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Why didn’t we work together with public on a shooting range? E-mail
Opinion
Monday, 17 April 2017 15:59

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L&T Editor Emeritus Larry Phillips



NOTE: Only one installment remains in this series.


This testimonial is by Jim Stoddard, the former President of the Southwest Kansas Rifle and Pistol Club. He chronicles his club’s conflicts in dealing with Liberal City Manager Mark Hall – and a previous city commission.

There is more to this story, including problems with the city ignoring certain restrictions of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that regulates development on top of landfill-designated land, which I’m researching.

But with this column, I’m going to let Stoddard’s own words describe how he, his members and those taking advantage of the club’s opportunities were decimated.

His words are in quotations, my editing is in parenthesis.

“The Southwest Kansas Rifle and Pistol Club (SWKRPC) had begun to grow and build new programs. It was a time for change and growth both in participation and membership. 

“There was new interest in shooting sports, and SWKRPC was meeting the need with programs to excite the current members and draw new membership.

“Programs offered included; International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) matches, Ruger Rimfire competitions, bowling pin shoots, Civilian Marksmanship Program and even a community support program – funded entirely by the SWKRPC – for women (Gals-N-Guns) that offered women a chance to try shooting sports and learn to safely handle and operate firearms. 

“The club had grown the IDPA events to the point where a larger range was needed to hold larger events that would bring competitors from other areas into Liberal. 

“The SWKRPC began looking for land that could be purchased and finding available grant money to fund the development of a new facility that would meet the needs of the larger competitions, as well as all other shooting activities. 

“The best spot available, at that time, belonged to the City of Liberal and was sitting unused. The SWKRPC officers developed a plan, coordinated with the Seward County Community College and the Liberal Police Department and set (up) a meeting with city manager Mark Hall and public Works director Joe Sealey. 

“The day of the meeting, we arrived expecting to show our plan – complete with drawings – and asked about the possibility of using the land to build a new range. The worst we expected was to be told no. 

“What happened in the meeting was a complete surprise. 

“Mark Hall immediately attacked the SWKRPC officers verbally with accusations of range usage restrictions and limitations. All responses given by the SWKRPC officers were ignored, and we were told that the city would come up with a plan (in order) to control access to the range. 

“The current range (at the landfill next to National Beef) was built with a grant attained by the members of the club that is currently known as Southwest Pistol and Rifle Club. The club had always had a lock on the gate for membership access along with locks belonging to National Beef and the City of Liberal. 

“Public access to the range had always been handled by either the (Seward County) Sherriff’s office or the City of Liberal in the form of a key that could be checked out (by the public) and returned at no cost. 

“Somewhere in the general confusion of government, everyone had apparently forgotten who was in charge of the key and most people who used the range had just become members of the SWKRPC as an easier form of access.

“Mark Hall now accused the SWKRPC of not allowing public access. The fact that he couldn’t seem to understand, no matter how many times we explained it, was that the SWKRPC had never been in charge of public range access, that was the city’s responsibility.” 

I must interrupt here. This is a consistant pattern of Hall ignoring information he doesn’t want to hear. He didn’t want to hear the city has a key, and a public citizen could go check it out and unlock one of the three locks on the gate.

Back to Stoddard’s words:

“We offered many solutions in which we did the job for the city, but he wouldn’t consider anything we said. Every conversation between Mark Hall, and the SWKRPC officers was held in the main lobby of City Hall – we were never even given the respect of meeting in his office. 

“Every meeting followed the same course, we would explain our situation and attempt to offer solutions to the problems while he ignored every word we said and told us over and over how great his plan was going to be for us. 

“His plan was always the same: We butt out, and he would do what he wanted. 

“I asked Mark Hall on several occasions if the city’s insurance would cover someone who was injured on the range or whether it was just to cover the city’s liability. 

“I knew the answer was that the city only maintained liability insurance to cover them in the case of a lawsuit, but Hall assured me – each time – that the city’s insurance would cover personal injury to anyone using the range. 

“Members of the SWKRPC were covered by NRA insurance that would cover them any time they were on the range and would also cover anyone at an event sponsored by SWKRPC (including all the competitions and the Gals n Guns group). 

“The final time I asked the question of him, it was during a discussion at a city council meeting. He angrily informed me that the city’s insurance would cover it. 

“I was told a few days later that the city clerk had checked into it, and the city only had liability insurance to protect them from lawsuits. 

“Mark Hall claimed to have a ‘group’ of complainants (against the club). 

“The ‘group’ of complainants turned out to be only one man, whom I had already spoken to and (had) invited to speak to the members at a meeting of the SWKRPC. 

“He had turned me down when given the chance to speak his mind. 

“Mark Hall refused to reveal who was in this ‘group’ and even refused to let us meet with the ‘group’ with him present so that we could settle the issues they had. 

“There was never even a moment of cooperation from Mark Hall. 

