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Harden and Varnes miss the boat on how badly land deal was handled E-mail
Opinion
Friday, 06 October 2017 07:48

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GUEST COLUMN, Larry Phillips, Kismet



I’ve been waiting for nearly two weeks now for someone to point out the very troubling statements made by city commission candidates Taylor Harden and Justin Varnes during the Sept. 25 forum.

Did you see or read their answers to the question, “Was the sale of the land where the Neighborhood Market now sits handled properly and what they would do to fix the situation?”

Pretty simple questions, but these two candidates did what so many politicians do – mislead the folks with inaccurate drivel – and that was very disappointing.

Harden said more information is needed before deciding the next move, according to L&T reporter Robert Pierce in his Sept. 26 story.

“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,” Harden said, according to Pierce’s reporting.

I can only think of four reasons Harden would say something so ridiculous:

1. The man hasn’t been following the issue at all or; 

2. He’s playing deaf, dumb and blind or; 

3. He doesn’t read the newspaper at all or; 

4. He’s already providing cover for city administrator Mark Hall.

Any one of those answers, in my opinion, disqualifies him from the responsibilities required of a city commissioner.

The “official documentation” was written by the Central Region’s Airport Manager for the FAA and has been published three times by the L&T newspaper. A copy is freely available to Mr. Harden at the paper’s office if he should care to read it.

I’ve personally referenced that “official documentation” at least a dozen times during my investigative series for the past seven months.

It details why the FAA has halted all grants and put the city on Notice of Inquiry since July 9, 2015, until the FAA determines:

1. Whether the Liberal Airport will maintain federal designation and; 

2. If Liberal will follow the terms of a contract with the feds that was signed in 1948. 

Hey Mr. Harden, that “official documentation” was not written by me or the newspaper or the tooth fairy, it was sent by the FAA to Hall and Mayor Joe Denoyer.

Maybe Harden should read it before he tries his card trick with the people when he spouts off that, “I haven’t seen any of the ‘official documentation’ about how this thing went down.”

Everyone else has, where has Harden been?

The “official documentation” letter tells why all this “went down:” It details how Hall “misled” FAA officials when he met with them face-to-face and never told them the land was already sold.

Hall failed to follow FAA protocol – intentionally. That’s how all this “went down.” Period.

I don’t have time to detail the dozens of emails between the FAA and the city (most have been published in the L&T) or list every one of the dozen or so published minutes of the city commission’s meetings where untruths were told to the people about this issue.

And then there is the problem that Harden said, “It doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal up there as we’re making it down here.” That’s his quote.

Maybe losing federal designation as an FAA airport doesn’t matter to him. It would affect this entire community worse than Harden could ever imagine. Such a flippant statement is unimaginable.

If it’s no big deal, why have the FAA officials turned this entire issue over to its legal department in Washington D.C., when nearly every other incident in the nation is handled by the regional managers?

Why is it not settled after two years and two months?

The answer: Hall, city attorney Shirla McQueen and a majority of the current commissioners are using unethical and unjustified means fighting the FAA – and they kept this issue under the table for almost two years until it was exposed.

And Harden’s “why-can’t-we-all-just get-along” attitude is not only hokey, it’s why we’re in this mess. Harden’s attitude is identical to the attitudes of those city officials listed above. 

Then there’s that tactic of insulting the FAA like Hall and McQueen have used since Day 1: 

We just need to “talk to the right people,” as Harden was quoted as saying.

That’s total disrespect for the feds who have been overseeing this debacle. Hall and McQueen consistently have wanted to talk to “someone else” who can settle this, as if the regional supervisor, assistant manager and regional manager were all a bunch of low-life jerks that don’t know the law or what they’re doing.

If that’s Harden’s answer to this debacle, I hope the people of Liberal don’t let him even near city hall.

Then there is candidate Justin Varnes.

He said at the forum, “His knowledge of the situation comes primarily from opinion articles in the newspaper.”

Another “FAIL.” 

The articles may have been published on the Op-Ed Page, but the copies of all the various documents and minutes of commission meetings, copies of all the emails that ran on the Op-Ed Page were not “opinions.” 

They were written by the principles themselves, and the minutes were published by the city clerk. But Varnes chooses to mis-inform the public. If he doesn’t know the difference between op-ed writing and official documents, why would people elect him to a commission seat?

Is he going to be truthful and transparent if he’s elected – all of a sudden?

I don’t think so.

Then he said, “Mark Hall should play a part in the solution.”

Hall (and McQueen) “ARE” the problem. If North Korea hits the U.S. or one of its allies with a missile, Varnes’ reasoning apparently would be, “Well, Kim Jong-un should play a part in the solution.”

Terrible idea. Period.

Then the naiveté of his statement: “… getting with the FAA, (and) figuring out where we stand with them,” is proof he doesn’t know much about this issue, either.

The City of Liberal has been told “repeatedly” by the FAA since July 2015 where Liberal stands with the FAA. (See above mentioned FAA documents – and emails which have been published from the FAA to McQueen and Hall).

Our current commission just doesn’t care about what the FAA demands from us. They would rather jeopardize everything we have to support Hall rather than admit he was wrong, and they were wrong.

Seems Varnes is also offering cover for Hall and supporting Hall’s actions.

Very sad.

The final troublesome thing Varnes said was, “I’m not picking a side by any means.”

A heartbreaking statement. 

Hopefully, a majority of voters in Liberal are looking for a commissioner that wants to take their side – the side of the people. 

These two particular candidates can feign ignorance of the issues or say there’s no official documentation all they want, but Liberal’s citizens know better. 

But let’s say the entire world is wrong and Hall was right about the FAA not having oversight over the land sale for a moment. If anyone believes that, please let me know, but let’s just say it was true. Hall still negotiated a price of $850,000 to sell the land which was supposed to be enough to replace the softball complex he was selling. Instead, it has cost $1.7 million. Does that sound like “it was handled properly?” Did Harden and Varnes not see the facts presented on this issue? Will they make the same mistakes with taxpayer dollars with the same type of excuses?

And how about the nondisclosure agreement between Walmart and the city? Was it fair to prevent any competitors from having the same advantage the City gave to Walmart in buying public property along Western Avenue? Is that “proper?”

Both Harden and Varnes have exposed themselves to what the voters needed to know. 

As for candidates Connie Seigrist, Ron Warren and Chris Carlile, they get it. They obviously see and know what happened with the FAA – and is still happening. (Travis Combs’ wasn’t available to respond to the question).

Seigrist was exactly correct when she said, “It was done under the table and kept secret from the public as to what was happening,”

That’s the Gospel truth: It was minimized and kept secret for nearly two years before it was exposed starting on April 7 of this year.

One thing I’ve learned from most politicians and wannabe politicians: A majority of them think they can use sleight-of-hand to confuse and deceive the people because they truly believe the people are all morons and will swallow anything they say.

Well, this moron pushes back against untruths, unsound reasoning – and card tricks.

 

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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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