Feb. 2, 2019

By Mallory Herrmann

The city council is learning the impact of their words. Their Feb. 5 meeting included heated exchanges, backtracking and apologies.

Just after the opening of the regular session, Mayor Bill Baird apologized to Fire Chief Rick Poeschl about comments he had made at the previous meeting on Jan. 22.

The mayor said he was trying to be lighthearted in the face of recent disrespectful comments made in the community, including on Facebook, but admitted that his own comments hadn’t come out right.

At the Jan. 22 session during the council’s consideration of the Allera housing development, Baird asked Poeschl whether the fire department had any concerns about the development.

“Any safety concerns? You know, you’ve been, uh, called out a few times recently as not telling the truth, so I need the truth,” Baird said.

Poeschl seemed taken aback and then introduced Jim Eden, assistant fire chief, to respond to the council’s questions.

At this week’s meeting, the mayor asked that Poeschl come up to the podium for a formal apology.

“I tried to follow up on my comments and remedy the poor delivery by telling you that you’re a ‘straight-shooting stand-up guy,’ but I didn’t apologize for my words,” Baird said. “And Chief, I do think you’re a fantastic man and a great leader for our community, so please accept my apology.”

Poeschl thanked the mayor and returned to his seat.

Later in the meeting, the council was once again discussing the Allera project.

The project was slated to include 159 single-family homes, ranging from 1,300 to 1,900 square feet. The homes would all have either three or four bedrooms, a two-car garage and new appliances. The development would feature open green spaces, an open-air clubhouse, a pool and playground, a hammock garden, and walking trails, and it would be governed by a homeowners’ association.

Councilmember Diane Forte voiced concerns about the size, referencing a constituent comment that the project looked like a mobile home park in regard to footprint size, development layout and landscaping. She suggested that it would be a major turning point for the city in approving such a high-density, narrow-lot development.

“It will drastically change the trajectory of our community,” Forte said.

Councilmember Phyllis Edson talked about her own children graduating from college and getting jobs, but still not being able to afford to live in Lee’s Summit – whether renting or buying. She said she wished that the price point was lower but was in favor of the project. She referenced the city’s recent recognition from MARC (Mid-America Regional Council) as a community for all ages but said that she didn’t see that.

“I think we have got to start thinking about how we are going to pull young people in – not all of them want apartments,” Edson said.

Baird expressed disappointment that Forte had made a derogatory comparison between mobile home communities and Lee’s Summit, saying that a lot of constituents will be scared of a project like this based on the rhetoric that has been used.

“My bigger concern is just the way our community is talking about these projects in such a derogatory way,” Baird said. “It is not good for Lee’s Summit.”

Forte objected to Baird’s characterization of her comments, saying that her comparison was not meant to belittle any person and that she was simply looking at the size.

Tensions escalated quickly and voices were raised.

“This is embarrassing for you,” Forte told him.

“No, it’s the other way around,” Baird responded.

Forte made a point of order to cease debate and call the vote in order to end the exchange. A vote to call the vote failed, with many councilmembers voting no in order to give Councilmember Fred DeMoro a chance to share his comments.

DeMoro said he’s in favor of the plan, saying that the development was brought to the city in response to a need for attainable housing for all ages in Lee’s Summit.

Because the city received a protest petition with at least 30 percent of area residents’ signatures, the plan required a supermajority vote from the council to approve it. Though the vote was 5 to 4 in favor, the motion to approve failed. Councilmembers Forte, Rob Binney, Trish Carlyle and Craig Faith voted against.

Baird returned again to the tenor of discussions about city matters.

“We have to move forward in a positive way,” he said, adding that that’s why he apologized to Poeschl and encouraging the council to be role models for the city.