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One Small Step for ‘Take Back Gardner’, One Giant Leap Backward for Gardner’s Economy

Posted on Jun. 23rd, 2009
Posted by Avis Solie
The sole issue for the Monday, June 22 Special Council Meeting was the affirmation or rescission of the Intermodal Agreements. The meeting started with a period for public comment. Fourteen speakers took the floor – several read prepared statements, all were passionate. The first individual, Mary Nelson, spoke on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber polled their members. Of those who responded, 96.6% supported proceeding with the Intermodal Agreements. At Council Member Mary Peter’s request, Nelson searched the percent of Chamber members who are small business owners, reporting later in the meeting that 92% of Chamber of Commerce members have fewer than 50 employees.

Of the remaining speakers, nine spoke strongly in favor of proceeding with the Intermodal Agreements. They made compelling statements, such as the benefits to Gardner if they control the development of the Intermodal and control the tax benefits. Eileen Mertz,form member of the Gardner Planning Commission, pointed out that allowing Edgerton to annex property tight up to the Gardner city limits will limit future Gardner development. Robert Page, former member of the Gardner City Council, stated that the City ‘worked a long time to get something like this in Gardner’.

Four persons spoke against the Intermodal. A couple of them suggested either rescinding the Agreements of reviewing them again in detail. Larry Fotovich, recent Mayoral candidate, spoke directly to Council Members Mary Peters, John Shepherd, and Dan Thompson. He invoked the DARE motto, “Just Say No”. Fotovich told them, “bad people can make anything sound good”, and “don’t explain yourselves”.

At the end of the public comments, Bill Crandall of The Allen Group and Skip Kalb of BNSF were allowed to take the floor. Crandall pointed out that The Allen Group has had an office here in Gardner for 2 years now. The Allen Group has an established history of becoming involved in the communities in which they build. Crandall himself has been a resident of Johnson County for nearly 50 years, so this is his community also. He explained his perspective that ‘there is no perfect deal’. An important aspect of a long-term business relationship, however, is trust. Crandall’s final point was that, “the City doesn’t have to spend a dime until 1 ½ million square feet of warehouse space has been developed”. When questioned about the possibility of renegotiation if the existing Agreements were rescinded, Crandall stated that renegotiation would only start after the property had been de-annexed. The Allen Group has already spent $4 million on this project, and is eager to move forward.

Skip Kalb, Director of Strategic Development for BNSF (and former Baldwin City, KS, farm boy) shared his information that a draft of the 404 Permit from the Army Corps of Engineers should be available for public comment in about two weeks. Asked about the $50 million in stimulus funds for which BNSF and The Allen Group will be applying, Kalb indicated that this grant would allow BNSF to keep the cost of the Intermodal under $200 million. He stressed the benefits offered to all parties by the Intermodal and Logistics Park. BNSF has been talking to four companies – all household names – interested in locating here. Kalb also stated that grant applications with local agreements already in place would score higher in the final decision process.

Mayor Dave Drovetta commented that to say ‘no’ again would be to draw in Gardner’s boundaries. It will have a lasting impact on the City. Shepherd agreed that it would have a lasting impact, and so we must determine if the contract is good or not. Shepherd then revisited issues from the work session, unsure that the issues had been adequately addressed.

Thompson affirmed that he still believes that the Intermodal ‘is here’, with the statement that the federal government, state government and county government are all working to improve the economic situation. In light of the economic situation, however, Thompson believes that we need to take a step back and look more closely at all city contracts.

Peters agreed with Shepherd and Thompson, and was ready to vote ‘No’.

Steve Hale pointed out that no city council member had yet referenced the desires of the voters. He himself had received over 40 emails, several of which he noticed had been emailed to each Council Member, and only one recommended renegotiating the contract. Thompson was concerned that the Intermodal provided no 2010 income to the City, but Hale pointed out that significant income would be received from 2012 on.

Council Member Todd Winters expressed the concern that Gardner will be the laughingstock of Kansas for turning down this desireable project.

The vote to affirm the Intermodal Agreements failed 2 to 3: Hale and Winters voted to affirm the Agreements, while Shepherd, Peters and Thompson voted not to affirm the Agreements.

This action necessitated a second vote – if the City of Gardner would not affirm the Agreements, then the City needed to rescind the Agreements and commence the de-annexation process. This process became rather convoluted as Peters tried to pass an amended action to rescind the agreements but not address the de-annexation. Drovetta tried to impress on Peters the danger of a lawsuit if the City rescinded the Agreements but did not release the land. City Attorney Jim Hubbard was brought into the discussion at this point. He affirmed that if the Agreements were rescinded, then the land must be de-annexed. Peters insisted on going forward with a vote to rescind without the de-annexation. She was the only positive vote, with all remaining Council Members voting ‘No’. This was followed by a unanimous vote to rescind the Agreements and commence the de-annexation process.