Commission missed opportunity in Sunflower process
Johnson County Commissioner Ed Peterson correctly summed up the situation the county was in regarding the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant when he stated two weeks ago that the process of selecting a developer was flawed but that he wouldn't stand in the way of Kessinger/Hunter and Company.
There is no way the process the Commission pursued in coming to that decision to name Kessinger/Hunter a potential developer of Sunflower won't cause it grief. Whether that is catcalls from gadflies and genuine critics at coming public hearings or serious political and legal problems for the county and company as they seek to move forward with the transfer is yet to be determined.
That didn't have to be so. The Commission could have rid the selection of a developer of the suspicions that haunted the doomed Oz Entertainment Co. redevelopment proposal for Sunflower.
In hindsight, when the Commission gave its top lawyer Don Jarrett the green light to negotiate the purchase of Sunflower last May, it should have made decisions about the process it would use to select a developer -- the desired result of those negotiations. There were many elected officials outside county government advising commissioners to do just that. But that decision was left for October, after the Commission's budget considerations.
The delay left county officials with a crunched time frame after the Nov. 15 deadline for new proposals. The process amounted to a one-month get-to-know-you period and an unanticipated Jan. 2 deadline to submit financial details.
But, again paraphrasing Commissioner Peterson, we don't disparage Kessinger/Hunter. The company has invested a good deal of time and money in bringing its proposal to this point. Other companies could have made their interests known much earlier and been in the position to provide the county with the financial information it needed before the deadline. We do think, however, Kessinger/Hunter would be in a much stronger position with the public had it earned its "potential developer" designation on a level playing field.
To date, the county process has been flawed. The belated creation of a Sunflower Redevelopment Board could do much to ensure future issues are better vetted in the open and the public comment and participation play a part in reviewing Kessinger/Hunter's redevelopment plan for the 9.065-acre plant.
Lastly, the events of the last year suggest if the Commission must take three months off from Sunflower discussions to concentrate on the county's annual budget, and the county are not a proper vehicle to handle a deal as complex as the plant's transfer.