plan to find a new owner or manager for the park, noting the city “has no plans to run a racetrack.”

 

Another concern, Hiller said, was if the city could find a new owner or manager before issuing the new bonds. City attorney Chad Sublet said the timeline required in the MOU necessitates the request for proposal and bond issuance proceed at the same time.

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Topeka to proceed with Heartland Park deal as planned

 

Topeka's plan to expand the state sales tax revenue district around Heartland Park will go forward as previously planned — the only remaining thing standing in its way being the potential appeal from the petition effort.

 

“I think it's important to hold the course,” city manager Jim Colson said during Tuesday's council meeting.

 

While some have called upon the city to hold an election to respect the wishes of the roughly 4,000 people who signed the petition that would force the plan to a public vote, Colson said any vote scheduled on the city council's authority alone wouldn't be legally binding and could put the city at risk for litigation.

 

In recommending the council proceed as planned, he referenced the memorandum of understanding the council agreed to in June, which obligates the city to go through the Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bond process by the end of February or Heartland Park faces foreclosure, and the upcoming racing season, which depends on a stable future for the track.

 

Proceeding as planned, Colson repeatedly said, is what is in the city’s long-term best interest.

 

Petition drive organizer Chris Imming and his attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, announced Monday they would wait a few more days to decide whether to appeal a judge’s ruling that invalidated the petition. Duncan said he and Imming also would monitor Tuesday's council meeting.

 

The Topeka City Council discussed Heartland Park for nearly 40 minutes at the end of its meeting Tuesday as a non-action item. While no votes were cast, several members of the council voiced support for going forward with the city's plan to acquire Heartland Park and expand the STAR bond district.

 

“We've asked the city manager to come forth with what he believes to be the best option,” said Councilman Richard Harmon. “It's not a perfect option. Nobody wanted to be in this position. But place the blame where the blame lies.”

 

That blame, Harmon said, should rest on his shoulders and on the rest of the council members who passed the original STAR bonds for Heartland Park in 2006, which relied on too small a revenue district. Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz also acknowledged being on the council at that time.

 

Back then, Harmon said, the STAR bond wasn't considered a “high-risk venture,” and no one could have predicted the 2008 recession.

 

“There wasn’t a hint of opposition to the STAR bond project,” Harmon said. “There wasn’t anybody who didn’t think this wasn’t in the best interest of the city.”

 

The petition effort this fall submitted more than 4,000 signatures — 3,587 were determined valid — before the city filed a lawsuit challenging the petition’s validity, a suit the city ultimately won after Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks on Wednesday ruled the petition invalid.

 

The city council on Tuesday heard from only one member of the public: Teresa Miller, with the North Topeka West Neighborhood Improvement Association.

 

“To the 4,000 people that trusted the city and the county, basically it’s a slap in the face,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”

 

Council members Tuesday expressed frustration with not being able to disclose information to the public earlier in the process because of the potential for litigation. The council had been discussing Heartland Park for about one year before anything was released.

 

“When you are at risk of litigation, it becomes very difficult to be able to express to the public things you aren't able to disclose,” said Councilwoman Michelle De La Isla. “While all of these conversations were being had, the No. 1 concern was how will we save the citizens of Topeka funds?”

 

Even with those limitations, Colson acknowledged he and the city could have done a better job engaging the public on the issue. The first vote by the council, which locked the city into the MOU and workout agreement with Jayhawk Racing and CoreFirst, was taken five days after releasing information to the public.

 

“We should have done more to help people understand this issue,” Colson said. “We could have done a better job. Let me be very clear, I could have done a better job.”

 

Colson and the council members used Tuesday as an opportunity to reiterate the importance of the city's proposal. By doing nothing, Topeka taxpayers would be on the hook for a nearly $10 million in outstanding STAR bond debt, Colson said.

 

The city's plan increases that debt to $17 million, but it relies on existing states sales tax revenues of an expanded district — as opposed to the lofty projections used in the previous STAR bond issuance — that show the city will break even by the time the debt comes due.

