Contention over the proposed sale of Camp Hawk was a topic during a session of the Harvey County Commission again this week, with Newton resident Jeremy Kindy coming before commissioners once more.
Kindy was part of a successful petition group that forced the issue to a vote after a resolution for the sale of Camp Hawk was approved by the commission in September 2016. Following that petition process, Kindy has come before the commission on multiple occasions to request a vote on the issue be dropped altogether.
Questioning the data used to justify the potential sale previously, Kindy's attention this week turned to the discussion process, which commissioners stated multiple times has been ongoing for a number of years.
According to commissioner Chip Westfall, discussion regarding the potential sale of Camp Hawk began after the State Legislature approved a property tax lid in 2015 — a measure that would force a vote if city and county governments wanted to raise the mill levy above a certain level.
"Starting after that vote, we started looking at what could we cut out of the budget and get rid of — properties — and we've sold buildings; this was just one of those things in the mix," Westfall said.
Part of that discussion, which Westfall noted mostly came up during budget hearings, centered on whether Harvey County needed or could maintain three county parks, especially when looking at neighboring Sedgwick County managing only two parks. The potential sale of Camp Hawk, it has been stated, would generate revenue to be put towards enhancements for the other county parks.
Fellow commissioner Randy Hague stated the issue was brought before the parks advisory board for input in the fall of 2015, though little was heard back on the matter. However, board minutes and commission minutes show no mention of any discussion around the potential sale of Camp Hawk dating back two years — a bullet point Kindy hit hard on Monday.
Commissioners pointed out that not all topics of discussion are recorded in the minutes. It was confirmed, though, that the first official agenda item regarding the potential sale of Camp Hawk was the resolution itself brought forward on Sept. 19, 2016. That was when Kindy was first made aware of the issue, which he noted was troubling.
"We feel like the democratic process wasn't followed and that the commission did not look to get input from the public as it related to the issue, as evidenced by the fact that the advisory board indicates that they were never in a discussion on that process," Kindy said. "It wasn't until the citizens were taxed with putting that petition in place that we ever got to any type of democratic process."
Discussion amongst the advisory board pertains specifically to the meeting in September 2016, following the commission's passage of the resolution for sale, in which the minutes indicate the advisory board believed the issue should have been brought to it first.
Opposition to the sale — or, at the very least, the manner in which it was pursued — was uniform among those petitioned, Kindy said, but commissioners stated they have heard from both sides. Some have been in favor of moving forward with an outright sale (including former parks advisory board members, according to Westfall), while others are content to see the issue go to a vote.
Though the openness of the discussion remains in question, commissioners stated their belief that it has been sufficient and they have no issues with the process. Whatever the vote, whether to sell or to keep Camp Hawk, they noted they will follow through based on the results of the election on Nov. 7. Taking it to a vote is a process they believe will allow all voices to be heard.
"At this point, the comments I'm hearing are pretty split, so I think it does need to be left up to the public whether to sell it or not," Hague said, "and that's the fairest way to do it."
For some, fair would have been to open the discussion to public input much sooner, as Kindy stated throughout it "just seems like something is lacking in the government process."