eKC feature
March 11, 2005

 

Out to get Dan Leap

by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Dan Leap doesn’t know what to make of being compared to the infamous Al Capone, but he’s learned that in politics, almost anything goes.

The Merriam, KS council member has been the target of a recall initiative since December where three petitions have failed the test to be placed on the April ballot. The last petition was denied due to signatures that were invalid, either because of voter registration status or due to residency issues. Other signatures were deemed invalid because the committee filing the recall did not submit a list of sponsors before collecting signatures.

If the recall eventually passes, Leap will only be the third elected official recalled in Johnson County, KS history. Two previous recalls in 2001 and 2003 were also Merriam council members.

Leap’s political foes first submitted a recall petition to the county’s District Attorney Paul Morrison on Dec. 23. The original petition cited numerous reasons that the Ward II council member should be removed from office.

However, Morrison did not believe that the petition’s reasons met the statutes for recall in Kansas. On Dec. 30, a second petition was filed and was again denied.

The third petition was filed on Jan. 14, citing that Leap had missed 25 percent of council meetings, work sessions and committee meetings.

“It’s like Al Capone, the government couldn’t get him on murder, so they got him on tax evasion,” said Carol Wymer, one of the sponsors of the recall petition. “The missed meetings is what will carry the petition, so that’s the reason we are citing.”

Wymer says that there are other reasons for some of Leap’s constituents to force the recall.

“You don’t get into office to push your own agenda and that’s what he’s (Leap) done,” said Wymer. “I’m not for recalls, but because of his stance and not wanting to vote things in, he votes ‘no’ just because he can.”

According to Leap, “his own agenda” has actually been what he believes are the feelings of the majority of his constituents. Leap, who owns Mechanical Art and lives in a loft above his business on Merriam Lane, said that he ran for office two years ago to serve the interest of the people of Ward II and make sure their voices were heard.

Leap believes the recall really stems from political foes upset over his lack of support for the downtown revitalization project currently underway in Merriam. Leap said that he was against spending $2 million to narrow a street that had been widened in a previous renovation.

“I had signatures from 58 business owners that didn’t want to narrow the street,” said Leap. “They’re all for beautification, but they’re not for narrowing the street or wasting taxpayers’ money.”

Leap admits that due to scheduling conflicts, he has missed seven meetings — two council meetings and the rest were a combination of work sessions, special meetings and committee meetings in a two-year period. However, he contends that his detractors conveniently selected the period between August 2004 and December 2004 to get the 25 percent of meetings missed because he had only missed two meetings prior to that time.

“I missed one committee meeting because I was reassigned to that committee and the meeting was on a night when I couldn’t change previously scheduled plans,” said Leap. “One of the meetings, a dinner training session, was optional as I understood it.”

An email from City Administrator Quinn Bennion indicates the Nov. 17 Boards and Commission Dinner Training was optional. “Council is invited to attend if they can,” Bennion wrote. “No problem if you can’t be there.”

“The meetings are nothing we have to dispute or quibble over,” said Wymer. “The statute said it was important enough and that question is null and void.”

Although Wymer said that the meetings are the primary reason that she would like to see Leap recalled, she cites that Leap allegedly broke codes and blatantly disregards the law.

“When campaigning, he rode around city streets in a golf cart, and it’s illegal to ride in a golf cart on a city street,” said Wymer.

Wymer also cites incidents last year when Leap was ticketed for having “signs or attention getting devices displayed on his business.”

Leap said for the past several years, he has put up large inflatable holiday decorations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays throughout the year. The inflatable pumpkins, snowmen and other symbols do not have his business name, nor carry any kind of a message and are not unlike inflatables that people put in their yards. The citation was eventually dismissed.

Gary Glenn, the councilman elected in 1999 in Ward IV and who was eventually recalled in 2003, said that there are other factors at work in Merriam and the latest recall drive is just “Merriam politics as usual.”

“Dan Leap is one of the few people to actually represent the citizens of Merriam,” said Glenn. “He’s consistently been one of the few who has voted against giving taxpayer dollars to developers.”

