December 11, 2021

Mallory Herrmann
Staff Reporter

The city is moving forward with plans to realign some of their citizen advisory boards and commissions. There are currently 21 such commissions that support city projects and initiatives in a variety of areas, such as public safety, beautification, diversity and inclusion, and health education.

In order to transition away from commissions that are primarily project-focused and toward a more advisory role – and to streamline how city resources are used to support the commissions – city staff have proposed consolidating some of the commissions into two larger umbrella organizations.

The cultural commission will combine the existing arts council, beautification commission, and historic preservation commission into a single entity. The health and wellness commission will comprise the existing human services, health education and livable streets advisory boards, as well as the community for all ages committee, behavioral health coalition, and the community coalition for homelessness.

At the city council’s Dec. 7 session, City Manager Steve Arbo and Cultural Arts Manager Glenda Masters gave a presentation specific to the cultural commission and how the changes are expected to better support the city.

“We’re doing this because we believe in the strategic plan that was approved by you all,” Arbo said. “We want to make sure that the work and the resources that we’re doing are aligned with that plan.”

It is standard for the city to reevaluate citizen advisory commissions after the strategic planning process. And the city’s recent competition of the Ignite Strategic Plan makes this a great opportunity to align the citizen commission roles with the city’s goals.

Masters said that there is a great deal of overlap among the objectives for the city’s arts council, historic preservation commission and beautification commission. Public art, for instance, falls under the arts council, but can also be a factor in beautification efforts as well as in preservation and sharing the story of Lee’s Summit’s history.

Consolidating the commissions into one organization will help shift the focus away from completing individual projects or programs and allow for more time to be spent on higher-level thinking, including trend analysis, observation of best practices and making recommendations to the city council. The commission will still have opportunities to maintain community engagement programs, such as the beautification commission’s maintenance of the planters downtown.

The change is also intended to improve the city’s allocation of resources. Each commission is assigned a council liaison and requires staff support as needed; reducing the total number of commissions will relieve some of that strain. There are also some commissions that see a higher turnover in participants as people lose their enthusiasm or no longer have time to participate fully.

Councilmember Diane Forte expressed concern that not enough feedback had been requested from the existing committee members. “I’m uncomfortable with going in this direction, although I understand the reasoning,” she said.

Arbo hopes that as the commissions are consolidated, those current members who are most dedicated to their roles are able to continue serving the new commission. “We do not want to lose that passion or that energy,” he said, adding later, “what you don’t want to do is leave behind someone who’s excited about their role.”

The city’s website indicates that there are currently six members of the beautification commission, seven members of the historic preservation commission and eleven members of the arts council.

Arbo estimated appointing between eleven and thirteen members to the new cultural commission. He acknowledged several times throughout the presentation that any change can be difficult and that the logistics of the transition are not yet finalized.

With general consensus in favor of the move from the city council, Arbo said city staff will prepare a proposed transition plan for both the cultural commission and the health and wellness commission for council feedback. Staff are also working on operational guidelines for these two large commissions to better inform expectations for participants. Those guidelines will likely include a quarterly commission meeting, monthly meetings for subcommittees and an annual report delivered to the city council.