On Tuesday, the Neosho City Council voted not to drop their appeal of Newton County Judge Kevin Selby's November ruling, regarding their legal challenge of the Neosho Transportation Development District.
The vote was 2-3, with Councilmen Steve Hart, who made the motion, and David Ruth, voting in favor of dropping the appeal.
"I don't know how we can spend this kind of money when we just got out of budget talks with a deficit," Hart said. "Where departments are taking cuts. This money could've been spent in a lot better ways."
Mayor Richard Davidson said he believed the TDD discussion should take place in closed session, as it is an ongoing legal issue and has been discussed in closed session in the past.
On the other hand, Hart and Ruth argued that the discussion should take place in view of the public.
The TDD discussion came at the request of Hart, who first made a motion to drop the appeal in the city's budget work session last week, though no action was taken at that time and the discussion was scheduled for Tuesday evening's council meeting.
While Hart has been vocal in questioning the legitimacy of the TDD in the past, he said Tuesday evening that he has stood in opposition of the appeal since Selby's court ruling last fall.
Hart said that the city council had not voted to authorize an appeal, and that he did not feel the city could win the legal argument.
While no council members said for sure if there was a vote to authorize an appeal, Davidson said the city attorney could go back and review that.
He did say, however, that the council was kept up to date on the actions regarding the appeal process in their closed session meetings.
"I cannot sit here tonight and tell you I wasn't aware that we are appealing," Davidson said. "Without giving the details, this council was briefed on the status of the TDD as late as July. I reviewed the closed record minutes, I recall nothing that would indicate otherwise and I recall no questions being asked to the contrary, no statements being made to the contrary."
Councilmen Tom Workman and Charles Collinsworth both mentioned at different times in the discussion that the matter could be taken up in closed session.
Collinsworth said he was hesitant to speak in too much detail in open session for fear of mentioning confidential information pertaining to past closed sessions.
Though he did say that with the amount of tax revenue the TDD is expected to bring in – about $500,000 annually – it is worth the cost to protect that amount from any future taxpayer challenges.
Ruth said he too has been opposed to the appeal, as well as holding all discussions regarding legal issues in closed session.
Page 2 of 2 - Ruth asked City Attorney Steve Hays if it would be possible for the council to draft an ordinance allowing the council members to share information from previous closed session discussions.
Ruth said his question was hypothetical, and Davidson noted that the ordinance change wouldn't be possible at Tuesday evening's meeting, because it was not on the council agenda.
Davidson, who with Workman and Collinsworth voted against dropping the appeal, said the city is appealing Selby's ruling because they did not get an answer for their legal challenge.
Selby ruled against the city's challenge of the TDD on Nov. 30, 2012 and pointed to the doctrine of laches in his ruling, suggesting that the city had waited too long to bring their complaint forward.
Davidson said with the city's legal questions surrounding the TDD, he is also concerned that the city could be open to a taxpayer lawsuit down the road.
"We didn't appeal a ruling of the judge, we appealed because the judge didn't give a ruling, he didn't answer the question," Davidson said.
Councilman Tom Workman said he saw both sides of the appeal vote, though he ultimately voted against dropping it.
"Our stance from day one has been, if the TDD was formed, that it be formed correctly, number one rule," Workman said. "The other part of that being that Neosho is all about growth and we all know that to promote retail sometimes development or CIDs are districts that are needed to bring that development."
The city began the appeal process in January.
Their most recent move was filing the appellate brief, which was filed and due on Friday, Aug. 16.
Hart noted that the city has spent more than $56,000 on legal fees related to the TDD since September 2012.
Though, Davidson said some of those fees went toward attempting to create a community improvement district to replace the TDD, which the city and TDD board had discussed, though an agreement did not come of those discussions.
The TDD was established in February 2011 and stretches from Waldo Hatler Drive to Industrial Drive, and from Kodiak Road to just east of Laramie Lane.
A half-cent sales tax has been collected in the district's borders since January 2012.
The tax is intended to help maintain the planned street projects in the district.
However, only one of the TDD's street improvements has been completed so far.
The traffic light at Highway 60 and Kodiak Road was completed in June, while the remainder of the projects are put on hold, pending a resolution of the city's challenge of the TDD.