 

The city's plan, as opposed to doing nothing, also won't mean new taxes. The revenue for the additional debt already is being collected by the state, which would be redirected to pay off the Heartland Park debt. One of the main questions remaining for people concerns the consequences of the $17 million bonds if the racetrack doesn’t perform, said Councilwoman Karen Hiller.

 

“The economic viability of this plan is not based on the success of the track” because it relies on taxes generated outside the racetrack, Colson answered. One of the contractual obligations with the new owner, he said, would be to continue to operate the track so it remains as “a qualified investment under the STAR bond.”

 

Colson reiterated the city's plan to find a new owner or manager for the park, noting the city “has no plans to run a racetrack.”

 

Another concern, Hiller said, was if the city could find a new owner or manager before issuing the new bonds. City attorney Chad Sublet said the timeline required in the MOU necessitates the request for proposal and bond issuance proceed at the same time.

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City puts out request for proposals to purchase or manage Heartland Park

 

Topeka’s city government has put out a request for proposals from anyone interested in buying the financially troubled Heartland Park Topeka racing facility or leasing it and managing it for the city.

 

The city will start accepting proposals Monday, according to the RFP, which contracts and procurement director Jay Oyler posted Thursday on the city’s website at http://bit.ly/1Hrqf8j.

 

“The City of Topeka is seeking proposals from qualified organizations or individual(s) for the Purchase Or Lease for the Management and Operations of Heartland Park Motorsports Racing Facility,” the RFP said.

 

It gave directions on how to submit proposals online using the city’s website at http://www.topeka.org.

 

Oyler indicated in the RFP that the city won’t accept any proposals received after the deadline of 2 p.m. Dec. 12.

 

He added, “The City reserves the right to accept or reject any or all proposals, waive any technicalities or informalities, and to determine which is the best proposal.”

 

The RFP doesn’t go into detail about what the city will expect from whomever it chooses to purchase or management Heartland Park.

 

The city’s governing body voted Aug. 12 to approve an ordinance authorizing the purchase of the financially troubled racing facility and the expansion of 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. City manager Jim Colson said the city had no plans to run the racetrack, and only wanted to find a new owner or manager for it.

 

Topeka Chris Imming subsequently initiated a petition drive that gained more than the required number of signatures to get the matter on the ballot, but the city filed suit challenging the petition’s validity and Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled last week that it was invalid.

 

Imming’s attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan, said Monday they would wait a few more days to decide whether to appeal Hendricks’ ruling. They had made no decision as of Thursday.

 

Meanwhile, city manager Jim Colson encountered no opposition from governing body members when he announced his intention at Tuesday’s city council meeting to proceed with the purchase.

 

Click here to see the actual RFP for Heartland Park

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Here's some of the RFP:

 

CITY OF TOPEKA

REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL

SCOPE OF SERVICES

HEARTLAND PARK MULTI-USE MOTORSPORTS RACING FACILITY

OWNER/OPERATOR OR LONG TERM LEASE FOR MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS

 

The City of Topeka, Kansas is soliciting proposals from qualified organizations or individual(s) to purchase or lease the entire facility. Proposals should include management plans for the Drag Strip, Road Course, Oval Dirt Track and Developable Property. Interested parties are encouraged to include concepts for use that enhance and grow existing motorsports at the three separate and distinct tracks, include new concepts for use that may or may not be motorsports related but increase the total number of events and spectator attendance that will maximize the use and revenue potential from the entire facility.

 

1. Existing Facilities at Heartland Park

 

Drag Strip. Includes access roads, vehicle parking, spectator viewing, suites and NHRA world class drag strip. The following improvements are part of the Drag Strip area:

• Quarter mile asphalt track

• Control Tower

• Spectator Seating

• Ticket Booth

• Concessions

• Permanent electrical installations

• Camping facilities

• Two paddocks to accommodate participants

• Restroom and shower facilities

• Garages

 

Dirt Track. 3/8 mile dirt track including access roads, vehicle parking area and spectator viewing area. Currently hosts (in season) Super 8 dirt track races, pure stock, stock car, B-Modified and Modified. The following improvements are part of the dirt track facility:

• Spectator seating

• Ticket Booth

• Concessions

• Permanent electrical installations

• Camping facilities

• Two paddocks to accommodate participants

• Restroom and shower facilities

• Garages

 

Road Course. 2.5 mile asphalt road course including access roads, vehicle parking area and spectator viewing area that can be configured in a number of ways. Course can host events ranging from kart races to SCCA races.

