A debate over an old high school has led to the resignation of two Lecompton City Council members.
Lecompton City Council members Jennifer Smith and Christy Mallonee both told fellow council members at a Monday evening meeting that they were resigning from the council immediately.
“I have been on the council for four years, and during that time I have had people physically threaten me, call me names, and I’m just tired of it,” said Smith, who works for the Douglas County Extension Service and also writes a gardening column for the Journal-World.
The acrimony, however, has intensified recently as community leaders have struggled to determine what should be done with the old Lecompton High School building.
Late last year, the old three-story building became vacant after the Northeast Kansas Educational Service Center, an educational cooperative serving area school districts, moved its offices out of the building.
Based on a previous agreement, the ownership of the building reverted back to the city of Lecompton after the building became vacant.
Community leaders have expressed optimism that the building, featuring lots of space, marble staircases and other amenities, can attract a business or other user who wants affordable office space.
But Lecompton Mayor Mark Tunstall said council members are struggling with exactly how to move forward. Some community leaders are advocating the city simply sell the building outright to a private developer. Others are advocating the city, which has a population of about 625, serve as a landlord for the property. Others still want to sell the building but place multiple restrictions on how the building could be redeveloped.
“We had a pretty passionate discussion, is what you would call it, I guess,” Tunstall said of Monday’s meeting.
During the middle of the meeting both Smith and Mallonee said they were stepping down from the council.
“I had a letter left at my house last week telling me how I wasn’t welcome in the community because I hadn’t lived there long enough,” said Smith, who was in her fourth year on the council. “That is how the conversation started to turn last night too.
“I have enjoyed being on the council because I felt like I was doing a service, and I felt like I was trying to improve the quality of life. But sometimes people get to you.”
An attempt to reach Mallonee wasn’t successful Tuesday.
Tunstall said the Lecompton City Council hasn’t formally accepted the resignations because when the two council members left the meeting, the group no longer had a quorum to conduct business. A special meeting has been scheduled for today during which the council will vote whether to accept the resignations.
Tunstall said he’s still holding out hope Smith and Mallonee change their minds about serving on the council before then. Smith, though, said she intends to remain off the council.
Both Smith and Mallonee are up for re-election in the April 3 city elections. Neither woman has any opposition on the ballot. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said both of their names will remain on the ballot because the deadline to withdraw from a race has passed. But if elected — the ballot does include a spot for write-in candidates — the women can notify Shew that they will not serve their terms. At that point, Tunstall could appoint replacements.
As for the future of the old high school building, Tunstall said the council will keep working on the issue. The building currently is costing the city about $1,500 a month to maintain, Tunstall said.
“I would like to see a developer take it over,” Tunstall said. “If I had the money, I would convert it into apartments. But lots of people have lots of ideas about it.
“I think it does have potential. We’re right in between Lawrence and Topeka. We’re close to the interstate. But it is a small town. If you like peace and quiet, though, that’s the best place to be.”