Archive for Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Former mayor reaps headlines in 2001

January 2, 2002

While the New Year promises to be just as eventful as the previous one, 2001 saw several major stories unfold in the Basehor and Leavenworth County area.

Whether it was the budget crunches faced by several local governments, the accomplishments of local volunteers or the charitable acts of school district students, 2001 was memorable to many.

Nationally, everyone will remember the events associated with Sept. 11.

The attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., resulted in the United States waging war on terrorism, the first American military campaign of the new century.

Although events that transpired locally may not have had the magnitude of Sept. 11, several were important and made significant impacts on our community.

And while the order and the stories themselves can be debated, the Sentinel has ranked the top five most important events of the year.

No. 5

Camp Gaea denied special-use permit

Following pleas from nearby residents, the Leavenworth County Commission denied Camp Gaea, a controversial 168-acre campground 10 miles north of Tonganoxie, the renewal of its special-use permit.

Citing moral objections and traffic problems, several Leavenworth County residents voiced opposition to the retreat center during a County Commission meeting on Oct. 25.

The fallout was the Camp Gaea filling a civil lawsuit against the county, which has First Amendment ramifications.

In the past, the campground has hosted such groups as the Midwest Male Naturist Gathering, a gathering of male nudists, and the Heartland Pagan Festival.

"By looking on the Internet, there are some groups coming in there that don't fit the character of this community," Leavenworth County resident H.B. Heim said. "We are concerned that some of the actions will spill over into our community."

Heim and other county residents were instrumental in circulating a petition expressing their displeasure with the campground and the activities there.

More than 300 people signed the petition that was given to the County Commission.

But while residents objected to campground activities, Camp Gaea caretaker Wanda Roths said she sees no problem with the camp.

"I raised four children and I am also a grandmother, and I can't understand what they are so up in arms about," she said.

The County Commission denied the special-use permit 2 to 1. County Commissioner Joe Daniels voted to approve the permit.

Daniels said he thought a county ban on public nudity would shore up any moral objections to the camp.

However, county commissioners Don Navinsky and Bob Adams thought differently and voted against permit renewal.

"When I make a decision I make it for the best of all," Adams said. "I have made a pledge to the people of Leavenworth County to make this a better place for them to work, live and raise their family."

Camp supporters said they were shocked at the commission's decision.

"You witnessed the death of the Constitution today," said Evelyn Welk, a practicing pagan. "We are dying across the waters to ensure freedom and in the middle of the country we are watching freedom being smashed by county governments."

In response to the denial, camp representatives filed a lawsuit against the county asking a judge to reverse the commissioners' decision.

The lawsuit also seeks $50,000 for lawyer's fees and names the county, county commissioners and the Leavenworth Planning Commission as defendants.

The case has yet to be scheduled for hearing.

No. 4

Pendleton resigns as school district superintendent; Cormack named as his replacement

Nearly one year after he was asked to take a leave of absence, Basehor-Linwood School District Superintendent Dave Pendleton submitted his resignation on July 4.

Pendleton had been on leave since Aug. 5, 2000, when School Board members gave the superintendent leave so he take care of his wife, who has a serious medical condition.

Later in the year, Pendleton said he did not ask for the leave of absence and was able to return to work.

"I am able to return whenever the board feels it is appropriate," he said in February 2001.

At the time of his leave, Pendleton had accumulated 63 days of sick leave. After his sick days were depleted, the School Board announced that Pendleton would not be returning to the school district during the school year.

Although there has been speculation as to why Pendleton was asked to take leave, the School Board maintained it was so he could care for his wife.

By resigning with a year left on his contract, Pendleton and the school district agreed on a severance package of $152,625. Pendleton had been drawing a yearly salary of $96,969.

With Pendleton's resignation, the School Board was able to name Cal Cormack as school district superintendent.

Cormack had stepped in as acting superintendent during Pendleton's absence.

Cormack had been with the school district since 1996. Before that, he worked for the Kauffman Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization founded by the late Kansas City Royals owner Ewing Kauffman.

He has also served in different administrative capacities in his educational career, including principal and associate superintendent in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Cormack said the school district would continue to find ways to better educate students.

"Everyone is always looking for a better way to teach students and we're no different," Cormack said. "The focus should always be on the kids learning."

Since his resignation, Pendleton moved from Basehor to Woodburry, Conn., where he is a school superintendent.

No. 3

Former county commissioner charged in connection to topless dance club

Former Leavenworth County Commissioner Wayne Eldridge, who owns an adult entertainment business, has been charged with violating county and state laws regulating nudity and prostitution.

Eldridge, owner and operator of Whispers Cabaret, located inside the building formerly known as Ma Belles just outside Basehor, has been charged with aiding and abetting public nudity, promoting prostitution and promoting obscenity.

All of the charges are misdemeanors.

The charges stem from an investigation conducted by two plain-clothes Brown County Sheriff's Department deputies on March 8. The deputies allegedly observed topless dancing and lap dances at Whispers Cabaret.

In August of 2001, the Leavenworth County Commission passed a resolution banning nude dancing in unincorporated areas of the county.

As chairman of the county commissioners, Eldridge signed the resolution prohibiting nude dancing.

Eldridge has denied the charges against him, saying the club does not feature nude entertainment as defined in the resolution.

Eldridge's attorney, Dick Bryant, said the club could decide to challenge the constitutionality of the county's resolution.

"At this point, we don't believe that particular resolution applies because there is no nude entertainment as that term is defined by the resolution," Bryant said.

Eldridge is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 30.

No. 2

Shopping center destroyed by fire

Shopping in Basehor got even more difficult on Dec. 15 when a fire left the city without its retail-shopping district.

The fire damaged all nine businesses at the complex, 155th Street and State Avenue.

Investigators said the fire was set deliberately and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continues to investigate the blaze.

No suspects have been named in the case. Details of the case have yet to be released by investigators because it is an on-going investigation.

Although the cause is yet unknown, at least three businesses will not reopen.

Owners of the Bichelmeyer's Grocery, Pat's Shampoo Hut and Rumsey's Retail Liquor Store said they would not return to the city.

The fire, which started at approximately 2:30 p.m. in the northeast corner of the building, caused $1 million worth of damage to the building and its contents, investigators said.

Building owners Dennis and Debbie Breuer said they would reopen the shopping complex.

"It will be better than ever," Dennis Breuer said.

Doc and Bruties Pizza has reopened for business, with other businesses planning to open in the west end in the building, that received the least damage, in the coming weeks.

No. 1

Pfannenstiel convicted on sexual misconduct charges

The 2001 Basehor mayoral race was mainly decided on March 23 in Leavenworth County District Court.

After nearly seven hours of deliberation, a jury of 10 men and two women found former Basehor Mayor John Pfannenstiel guilty of having sexual relations with three inmates while he was a corrections officer at the Lansing Correctional Facility.

He was charged with three felony counts of having sexual relations with an inmate and one count of smuggling contraband into the prison.

Pfannenstiel was acquitted of the contraband charge.

Despite the charges, Pfannenstiel remained in office and in the mayoral election up until his conviction.

Pfannenstiel has maintained his innocence.

"The prosecution painted a pretty barbaric picture that anyone who knows me at all knows I am not capable of doing," Pfannenstiel said. "I never took any contraband into that prison and I never touched any of those individuals."

After the trial, Pfannenstiel withdrew from the election and voiced support for write-in candidate Chris Garcia.

Garcia, a Basehor City Council member, said it was important for the voters to have two choices for the mayoral election.

On April 3, Garcia lost the mayoral election to Basehor resident Bill Hooker.

Pfannenstiel continues to work on an appeal.

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