 

Developable Property. There are 122.16 acres M/L contingent to and located north and northwest of the existing racing facilities that may be developed. There are 155.25 acres M/L contingent to and located east of the existing racing facilities that may be developed. The City is desirous of seeing the entire facility developed with entertainment and other activities.

 

2. Scope of Services

Operation of Motorsports Facilities. Proposer shall provide a written plan for the operation of Heartland Park Multi-Use Motorsports Racing Facility. Proposers must clearly demonstrate that they have the ability to operate and maintain the entire facility.

Plan for Developable Property. Proposers should provide preliminary concepts and ideas for development and use of property that is currently not developed. The City is desirous of seeing the entire 700 acre property developed with entertainment and other activities. Proposers shall provide concepts for development and growth of the entire facility.

Qualifications and Experience. Proposers shall clearly demonstrate that they have the qualifications and experience to operate and maintain all aspects of the entire facility. It is desired that the proposers demonstrate that they have a proven track record of growing existing operations and future alternative uses for the entire facility including developable property.

Financial Plan. Proposers shall provide a 10 year financial plan for the operation of the entire facility. Proposers shall demonstrate that they fully understand the economic assets and liabilities related to operating and maintaining all aspects of Heartland Park including operations, maintenance, repair, marketing and promotions, including a plan for a revenue sharing agreement with the City.

Insurance. A letter from proposer’s insurance broker stating that insurance will be provided in the manner and at the limits required by the City.

References. Three (3) references, including name, title, address, phone number and e-mail address of reference. The references should include one that can confirm the financial ability (bank, credit union, accountant) to carry out the operation and two that can confirm the technical ability to carry out all of proposers proposed activities.

Compliance with City’s existing Agreement with the NHRA. The City has an existing Agreement with the NHRA contingent on execution of the STAR Bond plan as defined in City of Topeka Ordinance 19915. The proposer must provide written confirmation that they will strictly adhere with all aspects of the current NHRA Agreement.

 

3 Insurance. In addition to the other requirements, the operator will be required to carry insurance policies that meet the City’s requirement and name the City as an additional insured on applicable policies. Additionally, the operator must agree to Indemnify and Hold the City Harmless

A. Must adhere to National Hot Rod Association Standards.

a. Waiver and Release from Liability

With respect to racing events at NHRA Member Tracks, the tracks must maintain a system of regularly secure signed Waiver and Release forms from participants allowed to enter restricted areas and to prevent restricted area credentials from being issued before participants have properly signed and executed the Waiver and Release form. For minor participants, drivers (under eighteen (18) years of age), the Member Track must have a system to secure Minor Waiver and Release forms signed by the parent(s) or legal guardian(s).

b. Where used, the policy must include the following definitions:

Restricted area may not be more inclusive than the advance staging area, burn out area, competition area, shut down area, staging lanes, return road area, and any other area with barriers, fences, and/or structures separating the general public from racing activities, and which requires special authorizations, credentials, or permission to enter, or any area where the general public is restricted or prohibited. The definitions of the above terms are as follows:

1. Advanced Staging Area – means the area between the staging lanes and the burnout area;

2. Burnout Area – means the area between the advanced staging area and the competition area where participants conduct he usual preparation and testing of racing vehicles immediately preceding a racing event;

3. Competition Area – means the racing surface beginning at the starting line and ending line at the finish line;

4. Shut Down Area – means the area located from the finish line and beyond where the racing vehicles enter the return road area;

5. Return Road Area – means the area where the racing vehicles exit the shut down area and proceed to the pit area;

6. Pit Area – means the area used to register the participants and prepare racing vehicles for competition.

The participants definition should be defined to include racing vehicle drivers, mechanics, crew members, pit persons, officials of the race event, announcers, ambulance, fire and wrecker truck crews, new persons, photographers, pit gate workers, motor sports event promoters and all other person involved in the actual event, other than members of the general public.

