Government & Politics

Tom Watson and neighbors lose Overland Park annexation fight

Overland Park’s annexation of 8.5 miles in southeast Johnson County, including Watson’s property, will stand.
Overland Park’s annexation of 8.5 miles in southeast Johnson County, including Watson’s property, will stand. AP

A controversial 2008 Overland Park annexation that was the subject of a lawsuit ended quietly last week when the Johnson County Commission ruled that the city has kept its promise to serve the annexed area.

Five of the seven commissioners voted in favor of the city in a legally required review of services. Commissioner John Toplikar voted against and Michael Ashcraft abstained.

The case involved an area of southern Overland Park between Pflumm Road and U.S. 69, roughly from 167th Street to 191st Street, with a couple of smaller stretches extending farther south. Residents in the area, including professional golfer Tom Watson, fought the annexation when it was first proposed, but eventually lost their court case. However the issue was contentious enough that it inspired the Kansas Legislature to rewrite its annexation rules, requiring a vote of approval from residents of proposed areas to be annexed.

A review is required three years after the end of litigation. A public hearing on the matter on May 19 brought a spirited discussion from some in the area who were unhappy with the city’s services. Some complained of slow response time to burglar alarms, lack of police coverage, lax control of noxious weeds and ineffectual snow removal, among other things.

The city presented a 70-page report detailing road and bridge work and other services.

The commission found that the city has complied with its statutory duties to serve the area.

The decision was made with relatively little fanfare. Although the commission offered a time for more public comment on the proposed resolution in the city’s favor, only one resident came forward. That was Norman Pishney, who was one of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit challenging it. Pishney said he had not been aware that the finding for the city was in the works and had not had time to read it. The proposed finding was posted on the commission’s agenda web page.

If commissioners had voted against the city, it could have started the ball rolling toward de-annexation. However the commission voted it through without much discussion. Ashcraft said he was “confounded” by the fact that police response time in the annexed area is about a half minute slower than in the rest of the city. The discrepancy, he said, gave him pause over whether the city had met the “substantial compliance” required for the services.

The decision means the annexation process is over. No further reviews are required.