Montessori

Effie Saifi (center), pictured with students at Montessori Children's House on Hedgcoxe Road. 

Despite her eminent domain initiative petition dying in the Plano City Council chambers last week, Montessori Children’s House owner Effie Saifi is continuing her campaign against the city amid a strenuous, ongoing legal battle.

In a Monday press release, it was announced that Saifi commissioned the services of Allied Data Services, an independent third party that analyzed the same signatures that Plano City Secretary Lisa Henderson approved and denied. While Henderson and her colleagues verified 4,237 out of 7,456 signatures, Allied Data Services reported that 5,244 signatures were validated.

The initiative petition needed 4,403 signatures – a number equivalent to 20% of Plano’s electorate – to either be taken to a direct vote by the council or to be decided by residents in a special election. If ratified, the petition’s attached ordinance would have significantly restricted the city’s eminent domain authority.

So now that the petition has reached its impasse, what is next for Saifi and Montessori Children’s House?

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Saifi said. “I hope that the city will revisit this case … On the other hand, they have every reason not to want us to be successful.”

Until something prompts the resident-drafted ordinance to see new life in the legislative process, Saifi and her legal counsel have been continuing the litigation and rebutting the city staff’s version of the dispute.

City Attorney Paige Mims, for example, said in an April 6 council meeting that the city has “made multiple, multiple attempts” to reach a settlement, but Saifi alleged that her party has agreed to three settlement offers that city officials later reneged on.

It is unclear which of these accounts is more accurate and substantiated.

One of the few things that both Mims and Saifi have agreed on is that an appeal was filed by the latter after the city paid a $28,588 settlement during a special commissioner’s proceeding.

“In the Montessori School case the owner wants $2,225,521 for an easement and alleged damages,” the city said in an April 20 press release following the special council meeting where the number of petition signatures was declared insufficient. “The easement was valued at $28,588 by the special commissioners appointed by the court.”

Saifi denied that she demanded payments for the disputed property (0.205 acres of unoccupied land) that far exceed market value.

In the Montessori Children’s House’s Monday press release, it was argued that the settlement amount “is not ‘just compensation’ according to the Constitution or the eminent domain laws.”

Despite this, and despite her claims that she has had to borrow money just to proceed with this litigation, Saifi said she is not looking for a generous payout.

“I’m not looking for $1 million,” she rebutted. “I want my property. I don’t want liability. I want my children’s safety, and I want to expand my school. I want to carry my legacy.”

Saifi’s appeal is slated to be heard on July 19.

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