“The SWKRPC began to look into other land options for a range expansion, but were quickly being forced to defend our ability to maintain access to the current range. 

“I received a call from Mark Hall, in which he told me that the city would be taking control of the range. 

“I made an appointment, and the Treasurer of SWKRPC and I met with Mark Hall alone, thinking that surely, we could come to some sort of arrangement to allow easy public access while still maintaining our membership lock on the gate. 

“The result was the same: He ignored us and explained how great his plan was. 

“I began hearing rumors that he was going to push his plan through the city council quickly and quietly. So, several club members and I began attending the city council meetings. I spoke to the council during the time allowed for public comments and explained the stonewall that we had faced on this issue. 

“By this time, Liberal Police Chief Al Sill had joined in with Mark Hall on his plan to exclude the club from the range.”

Another interruption here. It is well known  that Hall, Sill and commissioner Dave Harrison usually work together on these issues. Sill and Hall gave a party for – and presented a special plaque to – Harrison, for being a great guy, I guess. Ironically, not even one other city commissioner was invited or attended.

Back to Stoddard’s words.

“I began talking to the commissioners, and they all seemed sympathetic to the issue and said that they wanted to help find a resolution that would be beneficial for all parties involved. 

“Slowly, several of the commissioners began repeating phrases that Mark Hall had used, and I began to see him turning them against the SWKRPC. 

“The city council members quickly began to tow the line laid out for them by Mark Hall.”

More proof Hall is in charge of the Liberal City Commission rather than the other way around, in my opinion. You be the judge.

Back to Stoddard: 

“It was about this time that I got to know a couple (of) Seward County Commissioners and in the discussions that followed, I found out that the City of Liberal had sold the land where the current range sits to Seward County. 

“I received a call from Mark Hall informing me that the building that we used as a clubhouse (at the range) and (used for) storage (of) our supplies was deeded to the City of Liberal, and that we had a week to get out because the city would no longer allow us to use their building. 

“I knew from reading the original grant paperwork that the deed for the building was in the city’s name because it could not be put in the name of the SWKRPC. 

“I also knew that the grant paperwork also stated that ‘the building was to be used only by the club.’

“We ended up having to move our supplies into storage elsewhere and abandon the building. 

“It was an obvious move born of nothing more than spite, because the police department and the Seward County Community College were allowed to continue using the building. 

“I wrote a letter to the editor in the local paper explaining how the SWKRPC was benefitting the community and how badly we had been treated by those who were supposed to represent our interests within the city. I wanted the public to understand that we wanted to make an improvement for our community. 

“Mark Hall responded with a complete shutdown of communications. He no longer answered calls or took meetings with anyone from SWKRPC. 

“I was a resident of Liberal and began to fear retaliation from all city departments. I also believe there are many business owners in Liberal who have felt the retaliatory wrath of Mark Hall in the past and are afraid to speak up, even now. 

“I had no further contact with Mark Hall, but I did attend a meeting between the county commissioners and the city council where Mark Hall verbally attacked several of the commissioners who were trying to form a reasonable solution. 

“The meeting ended with Mark Hall telling everyone that the city was going to spend a large amount of money – I believe $50,000 – to update the range in the same location and that the city would control access. 

“I was in attendance at the city council meeting where the new range was approved. The range was (then) closed and reconfigured. 

“The SWKRPC was unable to continue most of its shooting sports programs and still exists but without being able to offer the insurance or easy range access to its members. 

“The club’s funds are being eaten away by expenses while the growth we once experienced has ceased. 

“This is just another way in which the City of Liberal has been damaged by Mark Hall and his dictatorial mentality. 

“This opportunity could have been a great advancement for shooting sports in Southwest Kansas and brought visitors into the area, provided a state-of-the-art shooting facility through the cooperation of SWKRPC, the City of Liberal, Seward County and Seward County Community College. 

“Sadly, it turned into nothing less than an embarrassment that cost the taxpayers $50,000 and sent those looking for shooting sports participation to Garden City, where many new shooting sports programs are now thriving.”

Those last three paragraphs say it all – damage to the community by Hall and loss of future economic growth and prestige.

While investigating this issue, I found the county only had a brief synopsis of the Dec. 12, 2013, joint meeting, and the city did not record the minutes of it anywhere on its website.

However, the Leader&Times had a reporter there, who did report on the discussion, including where county administrator April Warden warned city representatives against doing a major dirt work or digging since the range was atop landfill garbage, and the KDHE had to approve such work.

To see the entire report by the L&T, go to: http://www.leaderandtimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14520:who-owns-shooting-range&catid=12:local-news&Itemid=40

Maybe it’s time for you to call and ask the commissioners, “Is this the way you want your city manager to handle the city’s business?”

Here are their contact numbers:

Mayor Joe Denoyer – 620-391-1538

Dave Harrison – 620-629-0022

Tony Martinez – 620-482-2578

Jack Carlile – 620-482-3990

Dean Aragon – 620-417-0530    

 

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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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