by Ivan Foley
Platte City's Park and Recreation Board on Monday night just said no.
For more than an hour, the park board debated an offer from Platte County to extend a deadline the county has given to the city to correct what it sees as material defaults in the city's performance of maintenance at the county-owned, city-operated Platte Ridge Park on Hwy. 371.
After the discussion--which included a hint from city administrator Keith Moody that the park board may want to at least consider putting up a legal fight if the county attempts to declare the city in default of the agreement--the park board unanimously voted to turn down a chance to sign an addendum to the original agreement.
The indication was the city will proceed with maintenance work at the park--at least on a limited basis-- until it meets with the county or the county declares it in default.
Now that the board has turned down the addendum and the status of an agreement appears in limbo, "I don't know when to stop putting money into it," park board chairman Bill Burnett said.
The board directed Dannie Stamper, park director, to attempt to set up a meeting between the board and the county commission at 9 a.m. Thursday.
"We've got to decide if we want to work with these people or not," said Marsha Clark, park board member, at one point during Monday's meeting.
County officials indicated a Thursday meeting was not likely to happen, as the calendar is already full and the presiding commissioner is out of town the rest of the week.
Stamper indicated the park board is projected to spend more than $100,000 at the park over the next 30 days. He said the board just committed $32,000 to Hill Brothers Construction to correct erosion problems at the park.
The extension--which would give the city until June 20 to correct the maintenance issues--would come in the form of an addendum to the original operations and maintenance agreement between the city and county.
The addendum would add several restrictions upon the city that were not included in the original contract. For instance, the city would be required to seek county approval on maintenance and capital improvement plans and also get the okay from the county on the budget for maintenance and capital improvements at Platte Ridge.
Platte County, through the addendum, would demand the city to bid and contract all capital improvement projects at the park. The city would be required to observe and enforce Missouri prevailing wage laws in regard to all construction projects at the park.
The county would also demand an annual safety audit with a risk management expert be done at the park with the city park board and county officials present for the audit. Finally, the addendum says the city would need to have county-approved programming plans with an emphasis on volunteer support and partnerships to run the sports programs held at the park.
Park maintenance has been an issue for more than a year. In late December, the county sent a letter to the city explaining it considered the city in default of the agreement because of lack of maintenance. A 90-day deadline for corrections was given. That deadline arrived in late March.
On March 22, the county commission indicated it would give the city two weeks to decide whether to accept the offer spelled out in the proposed addendum.
"We do not intend to negotiate," Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, said at the time.
Reached on her cell phone Tuesday, Knight told The Landmark:
"I'm disappointed that they didn't feel like they could work with this partnership, a partnership we feel needs to be a little bit more structured than in the past.”
Knight said her primary goal is to "protect the taxpayers' investment.”
Asked for her reaction to the idea of the city requesting another meeting, Knight added: 'I'm not sure what we can talk about but I will listen to (the other two commissioners) and (Brian Nowotny, county park director), if they think a meeting would be good.”
Knight said she believes both parties need to move past arguing over whom is to blame for the condition of the park.
"All we (the county) want to do is move forward. Here we are bickering over whose fault it is. Let's move past that and settle the issues, and let's move forward.”
At Monday night's meeting, Moody and others hinted in their opinion the "tone" of the partnership changed when Jim Plunkett and Tom Pryor defeated former commissioners Steve Wegner and Michael Short. Knight said she disagrees with that assessment.
"I don't think that's the reason. Frankly, the park was in different stages (under the previous commissioners). A change in commissioners has not made a difference. If Steve and Michael were still in office, they would want to protect county tax dollars, too," Knight said.
Pryor said Tuesday that Stamper has requested to meet with him. That meeting was to take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday, but at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday Pryor said that Stamper had not shown up for the scheduled meeting.
"I'm pretty frustrated with the way Platte City has treated this park," Pryor told The Landmark on Tuesday. "We gave them an opportunity to correct maintenance issues and here they are, they voted it down.
"We tried to help them out beyond the 90-day requirement. I'm not sure we're left with any other options at this point. This thing has been going on for a year. We worked with them for nine months before we issued the 90-day letter and the response has been totally unsatisfactory. I think our Platte County Parks Department could do a better job (maintaining the park)," Pryor remarked.
"I don't want to enter another park season with the quality of maintenance we got last year. That's not fair to the citizens of Platte County.”
At Monday's meeting, park board members asked questions of Moody and city attorney Keith Hicklin.
Jerry Keuhn, park board member, asked Hicklin if there is any recourse for the city park board to recoup any money it has invested in the park, should the agreement with Platte County end.
Hicklin said if a material default is declared the agreement is terminated and "the city walks away. . . the county owns the land.”
Moody said a material default "could be argued in court.”
"You have acknowledged that you need to address some issues. Is it within the timeframe? It may not be. But I don't think you'd be in a bad position to argue that you are working toward resolving the issues. A judge could say you're making significant effort to make needed improvements."’
Keuhn then said: "But what would be the cost of the legal battle?”
"A judge could say 'What happened to the idea of togetherness?'" Moody continued. "The addendum doesn't have the same partnership tone as the original agreement.”
Moody then mentioned the change in county commissioners. He said he would have expected the county commission "to honor the original agreement and honor it in the same tone it was agreed in.”
"It wasn't necessary for them to do that addendum to get the time extended," Moody remarked.
After speaking for several minutes on how he could see potential for legal action to be taken by the park board, Moody then said: "I don't encourage spending money on these types of things (legal action).”
Jim Plunkett, county commissioner for the second district that includes Platte City, said he found this ironic.
"The city seems to be speaking out of both sides of their mouth. On one hand they are willing to lend the park board money (the city recently agreed to lend its park board $120,000), then on the other hand they are encouraging the park board to file a lawsuit. Apparently the city administrator likes to pay attorney fees. I think that's evident through the annexation process," Plunkett said, referring to the fact the city has unsuccessfully spent thousands of dollars in the courtroom in an involuntary annexation effort.
Knight had similar thoughts.
"I can't think that spending money on lawyers--their and ours--is a good expense of tax dollars," she said.
As for the possibility of another meeting, Plunkett responded:
"I don't want talk, I want action. It's time for action to take place. The city had (financially) committed to the park board. My concern is the protection of the investment out there and I'm not willing to come off that stance very far.”
Hicklin, the city/park board attorney, said he feels much of the county's unhappiness is due to priorities at the park.
"I believe the county disagrees with the priorities of what has occurred at the park. They want to establish the priorities in regard to spending at the park," Hicklin told the park board.
Park board members asked Stamper for his opinion.
"I don't know how many times you can keep doing this. Something keeps coming back to bite us every time. We're fixing problems. We asked for an extension and we get this addendum in return. They're (the county) never going to be happy with what we do. I don't think we're gonna come close to winning this game," Stamper said.
John Kurtz, park board member, said: "If we don't get to work they're going to find a new partner and it will look like we're not making an effort to complete these projects.”
Marsha Clark then said: "We can look at this positively and keep on going.”
Burnett remarked: "Just don't spend a lot of money out there (in the meantime).”
Kurtz eventually made the motion to turn down the chance to sign the addendum. All six board members present supported his motion.