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Platte City won't appeal court's Sunshine verdict

by Ivan Foley
Landmark reporter

No decision means no appeal. At least not yet.

At a special meeting Monday night, Platte City's Board of Aldermen discussed the possibility of appealing the recent court decision that went against them in the Sunshine Law case brought by Harold Coons.

No official motions were made and no action taken, after discussion revealed three board members favored pursuing an appeal while three opposed.

The city has until March 12 to appeal the Jan. 31 decision by Platte County Circuit Court Judge Lee Hull. Hull's ruling pulled the city's two involuntary annexation questions off a scheduled Feb. 6 ballot.

The board is not scheduled to meet again until March 13, a day past the deadline. Another special meeting could always be called prior to the deadline, but there was no indication this week that another meeting would be planned.

Hull ruled the city violated the state's open meetings law when the board discussed annexation and annexation boundaries in closed session last September. The judge ordered the city to pay $11,850 to Coons' attorney, Bob Shaw.

Monday's meeting featured mayor Dave Brooks' soliciting comments from each of the six aldermen in regard to their individual feelings toward pursuing an appeal of Hull's decision. Interestingly, the city's annexation legal team of Williams and Campo was not present for the meeting.

Shaw, however, was sitting in the audience and several of the aldermen took the chance to be critical of him.

Alderman George McClintock opened the discussion.

"It is my strong belief that we did not in any way, shape or form break any laws. We were following the advice of our attorneys, who are very well-schooled in the Sunshine Law," McClintock said.

McClintock said he feels a longtime resident, Coons, "was duped" into filing the lawsuit.

"I'm very upset about a person being used in this manner. I'm upset because Bob Shaw disallowed the citizens the right to determine the direction they want to go.

"I think we have good reason to pursue an appeal. We could go ahead and pursue an appeal and continue to look at annexation after the (April election when three board members are up for reelection).

"I don't like to be on the losing side, particularly when I'm not at fault. But we're dealing with public money. I'm not sitting here representing George McClintock. I'm representing the people of Platte City," McClintock said, saying he would not favor an appeal because of the potential cost to the city.

The city's attorneys estimated their legal fees to appeal the case could run "at least" $20,000, which alderman Kenneth Brown said "tells me it could be $30,000 or more.”

Alderman Bill Knighton said he favors appealing.

"My feeling is we need to appeal. I am not a liar," Knighton said, not elaborating from where the reference to the word "liar" came.

Alderman Jim Palmer said he favors doing an appeal, citing a city survey that he claims showed 70% of respondents favored annexation.

"It's our responsibility to take care of the people of Platte City," Palmer stated.

Brown said he is not in favor of the idea. He was the first alderman to ask city administrator Keith Moody about the estimated legal costs to conduct the appeal. Brown also pointed out an appeal would drag the issue out another 9 or 10 months longer.

"Quite frankly, we need to get beyond this," he said.

Brown added that spending $20,000 to $30,000 to appeal a judgment of less than $12,000 wouldn't be good business.

"The cost outweighs the gain," he noted.

Alderman Lee Roy Van Lew said he is "highly disappointed with the way this turned out. The judge has denied citizens the right to do this and that's not right. I think we should go with the appeal.”

A little later, Van Lew said: "I hate to admit to being a liar," without explanation for the use of the word.

"I don't know that anybody is calling you a liar," Brown told him.

Van Lew said if the city does not appeal, "Mr. Shaw will be unduly happy. I hope to God it affects him in his business.”

Alderman Aaron Jung opposed the idea of an appeal.

"Once you've taken an issue so far and gotten so much negative vibe. .. it's a lawsuit that we may or may not win.”

The polling left Jung, Brown and McClintock opposed to an appeal, with Palmer, Knighton and Van Lew in favor.

Brooks declined to state an opinion publicly on his feelings about an appeal.

Shaw had a commitment to be in the Barry area later Monday evening and left city hall at the conclusion of the meeting. Reached Tuesday for comment, he said:

"I am very disappointed that some of the aldermen have chosen to make this a personal matter. I do not have any personal animosity to any of the aldermen. I disagree with their annexation policies and the way they have chosen to implement them.”

Shaw said his opposition to the city's annexation should not have come as a surprise to the city officials.

"Several years ago I promised the mayor and the board of aldermen I would do everything in my power to stop their annexation plans. Now it appears they are upset that I kept my promise," Shaw added.

Shaw said it would have made no sense for the city to pursue an appeal.

"It was disturbing to see that three members of the board of aldermen were willing to spend $20,000 to $30,000 of taxpayers' money just to seek personal vindication. I would guess that the citizens of Platte City would prefer to see their money used for roads, parks or some of the city's other pressing needs.

"Obviously, it makes no economic sense to spend $20,000 to $30,000 of taxpayers' money to appeal a judgment for $11,000," Shaw remarked.

Shaw said he is not happy about the way several aldermen have criticized his client Harold Coons, a longtime resident of the city.

"Several aldermen have chosen to insult one of their own citizens. This is particularly disturbing when you consider all that the Coons family has done for the city of Platte City throughout the years," Shaw said.

Harold Coons' father, Junior Coons, served as the city's director of public works for many years. Junior Coons is also a past Truman Glenn Award winner for service to the community.

Land owned by Harold Coons' father and brother had been targeted in the city's involuntary annexation proposal and Coons was doing what he could to protect his family's land, Shaw explained.