“Commission hears request to place eminent domain question on ballot”

The following article appeared in the Johnson County Sun.

“Commission hears request to place eminent domain question on ballot”
Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia
Johnson County Sun

Eminent domain could be a hot button, 2006 election issue, Ben Hodge said after speaking to the County Commission during an Aug. 18 meeting. Hodge, 25, Prairie Village, a college student, surprised political observers in April by winning election to the Johnson County Community College board. He declined last week to say whether he planned to run for a commission seat.

“No formal decisions have been made yet,” he said.

Hodge said he does not own real estate, but putting the eminent domain measure on the county ballot would be good public policy.

“I believe this is a win-win-win situation for everybody,” he said. “It would be a win for the Constitution, a win for the voters and frankly on a political level it would be a win for (commissioners) because it would take this issue off the table in the 2006 elections, because this will be a statewide (issue) for any statewide seat, for any state Senate seat and for the County Commission.”

The commission took no action on Hodge’s request. Hodge said he expects his county-level proposal would be mirrored at the state level in the next legislative session.

Sen. Kay O’Connpr said in an earlier interview she expected a statewide effort to curb eminent domain after the U.S, Supreme Court sided with local governments in June. The court ruled in the case of Kelo v. New London, Conn., that local governments could seize private property, then give the property to another private person to increase the property’s financial value.

The ruling allows houses, churches and businesses that could be put to “better use” – such as having the land converted for a mall or private recreation facility – to be seized. The government would pay fair market value for the property regardless of what the owner might believe the land is worth, regardless of whether the owner receives too little money to rebuild elsewhere and regardless of whether the land holds family, sentimental or spiritual value.

Hodge proposed asking county voters to forbid eminent domain for economic purposes. Afterward, he said he recognized the importance of development.

“Economic development is important, but what is more important is the upholding of the Constitution and the upholding of personal property rights,” Hodge said. “If I had a house in my family for a hundred years it would not be fair to me to take my home and transfer it in order to make a Walgreens. It’s just not fair and it’s not constitutional.” Commissioner John Segale said taking land helps communities develop economically. He also said cities are a better place to make such proposals than the county.

About 40 percent of county land remains unincorporated and subject to potential acts of eminent domain by the commission. Segale said commissioners have not been involved in eminent domain and would not get involved without good reason.