The Neosho Transportation Development District will hold a board of directors election on July 16, and a planned traffic signal at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road is still in the works for this year, provided all other issues are quickly resolved.

The Neosho Transportation Development District will hold a board of directors election on July 16, and a planned traffic signal at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road is still in the works for this year, provided all other issues are quickly resolved.

That court-stamped remediation is expected to head off future voter eligibility questions that have dogged the district in recent months and have, at the least, delayed a board election.

In May, the city of Neosho petitioned the Newton County Circuit Court to issue an order directing the TDD to conduct a board election by May 30. The last board election was held in April 2011. While that order didn't happen, at a pre-trial conference last Friday with Associate Circuit Court Judge Kevin Selby and the respective legal parties, it was agreed that the TDD would hold its board election on July 16, according to city attorney Steve Hays in an email later that evening.

The property owners will continue on as the legitimate voters in that election, said TDD attorney Chris Williams on Monday. That was the big question holding up the process, after it was discovered that there are registered voters living inside the TDD, throwing into doubt who is actually eligible to vote in TDD elections, based on vague state statutes.

“Our position has always been we're more than happy to go forward with the election once we know who is supposed to be voting in it,” Williams said.

He would not comment on how the voter eligibility issues would be finally resolved, but said he planned to file the appropriate documents with the court within a week.

“I’m not going to presume the court is going to sign off on things until the judge has seen them,” Williams said. “I don’t want to imply that the court has already agreed to do things. We just talked about putting documents together that the city and the TDD can agree on and then submitting them to the court. I’m sure the judge will take a look at those and decide if he is OK with it. And we’ll go from there. We talked about a process where we would do that. Conceptually, it’s what we’re working towards.”

One thing that has already been agreed to apparently is the July 16 TDD board election.

The district landowners, of which the city is the single largest, and therefore has the strongest individual vote based on acreage, will be formally notified of the pending election by June 15, though Williams didn’t know on Monday if they would vote in person or by mail-in ballot.

Hays noted in his Friday email that “there will be a stipulated resolution of this matter” and that “all issues should be resolved” by July 16. However, like Williams, he didn’t want to publicly go into detail on exactly how those matters would be resolved until the court actually issues a declaratory judgement later this month.

Hays could not be reached by phone on Monday. But Neosho Mayor Richard Davidson noted that a key part of what was at least verbally agreed to last Friday is that future TDD board elections will be held in April. He said that Hays found in state law (RSMo 115.121), that “election day for political subdivisions and special [taxing] district officers shall be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April.” That would seem to include the TDD.

“This is pleasing in the sense that that is what the council has asked for all along, that each year, the same time each year, the city and the other landowners within the TDD are able to exercise their right to vote,” Davidson said. “This is what we hoped to achieve in discussions with the TDD. Unfortunately, their views did not agree with ours early on and that’s what forced us to seek a remedy in the court. While that was a last resort for us, the outcome, I believe, is fair and we look forward to participating in the next election and in future elections from this point forward.”

TDD board chairman Gene Schwartz could not be reached by phone on Monday. In a June 1 letter addressed to him from Kevin Keith, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Keith stated that the planned traffic light at U.S. Highway 60 and Kodiak Road, the first scheduled TDD project, can be completed this year, but that “we will have to move very quickly” and all issues will need to be resolved by July 6 in order to meet a July 27 bid letting.

Williams said he was “optimistic” that would happen.

“I think we’ve got things worked out,” he said. “If we get all the documents together and get them in front of the judge, hopefully he will be OK with them and we can move forward.”

The TDD operates as its own political entity and collects a half-cent sales tax on purchases made at most businesses within its boundaries, which extend from Kodiak Road east past Laramie Lane (near Lowe’s) and from Waldo Hatler Drive south to Industrial Drive.

That 20-year sales tax, approved in 2011 by the landowners within the district, though the city opted not to vote in that election, will repay financing for millions of dollars in traffic improvements inside the district, including new roads and stoplight intersections, that it is hoped will attract new retail businesses. Some of the improvements around the Neosho Middle School are also safety-related.
“The city’s view is the TDD, if done correctly, can be a tremendous asset, a tremendous benefit to the city,” Davidson said Monday.

“We look forward to providing oversight as it relates to being a landowner, and assuring the taxpayers in the city of Neosho that we are actively involved in ensuring the TDD’s actions are done properly and transparently and respecting of the monies that the taxpayers put into this district.”