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Petition challenge to new KCI terminal can’t move forward

Updated: 2013-04-23T05:17:26Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

A petition effort challenging the Kansas City Council’s plans for a new airport terminal is invalid, city officials said Monday.

A committee of five petitioners turned in preliminary signatures to the city clerk’s office on Sunday. Calling themselves Friends of KCI, they were trying to overturn the City Council’s vote on April 11 to proceed with planning to replace the three-terminal configuration at Kansas City International Airport with a single terminal.

The petitioners opposed that plan and had hoped to prompt a citywide election on the future of KCI.

But city spokesman Danny Rotert said Monday that City Attorney Bill Geary determined the petition was invalid. That’s because a referendum is designed to overturn a council ordinance, or law.

The council’s vote on April 11 was just a resolution — a statement of the council’s intent and an advisory measure directing the city manager to continue the planning for a new KCI terminal.

“Everybody needs to take a deep breath,” Rotert said. “This is step one of a very long process.”

A true referendum would only be appropriate once the City Council actually voted on an ordinance to build a new terminal or to issue a contract relating to building a new terminal.

John Murphy, a spokesman for the petitioners, said they are people active in their neighborhoods who thought they could mount a referendum drive and didn’t realize the legal obstacles.

“We’re not political professionals,” he said.

But the group isn’t giving up on its argument that a new terminal project, estimated to cost up to $1.2 billion, is too expensive and shouldn’t be a city priority. Murphy said the group will turn out for public hearings on the project this summer and may mount another referendum attempt when it’s timely.

“This might be the end of Round One,” he said. “This is an unpopular project, and it’s going to be an interesting summer.”

City Council members say they realize many residents love KCI and want to keep it the way it is. But aviation officials say the 40-year-old airport is outdated in terms of security, maintenance and operations.

Rotert said that a lot more planning needs to occur and no final decision has been made on whether to build a new terminal. But citizens cannot yet stop that planning process through a referendum petition.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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