In 2015, Independence police responded to 227 calls for service at or in the near vicinity of the Budget Inn Motel at 9900 U.S. 40. The next year, that number rose to 294, according to city records.
Perhaps the final straw came in the early hours of Nov. 28, when an armed robbery victim called police after he met a reported prostitute at the motel and was shot in the leg after two male suspects came into the room. Police arrested the prostitute and one of the male suspects. The second male suspect died two days later, shot by Kansas City police after they say he claimed to be ready for a shootout and then reached for a gun while being arrested after a traffic stop, according to city records.
Independence's business license officer decided after Jan. 31 hearing to suspend the motel's business license for 60 days starting Feb. 18, with 30 days in abeyance if the motel complied with several stipulations. At a Feb. 6 appeal hearing, the City Council voted to uphold the suspension. A resolution to formally approve the reasons for its decision is expected to be approved at Monday's meeting.
Council Member Tom Van Camp had recused himself from the appeal hearing due to a comment he had allegedly made about wanting to shut down the business.
James Tobin, attorney for business owner Ranvir Bhakta, argued that the police's prostitution claim had been hearsay and some of the calls for service could have come from the bus stop near the motel entrance. Bhakta's son Hitesh said the property has been listening and cooperating with police and has just two calls for service in 2017, one of them by him.
Hitesh Bhakta said he had been at college and had military obligations much of the past two years, before he took charge at the motel, and many of the problems wouldn't have happened if he had been there. Some of the 911 calls also could have resulted from the motel's former inter-room dialing system, which started with “9” to dial out and “1-1” for many room numbers. The dialing system has since been changed.
“I would've done this a long time ago,” he said, adding the city's stipulation of fence repairs had already been completed.
Some council members said they appreciated the younger Bhakta's work, but the numbers don't lie, and his possible return to military service and subsequent slip in business management also weighed on one's mind.
“I admire your efforts, but clearly there's been a significant problem,” Mayor Eileen Weir said.
The city also stipulated that, for the business license to be reinstated after 30 days, the motel must replace smoke detectors so they can't be removed or tampered with, have written procedures to reduce routine criminal offenses at the motel and require two forms of ID for any person renting a room.
A motion to alter the 30-day provision to 15 days failed by a 3-3 council vote. Council Member Curt Dougherty said the city needs to stand up and make a statement that such a business shouldn't rent to troublemaking clients.