Sounds like a bad black and white horror movie that would come on Friday Fright Night back when we were kids, right?
Except this frightening film was all too real last week in the council chambers of Lee’s Summit City Hall.
What started as a public forum on Enhanced Enterprise Zones quickly escalated into almost an anti-government rally, complete with cat calls, cheering and cries of “you’re not taking my property!” echoing throughout the room.
Perhaps instead of “Attack of the EEZ,” though, this scary movie should have been titled, “How Not to Run a Public Forum.”
I felt sorry for city staff, for EEZ Advisory Board chair Keith Asel, for city consultant Chris Sally and for the five councilmen that were lined up along the back wall during the two-hour event.
Sally began the evening with a short presentation of what exactly an EEZ “is” and “does” and should aspire to accomplish.
But something very seedy and sordid soon took over the room – the word “blight.”
No one wants it and, by God, this group wasn’t going to put up with any government agency calling their homes or property blighted, regardless of how is it is defined by the state of Missouri or an economic development entity.
Asel tried his best to keep the rules of engagement during this town hall meeting intact. But it simply wasn’t going to happen.
Rules like repeating past discussion points, being respectful and not talking over each other went right out the window early on. Several people that live or own property in the proposed zone acted like they had never even been to a public or council meeting – and perhaps they haven’t.
And just as much as it is on this group to educate themselves on meeting etiquette, it should have been on those in charge of the meeting to make sure it was run correctly and that all the information was distributed in a way that left no stone unturned.
Instead of coming prepared, many in the crowd asked, repeatedly, why city council wasn’t present to answer questions (the letter that went out to some didn’t promise they would be), why the council should even be charged with making this decision (because that’s what we elect them to do) and why Sally and others wouldn’t answer all their questions.
The forum was intended to gauge support for the EEZ and take back potential issues to the council for consideration. Instead, it felt more like a growing mob scene with a group of residents that felt unheard and were pretty darn angry.
The thing is, it would have been impossible for city staff or council members to answer all those concerns. Or even defend the city as a whole.
You want to remind some of the more unreasonable people how good they have it in Lee’s Summit, what with our nationally recognized parks, school district, downtown, business environment and well-maintained streets and city hall.
I mean, really, is the city of Lee’s Summit coming to take your property? No.
But at the same time, no one was able to convince this concerned group of that at the public forum. Or even address the plethora of questions they were peppered with.
Sally answered some. But couldn’t answer all.
And that left many of the 250 thinking our city government has something to hide.
That seems like an impractical notion, but to many perception is reality.
John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.