Lee’s Summit’s councilmembers finished their goal setting session with a resolution to be bold.
At a March 21 meeting they concluded a planning session they had started on a Saturday last December where they began with frequently aired differences. This session yielded more of a sense of direction where they decided by consensus on four priorities:
• Maintenance of infrastructure
• Being bold
• Encouraging knowledge based industry
• Focus on neighborhoods
Members also agreed on a draft of a vision statement: “Lee’s Summit is a culturally rich community with diverse economic sectors to create a prosperous and dynamic community in perpetuity.”
Councilmembers Rob Binney and Derek Holland were absent.
To pick the goals, Facilitator Ron Holifield asked council members to throw out a list of ideas, which he posted on sheets of paper and asked each member to use three votes on picking their top priorities. Those with the most votes got more discussion and included as council goals.
Holifield added occasional anecdotes from his 35 years experience as a city manager to help the council focus its thinking. He said, for example, that he was working in Plano, Texas, when J.C. Penney decided to move its corporate headquarters there.
He said it was a decision made years before the city was aware it was in the running, because a corporate executive for the company was already living there working in a regional office and a champion for the city. And he said, a study of what motivates a company to choose your city showed incentives are lower on the list than having an educated work force, good infrastructure and low crime, and a perception of a stable government.
Holifield said he also recommends the city council have at least two retreats each year to discuss and update its goals, so it keeps on track. The first session should be after new members are elected to the council, so they can have understanding of what the policies have been and where the city is headed.
City Manager Steve Arbo said that without those sessions, there can be a vacuum for setting policy, which staff is tempted to fill, sometimes leaving council members feeling their authority is being usurped. More frequent workshops to talk about goals or policies will help avoid that issue, he said.
This set of goals is still a work in progress, so the council agreed to twice annually setting aside time to work on updates. Its Community and Economic Development Committee is working on a specific economic development policy.
The need for strong economic development and a healthy tax base underlied much of the discussion.
Ed Cockrell said that maintaining older neighborhoods is increasingly important as more areas of Lee’s Summit age. Residential neighborhoods will need more attention to maintenance and commercial areas will need redevelopment.
He said that means the City Council will have to focus on a longer time span for a return on its spending. But those investments are necessary for quality of live and protecting property values.
The city already has started on that effort, with a renewed Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority working on an enterprise zone and other economic development tools. But its work caused some ripples of anxiety because of statutory language required to call neighborhoods blighted.
“It’s worrisome to me that we use fighting words in areas we want to help,” Cockrell said. He said the city needs to involve property owners in those discussions. The council also discussed the recent work on the Missouri 150 Corridor plan, where it wanted to increase density of building in some areas. Planning experts say denser walkable neighborhoods mixed with businesses will be the desire for future residents.
But the city decided against higher levels of density after pushback from existing neighborhoods.
Councilmember Brian Whitley said it’s politically difficult to make changes that are different from the current residents’ expectations.
“You get labeled as an elitist, because you’re saying you know more than they do,” he said.
Councilmember Allan Gray said the city needs to continue looking for higher density.
“We need to design neighborhoods for the future not the past,” he said
Gray said the city needs to be encouraging more entrepreneurs and commercial redevelopment and to complete its cultural plan which would play a role in attracting those kinds of activity.
“We have to be a community that’s bold and risk taking, if we want to attract people who are bold and risk takers,”Arbo said.
Cockrell said, “I don’t believe this council is bold and risk taking, the risk taking was 10 years ago.”
Cockrell asked when was last time Lee’s Summit went to a big or small company and asked them what would it take to attract them. He said he doesn’t see Lee’s Summit having a battle plan for economic development.
“We’ve got to quit arguing about the small stuff,” Cockrell said.
Councilmember David Mosby agreed, saying the council has gotten sidetracked over discussions whether signs should be 100 or 120 square feet or if colors are too bright.
“All of us, one time or another, have gotten in that quagmire” Mosby said.
Councilmember Bob Johnson said the city doesn’t have a policy for economic development. He said the city needed to be seeking knowledge-based industry, such as Cerner in health care and financial institutions. He said the city needs to promote industry that will pay a livable wage as defined by the Missouri Quality Jobs Act. Cockrell said the city needs to consider in long term infrastructure for economic development, such as fiber optics.
The council also discussed the need to bring infrastructure in the oldest areas up to new standards that weren’t in place when they were built.
Mosby said the council needs an inventory of what it’s going to cost so it can decide on a plan.
Whitley said, “We need a measured approach so we’re no stuck with deferred maintenance liability like Kansas City.”
Arbo said council has to set standard for acceptable infrastructure
Cockrell noted that in the past the city often depended on neighborhood improvement districts to fix very local problems
The vote on Orchard Street April 2 will be a test on whether the community as a whole will pay for improvements directly benefitting a smaller number of residents, he said.
The council agreed that it wanted to accelerate completion of projects approved by voters, noting that there have been delays in projects supported by a special sales tax.
It also wanted to start looking for solutions. After complaints about city crews plowing snow back into shoveled driveways, Cockrell said the city needs to find some solutions, even though it can’t afford to change the way it plows streets.
He suggested creating a volunteer program to connect elderly residents with churches or Boy Scouts who could shovel drives for them.