ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Marion County Commission Chairman Bob Hein said at a special meeting Tuesday that he wants some answers from former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight before the commission potentially comes away with an “egg-on-the-face” situation regarding plans for a mail-in election to allow a casino to be built in the county.
If you thought an election already was going to happen, you aren’t alone. The commissioners had earlier approved the mail-in vote but called a meeting Tuesday to decide whether to push ahead with the plan if Knight isn’t going to offer reassurances.
County Clerk Carol Maggard said she might be able to organize a Dec. 16 election if commissioners allow her to continue to make preparations by next Monday.
The Tuesday meeting ended with no decision and Hein giving commissioners Randy Dallke and Dan Holub the cell-phone number for Knight so they can join him in trying to get some answers from the former Wichita mayor.
Hein said he has left at least a half-dozen messages for Knight and none have been returned.
“I’m leery of why he’s not calling us back to answer questions,” he said.
Hein defined the egg-on-the-face scenario as one in which Marion County is the only county to approve the construction of a casino and still doesn’t get one.
That would prove the oft-repeated charge that Knight made his casino proposal to Marion County only as leverage to spur action in Sedgwick County, he said.
Hein said he also has been trying to talk by telephone to Knight’s associate, Dennis Smith, but has been told by Smith’s secretary that “he is out of the office.”
Based on two admonitions from Holub, the commissioners seemed to be waiting on Knight before deciding about the election.
Holub said he didn’t want to give up without following through on considering a casino, as had been decided earlier, and that he wants to see Knight face to face to make a business decision.
Hein suggested the commissioners could put a vote off until the November 2006 election.
But Holub said although he is tired of allegations the commissioners tried to hold “a quick vote,” they had a good reason for the mail-in election.Without it, he said, the legislature would not consider allowing the county to have casino gambling.
The commissioners seemed to share the need to make sure Marion County has an earlier-or at least contemporary-vote on the casino. December elections on the question are being planned for Harvey and Sumner counties.
In the earlier meeting, Knight told them that for his partners to build a casino/hotel complex in a county, voters of that county would have to approve the idea by a wide margin. He also said the election would have to come before Jan. 1 to enable state legislators to act in time for casino construction to begin next year.
Dallke said since the vote would not be binding, it would amount to a “feelings vote.” But both he and Hein reiterated they would not approve any measure for Marion County unless the election was decided by more than a “50-something to 40-something” percentage vote.
Holub said Rep. Don Dahl of Hillsboro has been telling Marion County citizens that casino gambling won’t be approved in the Kansas Legislature.
“But,” Holub said, “I’ve been calling Topeka, too, and the mood there is changing. They’re seeing that we’re shipping money out of the state of Kansas. Kansas is nothing but a large Marion County.”
The commissioners said people who gamble are going to do it somewhere, even if they have to leave the state.
Holub said the situation and the vote probably will be a one-time event in the history of Marion County.
Dale Nuss of Hillsboro, who came to the commission meeting last week as one of a group of protesters to the casino vote, told the commissioners it is “obvious why Bob Knight is not returning your phone calls.” He said Knight is using Marion County to apply on pressure Sedgwick County.
Nuss called on the commissioners to rescind their decision to hold an election, and to remember that their primary duty is to protect the welfare of the county and its residents, “not to bring in something such as gambling addiction.”
Nuss apologized to the commissioners if a letter he had written to them seemed offensive. He said he normally has every confidence in the wisdom of the commissioners to make decisions for the county.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER