Jackson city government responds to annexation challenge

Friday, February 17, 2012

The city of Jackson is standing by its 2009 annexation of property along Interstate 55 and U.S. 61.

In a news release issued Thursday, the city government defended the challenged annexation as "both appropriate and legal."

"The City will defend the annexation in the proper venue -- the court system," said the release, which listed Jackson city administrator Jim Roach as a media contact. "Although attorneys for the litigants choose to use the media to promote their allegations and proposals, the City will continue to follow the policy of not litigating legal challenges in the media."

The Jackson Board of Aldermen discussed "litigation security, personnel and acquisition of property" at a closed meeting Wednesday evening, according to a notice posted on the city's website. After the meeting, the city issued the release.

Roach declined to comment further on the issue when reached by telephone Thursday afternoon.

A lawsuit filed Feb. 2 -- five days before a vote on a voluntary annexation of a quarry and other land in Fruitland -- argued that Jackson's 2009 annexation of land along one mile of U.S. 61 and about 3.5 miles of I-55 was illegal, according to a state statute that prohibits annexations of narrow strips of land to get to larger parcels. The suit was filed as a "quo warranto" action, meaning those who filed the suit are essentially acting on behalf of the state government.

The land along the highways is what connects Jackson's boundaries to the Fruitland area, allowing for the attempted annexation of land there.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of opponents of the voluntary annexation of part of Fruitland, including names like Abby and Thomas Petzoldt and Ken and Virginia Leimbach, who were vocal in their opposition to the annexation of a Fruitland-area quarry by Jackson. Another party to the suit is Save Our Children's Health, a not-for-profit group of Fruitland residents formed originally to stop quarries from starting up in the area near Saxony Lutheran High School. Those challenging the annexation along the highways are represented by attorneys Thad Brady, John Cook, John Lichtenegger and J. Michael Ponder.

Some of the lawsuit's filers support the incorporation of Fruitland as a village. To incorporate, cities within two miles of an area must decline to annex it. Cape Girardeau declined to annex the Fruitland area in March 2011, while Jackson decided in November to voluntarily annex a quarry owned by Heartland Materials. A petition was circulated that forced that voluntary annexation to a vote, and voters struck down the annexation.

Without the contested strip of highway, the perimeter of the proposed Fruitland village would not fall close enough to Jackson for involuntary annexation and the area would be free to incorporate.

On Monday, Cook said he was working with Jackson city attorney Tom Ludwig to reverse the annexation.

Ludwig has declined to comment on ongoing litigation pertaining to Jackson.

Cook said he had not heard of the Jackson news release but is prepared to hash the matter out in court.

"None are so blind are as those who will not see," he said, quoting 18th-century English commentator Matthew Henry. "We shall proceed."

The city has yet to submit an official response to the lawsuit and has until March 7 to file one, according to court documents.

The annexed strip of land made voluntarily annexing a quarry owned by Heartland Materials in Fruitland a possibility before the annexation was voted down Feb. 7. In the 2009 ordinance that annexed the strip, the city said the acquisition is "reasonable and necessary to the proper development of the city."

Some Jackson Board of Aldermen members, including Mayor Barbara Lohr, expressed their desire for the city to annex 240 acres including the quarry as a way to the grow the city's size and economy.

An earlier suit seeking to reverse the annexation and prevent further annexation was filed in November by the same people who filed the quo warranto action and alleged that Jackson had disobeyed a state statute that prohibits "flag annexations."

According to the suit, the law prohibits annexation of areas connected to the city only by "a strip of real property less than one-quarter mile in width."

The Feb. 2 lawsuit alleges the same statute violation, but supersedes the November suit.

In a January response to the November suit, Ludwig wrote that the law is "unconstitutional in that said statute treats municipalities in Perry County and Randolph County differently than municipalities in Cape Girardeau County without a justifiable and valid purpose." A subsection of the law specifically excludes Perry and Randolph counties.

A hearing regarding the lawsuit is scheduled for April 9 by Judge William Syler at the Common Pleas Courthouse in Cape Girardeau.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Jackson, MO

Fruitland, MO

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: