Fire district board to remain in place for now

John Richmeier
jrichmeier@leavenworthtimes.com

Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 will remain under the control of its existing Board of Trustees, at least while a lawsuit is pending in District Court.

District Judge David King announced Tuesday that he was issuing an order to preserve what he called the status quo until he can have a hearing on a petition for a declaratory judgment.

The petition was filed last week on behalf of Leavenworth County commissioners.

The commissioners are arguing an interlocal agreement concerning Leavenworth County Fire District No. 1 expired Tuesday and control of the fire district should now shift to the County Commission.

Fire District No. 1 provides fire department services to the city of Lansing and Delaware and High Prairie townships.

The fire district is governed by a board whose members were appointed by representatives of Lansing and the two townships.

The process for appointing people to the fire district’s Board of Trustees was established through a 2003 interlocal agreement that was signed by representatives of Lansing, the two townships and the County Commission as well as an assistant attorney general for Kansas.

County commissioners argue the interlocal agreement has now expired because the Lansing City Council gave notice in December 2018 that they intended to terminate the agreement at the end of June of this year. Commissioners argue the fire district’s Board of Trustees should dissolve with the expiration of the agreement.

Lansing officials have expressed an intent to establish a city-operated fire department.

Lansing officials have argued that termination of the agreement should result in the fire district’s assets being divided among the parties. But this issue is being disputed in a separate court case that is now before the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Last month, members of the Lansing City Council voted to rescind their termination notice, thinking this would leave the Board of Trustees in control of the fire district. However, county commissioners argue the agreement does not allow the council to rescind the notice.

The petition for declaratory judgment was filed to seek a judge’s ruling regarding whether the agreement has expired.

An attorney for the county commissioners also filed a motion for a temporary injunction to prevent other parties from interfering with the county’s management of Fire District No. 1 and to prohibit the existing Board of Trustees from maintaining control over fire district records and equipment.

King conducted a hearing on the motion for a temporary injunction Tuesday. The hearing was conducted through videoconferencing and live-streamed on the internet.

Senior County Counselor David Van Parys, who represented the county commissioners, said it is important for the employees of Fire District No. 1 and the people served by the district to know who is the governing body for the district.

Adam Hall, an attorney representing Lansing, said the injunction sought by the county would not preserve the status quo during the litigation of the case. He argued the county commissioners do not have the same level of knowledge and experience for overseeing the fire district as the Board of Trustees.

At the end of the hearing, King said he was issuing an order to preserve the status quo, allowing the Board of Trustees to continue to oversee the fire district for the time being.

“That is the status quo as the court sees it,” he said.

King said he believes there is a public interest in getting the matter resolved as soon as possible. He scheduled a case management conference for July 21.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR