August 8, 2020

Mallory Herrmann

The city council is working on a resolution that will create the Lee’s Summit Commission for Diversity and Inclusion.

The idea for the commission was first announced nearly a year ago, during Mayor Bill Baird’s September 2019 state of the city address. Baird told the city council at their Aug. 4 session that he’s been working diligently since then to identify and interview commission members and to outline its purpose and primary goals.

But this came as news to some of the councilmembers, who said they were unaware of the progress being made on the creation of the commission and had not been involved in the nomination of members.

“I hope you don’t take this that we don’t appreciate the time that you’ve put on it, but we don’t have that same ownership in it,” Councilmember Diane Forte said.

Councilmember Fred DeMoro agreed: “To make this successful, I think we all need to have a voice.”

Baird apologized for the gaps in communication and admitted that, in hindsight, he should have presented the proposed resolution and member appointments during a work session or formal presentation, rather than bringing it straight to the council’s legislative session for a vote.

Among the concerns raised by councilmembers were the inclusion of at least one member who is not a resident of Lee’s Summit, questions about the commission’s scope, and some of the resolution’s wording (such as that it is referenced as both a commission and a task force).

“I do have a problem with appointing a councilmember from another municipality,” Councilmember Phyllis Edson said. “I don’t like the way that looks. I would not want to be appointed to a committee in Kansas City or Raytown or Independence. I don’t think that’s fair.”

While most of the councilmembers appeared to agree that a residency requirement should be included, that issue led to further issues: Should members be qualified voters, as proposed by Councilmember Bob Johnson? Should there be allowances for younger members who are not old enough to vote, as suggested by Councilmember Trish Carlyle – or for community members who aren’t registered to vote for other reasons, as recommended by Councilmember Hillary Shields?

Baird said he was committed to the discussion and to getting input from all councilmembers to ensure it was a commission everyone could get behind.

“I think it’s an important time – in this moment and with all we’re dealing with – to maybe move forward with this,” Baird said, referencing both the COVID-19 pandemic and George Floyd. (Floyd’s May 2020 death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis ignited protests and has driven conversations about racism in communities nationwide.)

After about ninety minutes of discussion, the council voted unanimously to move the topic to a future agenda for further discussion. All councilmembers were present.