Mayor, council swing and miss

Lee's Summit JournalMay 21, 2014 

Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads missed a big one last week.

The mayor rarely gets to (or opts to) voice his opinion on matters that come before the city council.

On May 15, he had a chance to stop a conversation that spiraled out of control.

Instead, Rhoads chose otherwise.

As discussions continued about the voter-approved outdoor performance space to be built in downtown Lee’s Summit and how Arnold Hall fits into that mix, Councilman Rob Binney made a motion to direct city staff to start the process of a “request for proposal” for the historic building. This RFP would at least put the word out to interested parties that the city would consider selling the building. During a time of budget crunches at City Hall, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all.

Prior to Binney’s motion, City Manager Steve Arbo stood in front of his council and mayor and explicitly told them that there continues to be interest in Arnold Hall from outside sources. That would seem to make an RFP process even more attractive.

Apparently that message and Arbo’s expertise on the matter didn’t matter a bit to four councilmen – Dave Mosby, Allan Gray, Bob Johnson and Derek Holland.

Or, to Randy Rhoads.

Rhoads cast the tie-breaking “no” vote, opening the flood gates to a litany of ill-advised ideas that are in no way what the voters approved in 2013 and couldn’t possibly fit within the $600,000 budget. By the time the discussion ended, we were demolishing Arnold Hall, losing 50-60 parking spaces downtown and vastly expanding the scope of the project.

As one citizen said as they left the meeting, “Our mayor had a chance to hit the ball out of the park. Instead he swung and missed.”

So instead of moving forward with the concept that Hollis+Miller and Land 3 Studio has proposed – and we’ve spent a lot of money on – we’ve sent them back to the drawing board, something that will consume more soft costs. Oh, and we’re going to spend $40,000 or more to demolish Arnold Hall? Where is that money coming from? I would bet it’s eating into the $600,000.

Who is funding all of this?

Council member Trish Carlyle surmised that doubling the space could double the costs, which were already coming just barely under $600,000 for the original idea.

I am shocked that Councilman Johnson voted against the RFP process and for sending city staff back to expand the project and come back with a cost plan. Johnson watches the city pennies as closely as anyone on the council. If he can tell us a way an expanded project is going to somehow fall under $600,000, we would sure like to see it.

We send this snowball down the hill without seemingly a thought of the financial impact and consideration of what the voters approved.

And the scripted nature of “expanding” the area as it relates to calling on Lee’s Summit Arts Council Chair Syrtiller Kabat to speak in front of council that night was so transparent it seemed like we were watching a sitcom. As far as I remember from LSAC meetings, the group never expressed an interest in this “expanded” vision of the performance space.

I am sure this new plan will come with it some consultants, additional costs and even more politicizing of an issue that should have been decided on by now.

Mayor Rhoads could have stopped all of this. He didn’t.

John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lee’s Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail jbeaudoin@lsjournal.com.

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