Two candidates are on the April 8 ballot for mayor of Independence.
City Council Members Eileen Weir and Jim Schultz are running to replace Mayor Don Reimal, who is retiring. The mayor’s term is four years.
Weir was elected to the council in 2012 in the 4th District in the southwest part of the city.
Schultz has been at-large council member for 12 years. For the last four years, he has been the council’s mayor pro tem. He is a graduate of William Chrisman High School and owns an insurance agency on the Square.
The Examiner asked both candidates these questions:
1. What steps do you favor to improve police service, and public safety generally, in the city?
SCHULTZ: Public safety is so important to a community. Citizens should not only feel safe ... but be safe.
I am aware that we are short on the number of patrol officers we have. I would like to correct that. We should make sure we have an officer to respond to every need we have in our community.
I have a plan to try neighborhood policing on a smaller scale. This would break down the city into smaller zones, allowing citizens to work with the same officers they see on a regular basis. With that, we build trust between both parties. I believe we will see great results.
We also need to continue to work with Neighborhood Watch groups who are currently working with Officer Pope and Officer Syme, to truly expand the eyes and ears of the Police Department, with well trained neighborhood volunteers.
WEIR: The council has created a Public Safety Services Committee to review the current level of service being provided by our police and fire departments. This committee will make a recommendation to the council on the public safety sales taxes that are due to expire in 2016. I believe that this type of citizen involvement and open communication is the best way to determine the needs and future funding of these departments.
Continuing to educate residents and business owners about the steps they can take to protect themselves and their property is critical to public safety. Programs like Neighborhood Watch and police academies for citizens and businesses are effective in deterring crime and allow our police to dedicate more resources to major crimes and career criminals. Emergency preparedness and fire prevention education are offered through the Fire Department to train residents and business owners on proactive safety measures.
2. Has the city’s overall economic development strategy worked to your satisfaction, and do you favor any changes?
SCHULTZ: Economic Development is the ability to attract new business to the city, as well as retain existing businesses. I believe this is accomplished by good collaboration between City Hall, the EDC, the chamber, the school districts and the faith community. We are on the right track, but I feel we can do better, and I have a plan for improvement.
During my time on the council, we have opened the first business incubator, to grow our own companies. It has been very successful thus far. Our next step is to build places for businesses to locate here in Independence. We must have buildings in place for businesses to move into. We have lost several opportunities, because we did not have a space to fit their needs. A new business park with buildings in place would help solve that problem.
WEIR: I am not satisfied with the results of the economic development strategy, and I favor changes that will escalate the pace of progress in attracting new businesses and jobs. It is a complex process, and each project presents unique circumstances and challenges including economic conditions, demographics, available inventory, utility rates, and incentives. The city dedicates considerable resources to economic development both through city staff and through support of the Independence Council for Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce. As mayor I will be more directly involved with the strategic planning to ensure that the taxpayers’ resources are being used effectively.
Independence has tremendous assets for businesses and residents, and as mayor I will work with existing partners and cultivate new ones to identify the types of jobs we want to create, develop a clear development plan, and aggressively market our city as a profitable place to do business.
3. What changes, if any, do you favor regarding the direction of the city’s electric utility?
SCHULTZ: It is well documented that we have two of the oldest power plants in the state. I have been told that EPA is mandating a change. They will not give us a permit to build a new coal plant. The option then becomes for us to close one and convert the other to natural gas. If that can be done without a large increase in costs to the community, then I think we should head in that direction.
I have been talking for some time now that Independence should look at alternative ways to supplement our power distribution. I have a plan to work with Independence Power and Light to establish an industrial solar farm here in Independence to help do that very thing. I would like to see that in place before 2018.
WEIR: Independence Power & Light provides the most reliable service of any electric utility in the area. Investments have been made to ensure workplace safety, compliance with federal environmental regulations, and value to the citizens. Although the most recent citizen satisfaction survey showed that residents consider the electrical utility a good value, it is important that the rates remain competitive and affordable.
We have a diversified portfolio at IPL, producing power and purchasing from other sources. I support continued exploration of the use of renewable sources and alternatives to coal. However, I will proceed with caution in converting our main power plant from coal to natural gas. Once this conversion takes place, we will not be able to go back. I will uphold the charter of the city of Independence in regard to the use of IPL funds.
4. What should be the city’s three most pressing goals during the next four years?
SCHULTZ: The first goal I have for our community is to improve communication between the residents and City Hall. I believe City Hall is here to serve the public. A very important part of good service is to listen to the needs of your community. I have a plan to improve that communication. As mayor, I will ensure our community knows what is going on in Independence, better than any other time in history.
My second goal is improve our relationship with the two National Guard units we have in our community. I have a plan to let them know that we value and support them in what they are doing to protect our country.
My third goal is to help our older population with aging in place. I have a plan to help people age gracefully, in their own homes. They are a valued part of our community.
WEIR: Three things that the citizens have prioritized are street maintenance, public safety and development of single-family housing. In talking to citizens, there is a desire for our city to look better. Our streets, curbs, and sidewalks need to continue to be updated and maintained. I would like to develop more incentives for residents in all areas of the city to invest in their homes and businesses. These types of projects have been implemented in northwestern Independence, and it is time to initiate similar programs citywide.
I am focused on increasing revenue without increasing taxes. A healthy general fund will allow us to meet community needs with improved infrastructure and better police and fire protection. As mayor, I will work with area school districts to identify how the council and staff can support public schools without interfering with the school boards and administrations. Strong public education is paramount to development of business and home ownership.