A pair of (upsets?) at Tuesday’s election

(Column originally published on April 9, 2010)

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Randy Rhoads has been running on fumes lately.

The newly elected Mayor of Lee’s Summit has gotten a little sleep this week, but it has been pretty nonstop for him since Tuesday – the day he pulled the upset over sitting Mayor Karen Messerli.

Now, whether Rhoads’ win was really an upset is, I suppose, up for debate.

Messerli’s time in the mayoral seat has been largely popular and progressive for Lee’s Summit. But no one has knocked her off – good times or bad – from her post.

Until Tuesday, that is.

Much like municipal judge candidate Dana Altieri, Rhoads put together a monumental campaign. Heck, one might even call it a crusade.

Rhoads was crusading to unseat an admired mayor; Altieri was battling to somehow topple a judge who had warmed the seat in the courtroom for some 36 years.

Rhoads, the current Mayor Pro Tempore, will move one seat over in the city council chambers on April 22. Maybe then, he will be able sleep a little.

“The night before the election when your name is on the ballot, you don’t sleep worth a darn,” Rhoads said.

He was up at 4 a.m. on Election Day. Meeting people, adrenaline flowing.

“It’s a big day. You’ve worked for that day,” he said.

And by day’s end, it paid off as Rhoads defeated Messerli by more than 1,200 votes.

There were thousands, though, that didn’t vote for Rhoads. And he knows why.

“She’s done an excellent job and she left her fingerprints all over this city,” he said of Messerli. “I recognize that. I don’t begrudge anyone for voting for her.”

But he’s not worried about winning over her supporters.

“It’s my nature to work with everybody,” Rhoads said, adding he plans no wholesale changes to boards and commissions.

“I don’t have a stable of people that I want to put into certain positions,” he said. “That’s not to say there will not be any changes. Otherwise, it’s Karen Part II and that’s not what the voters voted for.”

Altieri will have to distinguish herself in a similar way over William Lewis, the man who sat in the big chair for more than three decades.

It will not be enough for Altieri to simply say she’s different than Judge Lewis. She is going to have to be different and differentiate herself immediately.

The voters spoke loudly and boldly on Tuesday.

Rhoads and Altieri now need to do some bold things themselves.

How do we make a difference?

Many people want the complete community experience where they live.

Safety. Recreation. Education. Art. Eating. Entertainment. Opportunity.

Author Richard Florida contends in his book, “Who’s Your City?” that where we choose to live is as important a decision as who we choose to spend our life with and what we choose to do for a living.

While I have friends all across our fruited plain, for this example I will focus on Lee’s Summit.

Why do we live here? Are we happy here? If not, what are we doing to improve our community?

Some join a social club. Others give back through service. Our greatest gifts are likely as simple as our gift of time. We know that talk is cheap. Actions show our resolve to help, assist and give back. If it’s at a thrift store, an elementary school or a nonprofit organization, we make a difference simply by showing up.

In Lee’s Summit, it really is just that easy.

A small, and sometimes vocal, minority like to bat around terms like “insiders” and similar phrases to describe those that are involved around town. Like any community, Lee’s Summit isn’t immune to the “most of the work falls on just a few” routine. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It is easy to be involved in Lee’s Summit. Making a difference is as effortless as picking up trash, reading to a kid or volunteering on a committee. Some of the strongest leaders in Lee’s Summit do it very quietly.

I will use the example of a young man named Mike Ekey who, after a little persistence, was appointed to the Lee’s Summit Arts Council and later the Planning Commission. Mike has been in town just a few years.

From our parks to our downtown, HOA’s to private schools, it takes an abundance of volunteerism and that gift of time to keep things moving. I know there are countless parents out there putting in that time when they barely have it.

Others, though, don’t bring anything to the table other than blustering and complaining. And social media has helped feed that ability to gripe unfettered and offer no real solutions.

When you listen to this loud minority, you would think Lee’s Summit is on the verge of falling to pieces. But we need to remind them that they chose Lee’s Summit. And if things aren’t great, what are they doing to make it better?

Florida sums it up nicely here:

“Finding the right place is as important as—if not more important than— finding the right job or partner because it not only influences those choices but also determines how easy or hard it will be to correct mistakes made along the way. Still, few of us actually look at a place that way. Perhaps it’s because so few of us have the understanding or mental framework necessary to make informed choices about our location.”

So, that’s the challenge. Finding your place means you’ve taken everything into consideration. Happiness isn’t about where you live, but you do live somewhere that should make you happy. If it doesn’t, change it.

Another great nugget from Florida:

“The place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children and families. People are not equally happy everywhere, and some places do a better job of providing a high quality of life than others. Some places offer us more vibrant labor markets, better career prospects, higher real estate appreciation, and stronger investment and earnings opportunities. Some places offer more promising mating markets. Others are better environments for raising children.”

Can you read that paragraph and not think of Lee’s Summit? I can’t.

Now, go make a difference. We’re a better city and a stronger community when you do.

Not a Billy Goat bluff

billygoat

Part of any successful local, county or regional economic development plan focuses on many aspects of recruitment and retention.

