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Much of the city's financial trouble can be traced to its clumsy efforts to expand its borders. The 2001 annexation, for instance, led to a suit and a countersuit between the city and Anthony Barber. A settlement, reached in 2004, allowed Barber to keep operating his quarry. To this day, residents complain about noise and runoff.
In 2002, Lake Lotawana sued to keep Blue Springs from annexing unincorporated land near state Highway 7. The effort was for naught, however, as residents in that area rejected a proposal to be annexed into Lake Lotawana.
Lake Lotawana leaders, working with a development lawyer named Robert Freilich, continued to dream.
In 2004, over the objections of Lee's Summit city officials, Lake Lotawana annexed land near U.S. Highway 50. The city of Lee's Summit sued, and a judge eventually ruled that Lake Lotawana had no jurisdiction in the area.
Lake Lotawana's ambitions came at a price. Freilich billed the city approximately $1.5 million for planning and legal costs.
The city racked up more litigation costs in a misguided attempt to use tax-increment financing (an economic-development tool designed to cure blight) to pay for improvements around the privately owned lake.
The community association submitted the TIF plan to capture $5.3 million in taxes to pay for street, dam and sewer repairs. Appalled by the efforts of the quasi-gated community, officials of the Lee's Summit School District (which stood to lose the most money as a result of the tax breaks) filed a lawsuit. A judge voided the plan.
Reed complains that city leaders were too aggressive in pursuing growth. "All of a sudden, we're suing the heck out of everybody," he says.
Recent upgrades to the city's sewer system are also proving to be inadequate.
Arthur Van Hook, the mayor from 2001 to 2007, concedes that he may have lacked the expertise to deal with what the position became in Lake Lotawana's go-go years. "I was in way over my capabilities," says Van Hook, a retired technical programmer.
In 2006, Van Hook and the board took a stab at professionalism and hired Bill Kostar, a former mayor of Westwood, as a consultant. Kostar became a full-time city administrator after Edward Stratemeier, a lawyer, replaced Van Hook in 2007. But the drama was far from ending.
Upon his hiring, Kostar took stock of Lake Lotawana. The sight wasn't pretty. "They had no money," he tells The Pitch. "You could see what a mess it was."
In addition to being broke, the city had personnel issues. Kostar says the city clerk, Rhonda Littrell, would not meet with the police chief unless Kostar was present. The public works director, Patrick Pendergist, also didn't get along with Poletis, Kostar says.
The chief struck Kostar as someone who had been allowed to define his own reality. The police department had accumulated items, such as a Harley-Davidson, that Kostar thought were frivolous. (The motorcycle was later sold.) Once, Poletis suggested that Kostar ask the city for a car. "The city couldn't have bought me a hubcap," Kostar says.
Kostar also noticed that the police department had developed some peculiar habits. He says he got a call from an elderly woman who complained that she had been notified of a code violation by a police officer — with his siren lights flashing.