City Council Calls for Benchmarks, Accountability

December 26, 2020

By Tribune Staff

On Thursday, Dec. 17, the Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education unanimously approved the district’s renewal of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council’s (EDC) Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) for 2021.

They also approved the district’s annual commitment in the amount of $25,000.

In a separate motion, the board also approved Superintendent David Buck as the district liaison to the board of the EDC.

In December 2019, former Lee’s Summit R-7 School District superintendent Dennis Carpenter filed a lawsuit against the EDC. Carpenter, who was no longer employed by the school district at that time, had started a consulting business called Aspirational Insights Consulting LLC. Under this business, Carpenter had a contract with Unity Village to deliver a keynote speech at an event entitled Unity DEI Seminar (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).

The Lee’s Summit EDC was a financial sponsor and joint venture partner of the event. According to the court filing, upon finding out that Carpenter had been hired to deliver the opening keynote presentation, EDC President Rick McDowell made a phone call to Unity representatives and stated that EDC would withdraw its financial sponsorship if Carpenter were allowed to speak.

Carpenter was then informed by Unity representatives that Unity would not honor its contract with him because of the objection by the EDC and the threat of the EDC withdrawing its financial support.

In February 2014, in an audit of the school district, the state auditor’s office noted, “The district pays $25,000 to the Lee’s Summit EDC for membership, but the council’s website indicates maximum membership benefits are available for $10,000, and it is unclear what additional benefits the district receives for the additional contribution.”

The City of Lee’s Summit also has an agreement with the EDC. Under this public service agreement (PSA) the city council approves funding for the EDC from the City’s business and industry fund, which is generated by revenues collected through a bed tax at local hotels. This tax, as approved by voters, is to be used for economic development efforts. But these revenues have decreased due to COVID-19.

The fund also currently provides money for four other PSAs with the City: Velocity, Downtown Lee’s Summit Mainstreet, Chamber tourism services and Chamber marketing services.

All of these public service agreements with the City were set to expire June 30, 2020, but given the decreasing bed tax revenues, the city council only extended them to Dec. 31, 2020.

With that expiration date looming, the council discussed the City’s agreements at all three of its December meetings. A few councilmembers expressed concerns that the council continues to engage in these agreements without including any benchmarks or measurements or requiring any accountability for performance from the EDC or the other organizations.

At the city council’s Dec. 1 meeting, in discussing whether the agreements and associated funding should be continued through June 30, 2021, Councilmember Bob Johnson said, “There has been no discussion to my knowledge about new contracts, new language or any measurements. I don’t want to go forward with any funding amounts until there are actual agreements between these five entities and the City.”

On Dec. 15, the Lee’s Summit City Council voted to extend the existing PSAs with the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council and other organizations until June 30, 2021. Councilmembers Johnson, Fred DeMoro and Phyllis Edson voted no.

This will be voted on for adoption at the city council’s Jan. 5, 2021, meeting.