Council Law and Order (and rules)


(Column previously published June 6, 2012)

Bob Johnson wants to lay down a few rules. And really, this is something he’s been asking to implement for many years.

The only difference is, now, he may have the council support to get it done.

Johnson, the District 4 representative on the Lee’s Summit City Council, is chairman of the newly formed Rules Committee – a group that includes council members Kathy Hofmann, Derek Holland and Allan Gray.

This group is charged with reviewing the various rules that govern meetings as laid out in the city charter and with discussing and, possibly, setting new guidelines for council comments, citizen comments and other areas of the council meetings.

This is, honestly, Johnson’s dream committee.

In the first few minutes, the chairman discussed his disdain for a lack of consistent rules during council meetings, voiced his opinion that citizens and council members should be able to engage in dialogue and even went as far as to say he believes the city is closing too many meetings.

Gray added that when some procedural questions come up, that the council sometimes lacks direction.

Much of the council/citizens comments discussion – although it has been a topic in Lee’s Summit for some time – stems from last year’s blow up as Johnson engaged in conversation about the Ted White lawsuit and settlement during that “comment” portion of the meeting.

Johnson later said he was censured, something other council members have denied. Still, when our council can and cannot connect with citizens who come before the dais should be specific and on paper.

The committee made known their feelings last week, something that may be a preview as to how future council votes will go.

Johnson, Holland and Gray all said this process should be about openness and people interacting with their local government. Holland said he doesn’t want anyone telling him he cannot interact with a citizen who has come before the council.

Each city does this process differently. Lee’s Summit has been fairly lenient on letting citizens address the council on a variety of topics. Other towns have a sign up process. Some allow for a dialogue, others do not.

Hofmann was the lone voice of dissention on the committee, saying she was not in favor of council responses to citizen comments during the meeting.

The committee spent some time debating Roberts Rules and other issues, which is, again, something that seems like it should be or should have been in place for a city this large.

Largely, things in Lee’s Summit have been well managed and well planned out. A quick glance at our city, our streets and our parks can confirm that.

With this rules committee, we need an expectation that decisions will be firm, be quick and be adhered to. We don’t need this committee stretching out for a long period of time. These kinds of systems and policies should effortless.



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.

Not a Billy Goat bluff


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.