Planning and Zoning board will make recommendation concerning strip club next week
by Dennis Sharkey
The fight to keep a sexual oriented business out of Jefferson County continued last week without a final say from the Planning and Zoning Board.
Board members ended the meeting last week after two and half hours of closed session meetings with an attorney hired by the county, and continued public comment.
The meeting had a few less residents than the first hearing last month, however, the meeting was a media circus with several TV cameras and scribes grabbing locals for interviews.
After officially opening the hearing the board recessed into closed session for 30 minutes with Wichita attorney Patrick B. Hughes of the law firm Adams & Jones.
Hughes was hired by the county to advise the Planning and Zoning Department through this issue. The county would not release how much Hughes is being paid or his contract terms.
Upon returning to open session the floor was opened back up to residents who wished to speak in opposition of the proposed SOB.
Some testimony was similar to what was heard during the first hearing, while others who did not have a chance to attend or speak at the hearing last month spoke or tried to offer a different angle.
Dan Moore, rural Ozawkie, began the hearing pleading with board members to listen to the residents of the area. Moore said that more than 660 people signed an online petition in opposition to the proposed SOB.
“These people here,” Moore said pointing to a list of names. “And these people here are your friends and neighbors,” he said as he pointed to the crowd. “They’re good honest taxpaying Jefferson County citizens. I dare say the majority of us rarely write a letter or protest anything. However this application is so far beyond reason it has people around the entire county concerned.
“How could we explain to our children, grandchildren, friends, out-of-town visitors and so on what we allowed to happen on our watch,” he went on to say. “I personally think it would be a great embarrassment.”
Moore’s comments were met with a standing applause by the audience. Board Chairman Tim Bailey attempted to settle the crowd down unsuccessfully but reminded those in attendance to refrain from applauding.
Many comments were directed at Florida attorney Daniel Aaronson. Aaronson has been hired by SOB operator Zach Snyder along with Lawrence attorney John Bullock to help clear the project through. Aaronson, who was not in attendance last week, told the board and those in attendance that Snyder would sue the county if his application is denied. Aaronson suggested that the county would spend $200,000 defending a lawsuit.
Oskaloosa attorney Bruce Hanson, who did not attend the first meeting, wanted to clarify the stance of those in opposition to the SOB.
“The message was intimidation,” Hanson said. “You know this is a small county. You know times are tough. You know money is hard to come by.”
Hanson warned Snyder that if he is successful opening a business, the residents of Meriden, where the proposed SOB would be located just outside city limits, would not stand by. He suggested that the club may be protested or residents may take photos of license plates of patrons and post them online. Hanson also said if the county needs help, he will be there.
“My opinion is you will not do well in court in Kansas,” Hanson said. “This is not Florida If you sue, you come to our ball park.
“If the county wants my help that’s fine. All they need to do is ask,” he added. “That litigation will not cost anywhere near $200,000.”
Resident Kent Duncan challenged some of Snyder’s claims about how he would operate his business. Duncan took particular exception with Snyder’s claims that each person entering his club has to pass a background check. Duncan said a limo driver that testified at the hearing last month was contacted and asked about the availability of getting into the club. Duncan alleges that the limo operator told the caller that he would have no problem getting anyone into the club.
Duncan also pointed out that the language in the state statute concerning what proper screening is can be loosely interpreted and left in the hands of the club operator.
“I will refrain from addressing the irony of asking a strip club operator to assess someone else’s moral character,” Duncan said.
Duncan also told board members that residents feel like they are being pushed around by Snyder and his business associates.
“I don’t know what they do down in Florida but in Jefferson County, Kansas, we don’t take well to being bullied,” Duncan said. “We don’t allow it on the playground and we don’t allow it in our county offices.”
Jefferson West USD 340 board vice president Frank Sayles also defended an accusation by the local paper that four USD 340 board members held a secret meeting where a protest petition for the club was agreed upon.
“I might add that it was a legal board meeting,” Sayles said as he smiled. “We checked with attorneys on that.”
USD 340 Superintendent Dr. Scott Myers contacted the local paper and said the proper people were informed which did not include the local paper. Myers contended that the local paper did not submit a written request to be notified when meetings are called.
However, the local paper has in the past given written notice to USD 340 to be notified about meetings. According to the Kansas Open Meetings Act a public body can update the list on an annual basis, but a phone call or other suitable communication needs to be made with the requesting party to determine if they want to remain on the list. No phone call or communication was ever made. Furthermore, USD 340 sends notice of regular board meetings on a monthly basis and has done so for the last year.
Holding decorum during the meeting was a challenge throughout the public comment period and some in attendance also believed the behavior spilled over to board members themselves.
At one point during public comment former Meriden Mayor Kevin Bell went to the podium and asked all those who oppose the club to stand. Most of the crowd did. Bailey told Bell to address the board.
After public comment the board again recessed into closed session for 20 minutes before reopening the meeting for board questions.
County resident Dan Shimmin, who said he supports any business coming to the county, took exception with the conduct of the board and particularly with questioning by Bailey.
Bailey asked Snyder if and where he lives in Jefferson County. Snyder, who spoke through Bullock, said he lived in Sarcoxie Township. Bailey then pointed out that Snyder paid about only $37 in property taxes.
“I was questioning what type of home you had there,” Bailey said.
Bailey’s comment drew a boisterous laughter from the audience. Bailey made no attempt to control the audience and was seen and heard joking with residents after the meeting about his comment.
“What in the world does that have to do with a man trying to open a business?” Shimmin questioned.
Questions have also been raised by Snyder and Bullock in the hearings concerning what county officials knew and if they encouraged Snyder to seek the property near Meriden for the club.
Snyder and his associates contend that Planning and Zoning Director Eloise Tichenor and Jim McGrath, who was county economic development director at the time, encouraged Snyder to open the business and even pointed him to the spot.
McGrath said last week that a meeting between himself and Snyder took place in July. McGrath said Snyder made clear what his plans were.
“They were not coy about this,” he said.
McGrath said he did everything that he would do for any other business wanting to locate to the county and gave Snyder any information he was seeking.
McGrath also said he told Snyder that locating that type of business in Jefferson County would not be a good move and urged against it. Nevertheless Snyder seemed determined to move forward.
McGrath said he also received a phone call from one of Snyder’s associates inquiring about a letter of support, which he declined to provide.
McGrath joined the Meriden City Council in October and voted along with other city council members to recommend denial of the application.
A resident at the public meeting said that minutes dated Sept. 28 indicate that Meriden City Attorney Lee Hendricks did not know Snyder’s intentions until that time.
Meriden City Clerk Carrie Daniels would not comment in October when questioined about city meetings and reffered the local paper to Hendricks, who did not returned several messages left at his office.
Current Meriden Mayor Andy Surritt has not returned a message left for him last week.
The board ended the meeting going back into closed session with Hughes and said the open meeting would resume Tuesday, Jan. 18. At that time the board is expected to vote on a recommendation to county commissioners.
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