B. Participant Accident Insurance – This coverage is for participants in drag racing events and includes excess Accident Medical Insurance, Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance and Weekly Disability Benefits.

a. Participant Accident Insurance or approved Self-Insurance must contain the following minimum coverage, conditions and terms:

1. $10,000 Accidental Death and Dismemberment Benefit to participants injured at NHRA Member Tracks (no deductible paid by the participant);

2. $15,000 Blanket Accident Medical Expense benefit on an Excess or Primary basis to participants injured at NHRA Member Tracks (no deductible paid by the participant);

3. $100 Weekly Disability benefit payable up to 52 weeks.

b. The policy must feature at least the coverages and benefits outlined below, and must, at a minimum, include all coverages provided by the NHRA’s Catastrophic Accident Policy, a copy of which is available from the NHRA:

1. Coverage for all participants with no licensing or age restrictions;

2. No jet truck exclusion;

3. No suspension of insurance clause;

4. $5,000 benefit for lost of sight in one eye, loss of one limb, or loss of use of one limb.

5. Tuning and Testing benefits at the same minimum NHRA Member Track Medial and AD&D limits.

C. Other Insurances.

a. Commercial General Liability Insurance. Aggregate and Per Occurrence minimum amounts to be negotiated. City must be named as an additional insured.

b. Automobile Insurance. Aggregate and Per Occurrence minimum amounts to be negotiated.

c. Workers Compensation Insurance. Minimum amount as set by Statute.

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RFP continued

4. Evaluation Methodology.

Proposers must present evidence that they are fully competent, have the necessary experience, organization and financial capacity to operate, manage, maintain, repair and grow Heartland Park. Proposals will be reviewed, evaluated and ranked using the following selection criteria:

A. Proposer’s plan for operation and maintenance of the facility. 20 points maximum

B. Proposer’s qualifications and experience with racing operations. 20 points maximum

C. The guaranteed compliance to maintain Heartland Park as a racing facility and meet all of the elements of City of Topeka Ordinance 19915. 20 points maximum

D. Financial ability of the proposer to operate, maintain and grow Heartland Park. 20 points maximum

E. Development of the entire 700 acre facility. 10 points maximum

F. Ability to procure insurance that meets the City’s requirements. 5 points maximum

G. Conforming to the RFP terms, conditions and prerequisites set forth in the RFP documents. 5 points maximum.

City of Topeka contractual documents related to Heartland Park from its inception to current, may be viewed at the City Clerk’s Office located in Room 166 in City Hall during normal business hours.

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As part of the RFP process, The City of Topeka has made the contract with the NHRA public.

 

Click here to download the NHRA Agreement with Heartland Park

 

The contract seems a bit one-sided from what I read.

 

If you look at page 10 of the contract, it says that the City of Topeka guarantees $1.8 Million in revenue from ticket sales, parking, and sponsorship. If revenue is less, the city has to make up the difference.

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Heartland Park petition decision to be appealed

 

A judge’s decision invalidating a petition seeking a citywide vote on the Heartland Park issue will be appealed.

 

Topekan Chris Imming, who led the petition effort, announced his intent to appeal Wednesday afternoon through his attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan. Duncan said simply in a statement: “Democracy lost. We will appeal.”

 

Imming initiated a petition drive that gained more than the required number of signatures to force the matter onto the ballot in a citywide election, but the city sued, contesting the petition’s validity. Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled the petition was invalid.

 

“The Judge agreed the petition was in a proper format, as approved by the county counselor, and substantially conformed with the law. As an initiative petition it meets the requirements of law,” Duncan said. “We will appeal on behalf of the 3,587 persons who put their trust in democracy.”

 

“The court found that the major policy of the ordinance, buying Heartland Park, was a ‘legislative’ act but then found the whole ordinance administrative, therefore ruling the petition invalid. We believe this is contradictory, and that the entire action was legislative.”

 

City spokeswoman Suzie Gilbert didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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Letter: Heartland Park only 'a playground for the affluent'

 

Again the citizens are deemed by the city administration and judicial officials “too stupid” to know what they want regarding Heartland Park.