The latter tends to be under-appreciated. But my goodness is it vital.

Recently, it came to light that Billy Goat Industries – a professional lawn care manufacturer that has called Lee’s Summit home for 45 years and is locally owned by Will Coates – had retained a consulting firm to look at its best options for a future home and warehouse location.

Even a rudimentary look at that simple fact tells us immediately that, at the very least, the company is exploring options for leaving town. With 100 employees and plans to add up to 10 a year for the next five years, that’s the kind of thing that gets on the radar of city leaders real quickly.

Billy Goat is located on South 291 past the U.S. 50 interchange.

Reportedly, other municipalities, including Pleasant Hill, have offered economic incentives to get Billy Goat to pick up and leave. And while those are always tempting offers for companies (see the ongoing border war between Kansas and Missouri) it is always a lengthy process and long road down that path from “interest” to actual “moving” for a company.

Picking up and moving any large operation or manufacturing facility takes an investment of time, money and, surely, patience.

Specifically for Billy Goat, Lee’s Summit, possibly Cass County and neighboring cities that would want to boast housing a known commodity in worldwide lawn care, the prospects of gaining or losing a company of this magnitude become immediately clear.

Pleasant Hill, which houses its economic development department under the city, gains a tax base and jobs, not to mention the build out on the new warehouse, while reportedly offering some Enterprise Enhancement Zone incentives to get them to move. Remember, too, Lee’s Summit balked at approving EEZ measures previously.

If Lee’s Summit gets them to stay, it preserves 100-plus jobs, keeps a tax base of over $100,000 (total for all municipalities) and adds another $110,000, approximately, in new tax revenue.

Discussions on incentives include Chapter 100 bonds and a 75 percent tax abatement over 10 years, not to mention improves on Jefferson Street around the Billy Goat complex.

The Lee’s Summit City Council voiced support at the Sept. 4 meeting for keeping Billy Goat in town and vowed to look at all plans to make that work at its Oct. 2 meeting. They also heard directly from Coates and the new President of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, Rick McDowell. McDowell, only on the job for 30 days, reiterated what many in the council chambers already knew – that keeping Billy Goat in Lee’s Summit should be considered at the top of their priority list.

In the meantime, in the competitive environment of economic development, it will be interesting to see what Pleasant Hill or others come up to to try and lure the manufacturer away.

Stay tuned.

Rotating chiefs

Moving pieces at city hall, no matter where the city or what situation predicated the moves, are always a work in progress.

In that regard, Lee’s Summit is just as normal as any other town.

In the last week, we’ve seen the transition in and transition out of two major roles in our police and fire departments. And while shakeups like that can sometimes make a Richter Scale movement in the foundation of a city government, in Lee’s Summit we assume, and rightfully so, that services and business as usual move on smoothly.

We spent many, many months with Maj. Scott Lyons acting in the role of interim chief with Joe Piccinini retiring in January of 2014 after 30 years with the Lee’s Summit Police Department.

And although the national search for Piccinini’s replacement didn’t ultimately fall to Lyons, police services, community policing and the business of protecting and serving moved on throughout the streets and neighborhoods of Lee’s Summit. And Lyons should be lauded for his past and continued service to the LSPD and his leadership during that transition.

On Sept. 2, Travis Forbes took the helm of the LSPD, bringing a wealth of policing, tactical, drug enforcement and criminal justice experience to a town nearly the population of the one he just left, Independence.

From his start in 1992 to 2006 with Independence, Forbes worked his way through the ranks from street cop to sergeant, captain and major. In 2013, he was named the deputy chief in Independence.

What Forbes brings to Lee’s Summit is a knowledge of working crime, dealing with criminals and managing a large force. Independence, while boasting roughly 20,000 more residents, has far more instances of crimes like domestic violence and burglary than Lee’s Summit has on a year-to-year basis.

That’s not an indictment of any police action or leadership, obviously, but more a symptom of the socio-economic aspects of both towns.

Forbes ascended through the ranks in Independence for a reason, and more than one officer in that town has told me his loss from the Queen City of the Trails is the gain for Yours Truly in Lee’s Summit.

He leaves an area where community policing was ever present to one that expects a strong, visible police presence and understands the values of law enforcement as it relates to our environment. And he walks into a situation where he has the expertise of Lyons and three other majors, John Boenker, Curt Mansell and Mark Taylor – all with over 100 years of police experience under their collective belts.

And down Douglas Street to the FD HQ, the firemen can safely say the same.

Keith Martin will hang up his hat and boots on Sept. 22 after 38 years with the LSFD and hand it, for the time being, to Rick Poeschl, one of many capable and reliable assistant chiefs on the department. And Poeschl will do what Lyons did in the interim – run the department and maintain the level of service we expect.

So, like many towns around that 100,000, we find ourselves in occasional transition.

In the case of Lee’s Summit, though, we are fortunate.

Services to our community in the most crucial areas never take a break due to leadership changes and we commit ourselves to finding the absolute best to lead our forces.