Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2001

Commissioner’s turnabout throws Oz into doubt

March 25, 2001

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— A Johnson County commissioner whose "no" vote stalled the Wonderful World of Oz theme park project for a second time said state lawmakers need not extend the deadline for legislative approval of the project.

In an e-mail to lawmakers, Susie Wolf the county commission's newest member said a proposed feasibility study would not change her mind and would not be a good use of taxpayers' money.

"Since the results will not change my vote from no, I am requesting that the Oz theme park financing extension be denied," the message to members of the Legislature's New Economy Committee said.

Commission Chairman Doug Wood, who firmly supports the project, sent his own e-mail to all members of the House explaining that Wolf's views do not reflect the thinking of the entire commission.

Wood said Friday that he didn't think Wolf's actions were a malicious attempt to undermine the project. Wood said it was simply ignorance of the process.

Under current law, the project must be approved by the commission and the state by July 1. County commissioners had asked the Kansas Legislature to extend that deadline to allow time for the new feasibility study, which could take eight to 10 months.

Wolf, in essence, reversed the stand she took March 15. When commissioners voted on the project itself, they deadlocked 2-2 for a second time, again tabling the measure.

But commissioners then voted 3-1 to ask the Legislature to extend the July 1 deadline. Wolf, a resident of Shawnee, voted for the extension.

Wolf said she had no idea her e-mail would strike such a nerve with commissioners and legislators.

"I'm finding I did not handle this correctly, because it has caused some people some distress," she said. "But what I was trying to convey was and I hate to say this but I made a mistake when I voted for (the feasibility study).

"I did it too quickly, because at first I thought it would be good to have a feasibility study. But when I got to thinking, it's not going to matter what comes out of it for Johnson County," Wolf said. "The people that I represent are telling me they do not want a theme park. So that's where I have to be at this point."

Oz supporters dismissed the effect of Wolf's message, saying one opinion should not be allowed to scuttle the plans for an $861 million theme park and resort on the site of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near DeSoto.

Commissioner George Gross, an Oz supporter, said he was disappointed by Wolf's action but didn't know if it would kill the project.

Gross characterized Wolf's e-mail, sent late Thursday afternoon, as "sneaky."

"She didn't say a word to anyone. It was like sneaking it out in the middle of the night, making it look like she was speaking for the entire commission, but she isn't. Legislators don't know who Susie Wolf is."

Wolf's e-mail took Oz Chairman Robert Kory by surprise.

"It's not for me to comment, but it seems to me a bit unusual for one commissioner to void ... a government action based on well-recognized rules and procedures," Kory said.

Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner, said the request from Wolf may have an effect on lawmakers. It will help the project's foes, said Ballou, who opposes an extension. Some lawmakers, he said, were willing to approve an extension based on the commission's request. If the commission backs away from the idea, the extension might lose support, he said.

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