 

The Shawnee County District judge has ruled that an administrative body can tax citizens legally to buy bankrupt companies over their protestations. The only recourse we citizens have appears to be the ballot box for city and county offices or revolution — I prefer the ballot box.

 

It appears that the judge found a convoluted loophole in the fine, fine, fine print of statutes — not unlike the Supreme Court in its interpreting ACA as a tax — that thwarts the will of the people.

 

The purchase of this bankrupt race track, a playground for the affluent, was not wanted by some 3,500 citizens of Topeka.

 

However, the citizens’ voices and rights appear to be inferior to the desires of a few in government.

 

Beware government officials — we may be too stupid to grasp the legalese, but we are not so stupid as you would have everyone believe when it comes to right and wrong.

 

Citizens, remember this sleight-of-hand when these folks come to you for your vote next election.

 

BOB RUNION, Topeka

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Half a dozen parties seeking to buy, manage Heartland Park

 

Five or six parties have registered so far to submit proposals to Topeka’s city government seeking to be chosen to purchase or manage Heartland Park Topeka, city officials said Monday evening.

 

That development was revealed as council members Karen Hiller, T.J. Brown and Elaine Schwartz held a meeting at Terry’s Bar & Grill, 522 S.W. 6th, to answer questions and solicit input about the city’s planned purchase of the financially troubled racing facility.

 

The gathering lasted 100 minutes. The audience was mostly middle-aged or older, with some ordering food and many drinking water, pop or beer.

 

Brown acknowledged to the more than 60 people present that city officials should have communicated more with the public earlier in the process of arranging the proposed purchase.

 

The city’s governing body voted Aug. 12 to authorize the purchase of Heartland Park and the expansion of 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. City manager Jim Colson said the city has no plans to run the racetrack and only wants to find a new owner or manager for it.

 

A petition drive subsequently gained more than the required number of signatures to put the matter on the ballot for a citywide election, but the city filed a lawsuit and Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks last month ruled the petition invalid. Petition drive organizer Chris Imming said last week he plans to appeal.

 

City attorney Chad Sublet told Monday’s audience the law allows the city to move forward with the STAR Bond re-issuance while the appeal is being decided. Sublet said the council plans to vote to consider “pricing” the bonds at its meeting Tuesday, then to consider selling them Dec. 16.

 

Meanwhile, the city is in the midst of accepting proposals from anyone seeking to buy or manage the track, with the deadline being Dec. 12.

 

Hiller told Monday’s audience the city won’t pay anyone to run the track. In fact, she said, the city’s RFP makes it clear that anyone chosen would pay the city to be able to manage Heartland Park.

 

In response to questions posed Monday:

 

■ Hiller said the city has no other STAR Bond projects going aside from the one at Heartland Park.

 

■ When an audience member noted the expansion of the Heartland Park Redevelopment District will mean some sales tax revenue that formerly went straight to the city will now go to pay off the Heartland Park STAR bonds, Schwartz said the amount redirected will be about $105,000 a year.

 

■ After an audience member asked why Colson wasn’t present, Hiller said the council members “didn’t really invite him.” Suzie Gilbert, the city’s communications and marketing director, stressed the city administration would hold another public meeting regarding the matter from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Dec. 8 in the main conference room at the city’s Holliday Building, 620 S.E. Madison.

 

■ When asked why the city couldn’t let Heartland Park fail, then acquire it, Hiller said if the city did that, the track would consequently miss a season of racing and may well never be able to get going again.

 

At one point, Monday’s audience was asked to provide a show of hands indicating whether they supported allowing the track to fail or proceeding with the purchase. Hiller said about 40 percent advocated letting the track fail, while about 60 percent supported the city’s plan.

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Heartland Park under water $45,000 on city utilities bill

 

Heartland Park Topeka owes the city nearly $45,000 in delinquent utility bills.

 

The racetrack, which currently is in the process of being purchased by the city, last paid its water and street utility bills on Aug. 7, 2013, said Suzie Gilbert, the city’s communications and marketing director.

 

Topeka policy indicates water can be shut off after at least 48 days of delinquency.

 

The racetrack appears on a list of 40 properties requested by The Topeka Capital-Journal that are delinquent on utility bills by at least $500 and 41 days. Gilbert didn’t respond to a Capital-Journal question asking how many of the properties had their water shut off.

