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Candidates share whether or not the land sale to Walmart was mishandled PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 11:23

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By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two stories recapping Monday’s city commission forum at the Depot. Today’s story concerns a question regarding the recent controversy about the Walmart Neighborhood Market and the Federal Aviation Administration.


A second article will look at the new commissions plans for handling Liberal City Manager Mark Hall and city staff.

Monday, candidates for this year’s Liberal City Commission race had one last chance before November’s general election to answer questions from the public during a forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, the Leader & Times and KSCB Radio.

Between opening and closing statements, the candidates answered several questions, both planned and from the Depot and listening audience.

One inquiry concerned the recent controversy about the Walmart Neighborhood Market and the Federal Aviation Administration. Candidates were asked if the sale of the land where the Neighborhood Market now sits was handled properly and what they would do to fix the situation.

Connie Seigrist said she believes the sale was obviously not handled properly.

“It was done under the table and kept secret from the public as to what was happening,” she said. “We need to get this settled. I think we need to suck it up and pay the money to the FAA so we can go on. I’m terribly afraid if this arbitration goes through, we could be facing some kind of huge fine from the FAA. I don’t want that happening. That could end up costing us even more money. I think we need to get this settled immediately.”

While he did not necessarily disagree with Seigrist, Taylor Harden said more information is needed before deciding the next move.

“I haven’t seen any of the official documentation about how this thing went down, so all I’m going off of is everything we’ve read in the newspaper,” he said. “That’s the same information that’s been provided to the rest of the community. Based on that, we just have to get easier to work with people. We have to get in the position to where we as new commissioners get on there, we immediately go to the FAA and say, ‘We understand the situation. Fill us in on all the actual facts, and let’s do our best on both sides of this to go ahead and put this to rest.’”

Harden said he feels the FAA issue is minor compared to what it has been made out to be.

“It doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal up there as we’re making it down here, and maybe that’s because they’re a federal agency that’s had to deal with a multitude of problems across the country,” he said. “I definitely don’t think that any of the damage that’s been done can’t be undone if we just get to where we’re easier to work with and talk to the right people and try to find a critical solution for all.”

Like Harden, Justin Varnes said his knowledge of the situation comes primarily from opinion articles in the newspaper, and officials like Liberal City Manager Mark Hall should play a part in the solution.

“I have not sat down with Mark Hall,” Varnes said. “I have not sat down with city officials. I have not sat down with the city commission and said, ‘What exactly happened?’ I know there’s two sides to every story. I’m not picking a side by any means. I’m just saying I feel like more research into the other side needs to be done as well.”

Varnes said the solution going forward is simple.

“You’ve just got to get everybody together, and let’s figure out what we need to do – getting with the FAA, figuring out where we stand with them and what can we do as a city to put the issue to bed. I know I personally, and I’m sure everybody else is ready for this to be put to bed,” he said.

Chris Carlile said with three new commissioners coming on board after the November election, the commission should check into the situation more properly.

“I do agree that it was handled wrong from what I heard anyway,” she said. “I agree with Connie. I don’t want to pay more fines than we have to, but pay what we need to do, move on and hopefully get some more grants for the airport. That’s been holding us back. Hopefully, it will get taken care of by the new commission.”

Former Liberal Mayor Ron Warren was the last of the candidates to answer this question, and as part of the commission when the dealings started to bring Neighborhood Market to town, he said with absolute certainty, the situation was handled wrong.

“A lot of people said, ‘Well don’t tell them that you were there when it started,’” he said. “I was on the commission when it started, and we were talking about mending relationships between the commission and the public, also between staff and commission.”

Warren said what the commission and Hall did was contribute to a seemingly lack of transparency to the public.

“We were misled as to all the t’s being crossed and all the i’s being dotted,” he said. “They said we didn’t communicate with the FAA before we made the decisions that were made, and we were told that everything had been taken care of. That was not the only problem with that transaction. The ballfields were involved in that. We were told the ballfields would cost X amount of dollars and they had all those figures. We were also misled on that.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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