Glenn was recalled because political foes launched a campaign alleging that he and another council member, Marsha Williams, had spent city money on a personal website. Glenn still contends that the allowance was given to council members to maintain “Internet services” and that the website was developed to maintain communication with his constituents. Glenn and Williams were often vocal opponents of condemning property using imminent domain for the benefit of a private enterprise, most notably for Baron BMW to expand its facilities off of Shawnee Mission Parkway.

Glenn said he finds it more than coincidental that Leap vocally opposed a new residential development due to its high-density plan and that Doug Patterson, an Overland Park attorney, represented the developers on the project. Patterson now represents the leaders of the recall drive. Wymer said that a group of people in Merriam is paying Patterson for his services, but added, “I’m not paying him.”

Leap said that his seat on the council has cost him plenty. Over a six-month period last year, the windows of his business were broken four times. Once, a rock was even thrown through the second floor window of the building into his loft home.

“It sounded like a bomb every time one of the windows got broke,” said Leap. “It was really pretty scary because I didn’t know if someone was going to harm me or my family personally.”

Leap purchased about $3,000 in surveillance equipment and police finally caught the guilty party, a 73-year-old man. However, Leap said the campaign to smear him had already begun. One of his political enemies, Carol Wymer’s husband, Jim, who also sits on the council and is currently seeking reelection, was quoted in a local media outlet as saying that Leap was breaking his own windows to gain attention and sympathy from the public.

Leap has also used his own personal funds to hire an attorney to fight the recall attempt.

Wymer denies that there is any personal vendetta against Leap.

“I don’t have anything against Dan, he’s been in my home and even helped my husband with his campaign (four years ago),” said Wymer. “Since he is suppose to represent me as part of Merriam — he is not — and I got a pulse of the city and didn’t go into this with my own agenda.”

Wymer said that she doesn’t want to wait for another election because “that would mean waiting two more years and with him on the council, they are just fighting and squabbling and he is holding things up.”

Wymer added that Leap’s opposition to projects is costing the city more than the recall election would. According to the Johnson County Election office, a special election would cost an estimated $1.50 per resident.

Leap said that the recall attempt has been frustrating and tiring. “I was really depressed after the third time,” said Leap. “But one of my constituents called and invited me to his property; he made a sign that said ‘Keep Leap.”

Leap said another of his constituents called and offered to donate to have the signs made. Leap said once he started walking the streets of his ward and talking to voters, he found that many people still supported him. By mid January, Ward II of Merriam was a field of red “Keep Leap” signs.

“I was elected with 69 percent of the vote and I feel I should represent the people until my term is up,” Leap said. “I don’t know if I will run for re-election, but I’m in it until the people say otherwise.”

Wymer doesn’t think Leap’s support is as widespread as he contends. “I’ve talked to people who came home and had a sign in their front yard, others are not registered voters or the property is rental property where people aren’t registered to vote,” she said.

Leap recently had about 60 people attend a party he threw in celebration of the most recent recall petition failure. “I don’t know if they’ll try for a third time, I hope its three strikes and they’re out,” said Leap.

However, Wymer promises the recall is not over. “It might be delayed, but its not over,” Wymer said. “All we want to do is put it to the people on a ballot.”

Wymer and her group need 156 valid signatures in a ward with approximately 1,300 residents. If they collect enough valid signatures, the recall will be scheduled as a special election.

Leap is keeping his signs, just in case.

RECALLS IN JOHNSON COUNTY

Until 2001, Johnson County had not been host to a successful recall petition. However, since that time, two Merriam City Council members have been successfully recalled and two council members in Spring Hill will be on the ballot for recall in April.

When asked if he thought recall petitions were too easy to mount in Kansas, Brian Newby, election commissioner in Johnson County, said, “I know that people at the secretary of state’s office have feelings about the reasons we are seeing recalls. I just wonder if it’s a fall out of the four-year terms we see so often now.”

Like Leap’s recall, the petitions in Spring Hill were first denied on technical grounds.

 


              
              
                 

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