 

August 2013 is roughly the time city officials first started developing a solution for Heartland Park, according to previous statements from city officials.

 

However, Gilbert said, the city is among the vendors the racetrack has to pay back once the Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bonds go through. According to a breakout of allocations, Jayhawk Racing will receive $2,392,117 of the estimated $5 million in bonds.

 

Records show the racetrack owed $44,645.11 as of Nov. 28.

 

Owner Raymond Irwin, reached by phone Monday, said he was driving and couldn’t talk. He said he didn’t know how much the racetrack owed each month in utility bills.

 

“I don’t handle those things,” Irwin said.

 

While city officials have been discussing solutions to Heartland Park at least since the summer of 2013, the city publicly disclosed the plan this past May. Officials said the discussions prior to this summer were proprietary because of potential litigation.

 

The city’s plan to rescue Heartland Park was set into motion five days after its release, when the Topeka City Council approved a memorandum of understanding and workout agreement with CoreFirst and Jayhawk Racing to pursue additional STAR bonds.

 

The city’s plan involves issuing another $5 million in STAR bonds to purchase Heartland Park free of debt. The city council on Tuesday voted 7-3 to approve the pricing of the new STAR bonds. A vote to issue the bonds is scheduled for Dec. 16.

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City moves closer to finalizing Heartland Park purchase

 

Topeka’s city government moved closer to the finish line Tuesday evening regarding its proposed purchase of Heartland Park Topeka.

 

The city’s governing body voted 7-3 to authorize the city staff to proceed to take steps needed to market and sell reissued STAR bonds to help bring about the purchase.

 

Mayor Larry Wolgast and council members Karen Hiller, T.J. Brown, Sylvia Ortiz, Denise Everhart, Michelle De La Isla and Nathan Schmidt voted in favor of the move.

 

Council members Chad Manspeaker, Elaine Schwartz and Richard Harmon voted against it.

 

Doug Gerber, the city’s administrative and financial services director, told governing body members the city staff would seek bids and come back before them Dec. 16 with “pricing to formally adopt the bids.”

 

Hiller asked prior to Tuesday’s vote whether it would finalize the city’s decision to reissue the bonds.

 

Gerber replied that if the governing body had concerns about the bond issuance, Tuesday was the appropriate night to express them.

 

He said Tuesday’s vote wouldn’t close the reissuance process but suggested that if the governing body approved that move, it then would be in the city’s best interests to formally adopt the bids Dec. 16.

 

“When we sell bonds, we’re putting the reputation of the city behind that process,” Gerber said.

 

The city’s governing body voted Aug. 12 to authorize the purchase of Heartland Park and the expansion of its redevelopment district. The purchase and reissuance of the Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds are among steps required to carry out the city’s plan to buy Heartland Park and solve a problem regarding STAR bond debt. The city until Dec. 12 is accepting proposals from anyone hoping to buy the facility or lease it and manage it for the city.

 

A petition drive gained more than the required number of signatures to put the matter on the ballot for a citywide election, but the city government filed a lawsuit and Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks last month ruled the petition invalid. Petition drive organizer Chris Imming said last week he plans to appeal.

 

Harmon asked Tuesday evening what would happen to the city’s sale of the STAR Bonds if Imming’s appeal succeeded. City attorney Chad Sublet said that was a legal matter the council would need to discuss in executive session. The council then voted 9-0 to meet behind closed doors in executive session for 20 minutes.

 

Afterward, Hiller told council members that she, Brown and Schwartz on Monday evening had a public meeting regarding the matter at Terry’s Bar & Grill, where she said about 60 percent of those who took part in a straw poll indicated they supported the purchase.

 

Brown said he was proud of the spirited and civil discussion that took place at that meeting.

 

Schwartz said she thought the public hadn’t had the opportunity to voice its opinion on the matter and she wouldn’t support the purchase.

 

Hiller also said she understood an agreement the city has with the NHRA — calling for that organization to hold its annual Kansas Nationals event at Heartland Park Topeka for three more years — would require a “sizeable” payment to be made to the NHRA if the event failed to bring in a certain, specific amount of revenue.

