By Dennis Minich
The seeds of incompetence planted in October 2017 came to fruition Monday night when the Harrisonville Board of Aldermen had to weigh the merits of correcting an ordinance which was incorrectly deemed as passing. In the end, the board decided to wait three more weeks to decide how to handle the issue.
The ordinance dealt with the Harrisonville Villas, a senior housing development on Jefferson Parkway, near the Community Center. In 2017, the project was nearing completion, but the developers asked the city for a waiver of a city code requiring collector roads to be “stubbed in” to make it accessible to the next developer. At that time, Debra Hart, one of the developers and Greg Lee, the contractor, appeared before the board and asked for the waiver because of cost overruns they said were caused by the city.
According to an article in that week’s Harrisonville Star, the two claimed the “stub” would cost about $28,000. The total budget of the project was $7.5 million.
When the vote was taken there were only seven aldermen on the board as Josh Stafford had moved outside the city and his replacement, Jessica Levesen, had not yet taken office. Four aldermen David Dickerson, Matt Turner, Clinton Long and Brad Bockelman voted for the variance while then-alderman Judy Bowman, along with Judy Reece and Marcia Milner, voted no. Then-Mayor Brian Hasek announced the ordinance as passing, but the three “no” votes argued that a 4-3 vote did not qualify as passing. Hasek asked City Attorney John Fairfield, who said, “he was unsure, but thought a simple majority was sufficient.”
Hasek asked him to research the topic and report back to the board. He did two weeks later, and despite opposing opinions for other municipal attorneys, the Missouri Municipal League and others, Fairfield reported to the board the four votes were sufficient. Hasek then signed the ordinance despite appeals from board members.
On Monday night, acting City Attorney Steve Mauer was pretty succinct in his review.
“I know nothing about the Harrisonville Villas, but I reviewed the letters from Fairfield and John Fowler (an associate of Fairfield’s) and all I can say is they were simply wrong,” he said.
He added there were three topics where a 4-3 vote was incorrectly credited as passing. One was the budget, but Mauer said that after the fact the budget was amended and since it received more than five “yes” votes, it effectively corrected the error. The other he said would be dealt with at a future meeting.
Hart was again on hand Monday night and had several residents with her who had been told their rent would be increased if the vote was reversed.
“We have no money; we have no tax credits. The way to get the money is to increase the rent on the residents who live there now,” she said. “I don’t want to argue about the number of votes, but we acted based on the decision.”
She said had the decision been no at the time, they would have ways to finance it through the bonds and construction, but now her only option would be to raise rent.
During questioning Hart said city issues had caused the project to be delayed about six months, but upon questioning by Milner, she conceded it was 60 to 90 days. She said delays were costly because of the tax credits which were issued in the development.
Dickerson defended the development by asking Hart, “You only did what the city asked you to do, right?”
He added the decision should be considered made.
“I don’t know what the advantage would be to go back. We listened to our attorney. We voted and they acted on it,” he said.
Some questioned the need to re-vote, which was addressed by Mauer.
“With a 4-3 vote it failed. They said it passed and recorded it as passed. We need to do something to correct the records,” he said.
He added the inconsistency could lead to more trouble down the road, especially if the state were to audit funds used in the development.
“I just want the record to be clear. If this is on the books someone can come back and say this is wrong. Everyone who looked at this except Fairfield and Fowler knows it takes five votes. They were simply wrong,” he said.