A war of words has developed between county commissioners
and the county prosecutor over what some Platte
County officials originally believed may have
been a zoning violation by an Edgerton church.
As reported in last weeks issue of The
Landmark, Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd
made the decision to not pursue criminal action
against the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton
for building a portico without a county issued
permit. The church was recently annexed by the
city of Edgerton, an annexation the county commission
has previously maintained was done improperly.
As a result of the annexation into Edgerton, the
church would not have to conform to planning and
zoning/building codes of the county.
The war of words has developed after Zahnd said
Platte County Commissioner Betty Knight had encouraged
him to examine criminal prosecution of the church.
Knight has said she did not encourage any criminal
After Zahnd announced he doesn't consider the
situation a criminal matter, the Platte County
Commission issued a letter to Pastor Rick Lumm
of Mt. Zion Baptist Church on July 14 stating,
There has been a misunderstanding.
The letter continued to explain that the standard
procedure under Platte Countys Zoning Order
is to notify owners of suspected violations and
request compliance. If no response is received,
the matter is referred to the prosecuting attorney
This referral is not a demand for criminal
prosecution, although that is an option that can
result from the referral. Commissioner Knight
did not ask the prosecutor to pursue criminal
charges against Mt. Zion Baptist Church. She does
not have that authority individually and the commission
has never discussed or approved this course of
While Knight continues to take the stance that
she did not ask Zahnd to pursue criminal action,
Zahnd issued a response to the commissions
Let me be very clear about Betty Knight
and the commissions role in this matter,
said Zahnd. Betty Knight raised the specific
issue of whether my office was going to take action
against Mt. Zion Baptist Church in a call to my
home on Saturday, June 19. I understand that this
is the only time Commissioner Knight has ever
contacted the prosecutors officemuch
less the elected prosecutorto discuss the
prosecution of an alleged zoning violation.
Zahnd continued: There has been no misunderstanding.
I explained to her that my office would only consider
whether or not criminal charges were appropriate
and that my office would not be involved in any
civil lawsuit available to the commission.
I also explained to her at length why I
was not inclined to file criminal charges. I told
her the commission could file a civil lawsuit
regardless of my decision on criminal charges.
After all of this explanation that my office would
only be involved in potential criminal charges,
she persisted in urging me to pursue the matter
and requested that I speak with County Counselor
Michael Gunn before making a final decision on
criminal charges. I told her I would do so,
Zahnd said this week.
While Knight and Zahnd continue their debate,
the real question remains is the annexation of
the church by the City of Edgerton legal according
to state law?
In the letter issued by the commission, they
maintain their respect for the churchs stand
on the belief that the annexation is legal. Commissioners
now indicate they will leave the responsibility
of that belief in the hands of the church and
the City of Edgerton.
We remain concerned that the codes enforcement
officer has identified construction practices
on the site that she deems constitute a dangerous
situation but understands the churchs position
that it has been annexed into the city of Edgerton.
Consequently, we feel that we have raised the
issue and it is now up to the church and city
of Edgerton to supervise this project. We stand
ready to assist in any way possible.
According to Zahnd, if the county still remains
concerned about the construction, their only action
is through a civil lawsuit.
If the commission is concerned with what
they term a 'dangerous situation,' with the churchs
construction project, that concern can only be
addressed through a civil lawsuit. A criminal
case cannot make a building safer; it can only
assess a fine or put someone in jail for up to
a year. There is no way a judge in a criminal
case can order a building to be rebuilt,
Second District Commissioner Steve Wegner on
Monday afternoon stated that the commission and
the Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton had reached
an agreement and the debate is no longer an issue.
The commission early this week drafted an amendment
to its original letter dated July 14 that was
issued to Pastor Lumm. The amendment states: While
Platte County does not agree with the annexation
in this situation, Platte County will accept this
particular annexation with no further intervention.
Lumm told The Landmark Monday morning that the
church wanted the assurance from the commission
that it would not interfere with future projects,
such as a family center the church eventually
plans to build. The family center will be about
a 12,000 square foot facility that will offer
space for basketball, volleyball, family reunions,
wedding receptions, and other family events, Lumm
said last week.
There has been some speculationdenied by
the county commissionersthat the county
wanted control of building on the church grounds
because it is concerned that a family center open
free of charge to the general public would offer
competition to the membership-based Platte County
Community Center being built in Platte City.
We have no intent in challenging the annexation,
Wegner reconfirmed the commissions stance
in the amended letter.
After both entities had reached an agreement,
Lumm released this statement to The Landmark.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Edgerton is
pleased to announce they have received a letter
from the Platte County Commissioners Office that
has brought a permanent resolution to the annexation
issue regarding their property, the construction
of the portico and the future Community Life Center.
While it looks like the church and the commission
have come to an agreement, Wegner stated he is
disappointed in Zahnds actions during the
We feel the prosecuting attorney outstepped
his bounds in this issue and we are disappointed
that he failed to consult with the commission
before drafting and sending his letter. It is
his responsibility as prosecuting attorney to
represent the county and he shouldve consulted
the commission before sending the letter,
Zahnd, in response, says it's his belief Wegner
is confused about how the process works.
"Commissioner Wegner fundamentally misunderstands
this process. Criminal charges are a very serious
matter and I have an ethical duty to be an independent
official, and in any decision to bring a criminal
case I represent the state of Missouri, not the
county commission or any other alleged victim
of a crime.
"I am sorry the commission apparently is
disappointed with my decision not to file criminal
charges against this church but my only duty is
to the state of Missouri and its citizens,"
Zahnd said Tuesday.