By Wendy Hayworth
Mayor Bill Baird took time at the end of June 28’s City Council Regular Session to speak to the Council, the public, and city organizations about the need for cooperation and collaboration.
Baird began by stating that he is very proud to be a part of the new City Council and of their work so far, “We’ve had a successful start, I feel, as a new council because of your professionalism and leadership,” Baird said. “I respect all of your opinions and I support your right to question where our tax dollars are going and how they’re being used.”
Baird referenced recent work on the approval of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget and how councilmembers voiced concerns and respectfully handled differences of opinions in order to come to a final consensus.
“We stayed true to our fiduciary duties on behalf of the taxpayers and did so in a respectful manner, and I thank you,” Baird said. “But, more importantly, you are role models for our community, which is really big, with regard of how to do business and how collaboration is to be done.”
Organizations within the city also have fiduciary duties and operate as an extension of the council through Public Service Agreements (PSA’s), Baird said. Specifically, the Lee’s Summit Chamber, Economic Development Committee, and Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street.
“If these organizations were not utilizing their funds in a fiscally responsible manner, or per the agreement with the City, we not only have the right but the responsibility to question that funding and put it on the table for discussion,” Baird said.
Examples of such include duplication of services between organizations, unethical or unprofessional conduct, operating on nondemocratic principles, and not looking out for the welfare of Lee’s Summit.
“These organizations have responsibilities and are accountable to the council as long as they are receiving taxpayer’s dollars and we’re responsible or accountable to the citizens to make sure we’re assigning them in the most productive manner possible,” Baird said. “If I haven’t been clear enough, let me just say this, it’s not only the duty of the PSA organizations to be good stewards, but also the duty to collaborate within and outside their organizations for the welfare of the community.”
Before discussing the organizations themselves, Baird told the council that he would like them to also look “within” and ask themselves what they are doing to assure collaboration with their partners and that they are engaged to their fullest possible ability and being good liaisons.
“Start anew with this council, because that’s what we’ve done, we’ve hit the reset,” Baird said asking councilmembers to “give grace” to organizations that may not have been welcoming of them in the past.
“Now, the next part is hard for me because I am apart of these organizations and have been for 10-15 years,” Baird said. “We need to give them an expectation of our vision.”
The Mayor has met with the EDC numerous times over the last few months with the goal of uniting their visions and facilitating collaboration between them and the City to “develop strategies with city leadership… because we’re just not on the same page,” Baird said. “I’m not saying there’s something bad going on here. I’m going to have to push harder for collaboration. The status quo is not going to work.”
While capitalizing on our membership to the Kansas City area is important, Baird stated that the EDC should strategize with the City to focus on local development.
“I think many of us think that supporting start-up businesses and entrepreneurs is critical to Lee’s Summit’s growth and welfare because it’s the most productive way to broaden the tax base the employment base and grow our economy,” Baird said. “If the EDC is not going to start strategizing with city leadership right here, then we have to have some serious discussions.
Baird also stated that he has made attempts to reach out to Downtown Main Street, inviting them to meet, inviting stakeholders as well. There has been no response from the Downtown Main Street leadership or the stakeholders.
“Downtown Main Street is the pride and joy of this council,” Baird said. “We have all been a part of building and celebrating, and many people long before us to get us, to the 173 businesses that are Downtown right now.”
As the success of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street grew, Baird says that the organization seems to have become more isolated.
“I feel like in the last month, for whatever reason, we [the Council] have all expressed that we support the Downtown in every way, and yet we’re getting mocked by people that are a part of these organizations,” Baird said. “I’m not going to be a part of it, just like none of you [the Council] will be. I want you to know that we can’t have that anymore in Lee’s Summit.”
Citing developmental plans for Downtown including an apartment building, possible parking garage, farmer’s market, and so forth, Baird said that it is time for a healthier culture and for Downtown to “come to the table.” If not, serious discussions will be needed in the future.
“With regard to the Chamber, I understand they don’t have someone in the position to make executive decisions right now, but their board is heavily influenced by too small a group of people,”
Baird said. “It’s time that we move past that with any organization in Lee’s Summit. It’s time that the members of the organizations that we’re dealing with are all involved in decision making in a more democratic way.”
Citing the 1,039 members and businesses serving the 25,500 employees of those businesses, Baird said that it is time “once and for all” to shed Lee’s Summit’s label of being “clique-ish.”
“We can no longer be a Chamber that is still operating under the direction of a perceived few instead of the many,” Baird said. “And as long as it is that way, we will never become inclusive and diverse.”
Baird further stated that it is one of the duties of these organizations to develop leaders and that within the last 20 year’s, only one person has served as chairperson for these organizations and then ran and won elected office: Diane Forte.
“We need more Diane Forte’s,” Baird said. “These organizations need to reach out, find the talent, bring them in, cultivate, take them through leadership. And look what happens, they end up here in City Council with a greater understanding of how things work.”
“New organizations can be formed,” Baird said. “Or organizations can be merged to eliminate duplicate services and break up the factions. Funding can simply stop and we can see what direction these organizations go. Or these organizations can come to the table, collaborate with us and each other, align our mission statements, and make the necessary changes to create healthy cultures.”
Baird challenged these organizations to set up strategic meetings and promised to show to them that the Council is ready to collaborate and share a common mission.
“We give them taxpayers and they carry the same duties as we do,” Baird said. “We need them to perform these services that are of benefit to the City, not just to the people that are running them.”
Baird also spoke directly to the Council to ask for their help in this endeavor, “it will be much easier if this influential group will use your gifts your influence and let them know we need their cooperation in a bigger way,” Baird said. “I believe in you all. I have your back.”