Ruling stands: County erred in clean up case

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By Shane Farley
April 11, 2013 - 8:50:15 am

The Kansas Supreme Court has let stand a court of appeals decision that found Cowley County officials overstepped their authority in 2006 by sending a cleanup crew to tidy up private property in rural Ark City and then billing landowners for the work.

County officials had asked the state’s highest court to reconsider a ruling handed down by the state’s court of appeals last year.

Winfield attorney Chris Rogers, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said he was informed Wednesday the case would not be reviewed, which effectively brings an end to the court battle.

Rogers said the county will owe his clients - Victor and Nancy Barnes - about $15,000 now that the case has worked its way through the courts. They were initially billed just under $12,000 for the clean up, which they paid under protest.

The Barnes challenged the county in court over the case that began six years ago.

Rogers said the county might have avoided court altogether had county officials been willing work with his clients.

“They had no other choice but to file litigation,” he said. “I felt comfortable that the county was in error. I don’t think the county administrator at that time (Leroy Alsup), or at least one member of the board who’s still on the county commission, gave any thought to any objection that I raised.”

Cities in Kansas, under state law, are afforded the right to take such clean up action and routinely do, the court concluded, but counties are not afforded the same protections.

So far, county officials have not commented on the supreme court’s decision not to review the case.

In 2005, commissioners passed tougher nuisance property rules to target a number of untidy properties in the county.

In late May and early June of the following year, after months of on-again, off-again communications with the Barnses, who were living out of state at the time, the county sent a clean up crew onto 14 acres of property the couple own near U.S. 77 and 252nd Rd.

Workers were sent to the property without consent from the landowners, or a court order, and removed building materials, cut down trees and performed other work.

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