 

City manager Jim Colson replied that any such payment “absolutely” would be the responsibility of the facility’s operator, not the city.

 

Colson said the RFP the city put out late last month makes it clear that Heartland Park’s operator will be responsible for investing in it.

 

He added, “It is not our anticipation or expectation that we will be investing more money in Heartland Park.”

 

Governing body members heard public comment Tuesday evening regarding the matter from one person, Nick Scott, who asked them to approve the proposal.

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Topeka billed $72K so far for Heartland Park petition challenge

 

The city of Topeka paid an Overland Park law firm more than $72,000 for the first month of work on the Heartland Park Topeka petition court case.

 

Lathrop & Gage has billed the city $72,428.50 for 233.5 hours of work since Oct. 13, said communications and marketing director Suzie Gilbert. That equates to $310.19 an hour.

 

The amount will be paid from the legal department’s budget that comes from the special liability fund, she said. In 2014, that amount was budgeted at $996,491.

 

On Oct. 15, two days after the contract with the firm started, the city announced its intention to challenge the validity of the petition, based on Lathrop & Gage’s legal opinion the petition was invalid.

 

“We wanted a third party to review the petition and provide an initial evaluation,” said city attorney Chad Sublet when asked why the city retained outside counsel. “As the case proceeded, we wanted counsel with expertise in this unique area of the law. Lathrop & Gage has worked with petition cases in the past. They bring an objective opinion and specialized knowledge of the case. They are one of the only firms in the area with experience evaluating these issues and ultimately litigating them.”

 

A cover letter from attorney Catherine Logan dated Oct. 3 indicates her hourly rate would be $355 and the rate of attorney Mark Samsel would be $255 an hour. Logan and Ken Weltz from Lathrop & Gage represented the city during the nearly four-hour hearing on Nov. 6 in Shawnee County.

 

The city also could be charged for work from other staff members, including associates and paralegals, according to the letter.

 

The actual contract states the city will be charged for a variety of services: travel time; “time in court, including waiting time”; telephone and office conferences; responding to clients’ requests; and drafting and review of letters, pleadings and other documents. The contract also states the city will compensate the firm for costs and expenses, including mileage, meals and ground transportation.

 

Driving from the firm’s Overland Park office, 10851 Mastin Boulevard, to Topeka City Hall, 214 S.E. 8th St., is about 131 miles round-trip.

 

Fees and expenses, the contract states, will be billed monthly and are payable within the 30 days.

 

“Payment for the firm’s services,” the contract states, “is not contingent upon the outcome of any matter.”

 

The city engaged the law firm Lathrop & Gage to investigate the petition’s legality after petition organizer Chris Imming submitted 3,587 valid signatures to force to a public vote the city’s plan to purchase the racetrack.

 

The cover letter to the contract was dated Oct. 3 — one week before petition signatures were due.

 

Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks on Nov. 6 heard oral arguments and on Nov. 12 ruled in favor of the arguments presented by Lathrop & Gage and Jayhawk Racing.

 

Hendricks found that the petition was substantially compliant with the law, but that the city ordinance to purchase Heartland Park and expand the Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) bond district — Topeka Ordinance No. 19915 — is largely administrative. Initiative petitions, the type of petition Imming filed, can’t be filed against administrative ordinances.

 

The decision is expected to be appealed.

 

“We will appeal on behalf of the 3,587 persons who put their trust in democracy,” attorney R.E. “Tuck” Duncan said a statement Nov. 26.

 

Imming has said he isn’t accepting donations to help defray his legal costs.

 

“I have been telling people offering to donate to the effort that we would save the fundraising for the campaign on the ballot question should there be an election,” Imming said Monday. “If the quest to get it on the ballot is unsuccessful, then it would be appropriate to limit the funding of the process to the person responsible for making the decisions that resulted in an unsuccessful effort.”

 

The city’s legal department has 14 full-time employees, and next year has a budget of nearly $2.69 million: $1.15 million from the general fund and $1.53 million from the special liability fund. Personal services take up the bulk of the legal department budget, at $1.2 million. The department budgeted $900,000 for contractual services.

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