Themes of community pride and citizen involvement ran through an Independence candidate forum Tuesday night that touched on litter, economic development and utilities.
“”The City Council is committed to being the greenest city in America,“ Mayor Eileen told more than 40 people at forum held by the political club Citizens for Effective Leadership.
Weir is unopposed for a second four-year term in the April 3 election. Three at-large candidates – incumbent Karen DeLuccie, Mike Huff and Brice Stewart – are running for two seats, as is a write-in candidate, Matt Medley. DeLuccie and Medley attended the forum; Huff and Stewart did not. The CEL met after the forum and endorsed Medley, DeLuccie and Weir.
Each candidate briefly staked out positions and then fielded questions.
“I know Independence is on the upswing … and I want to be part of it,” Medley said.
He said he’s proud of Independence and, as a business owner has embraced such things as buying into the city solar farm that opened last year.
“I love my community, and I’m a hard worker,” he said.
DeLuccie said her 14 years on the Planning Commission were rewarding and invaluable that that she brings that idea of reading all the homework to the council.
“I won’t make everybody happy, because that’s impossible,” she said. “But I want you to know what I do (is) with a great deal of thought.”
She suggested that more people get involved in the community and mentioned that the city has constant vacancies on its various citizen boards and commissions.
“Again, lead by example,” she said. “It is so easy to sit back and be critical.”
Questions from the floor covered a wide range:
• What can be done about litter and trash?
“I wish I knew,” said Weir, who has long expressed her disappointment about the issue and who said it seems to be getting worse.
She listed several factors. Trash trucks spew litter. The city doesn’t have municipal trash service. There’s no requirement that residents have trash pickup. “There are really hard things,” she said.
DeLuccie suggested getting a group together, getting some safety vests, and picking up trash. Medley said he rode along with property code enforcement staff, who said repeat offenders cause a lot of the problem. Medley suggested tougher penalties for repeat offenders.
• Several questions touched on energy issues. Weir said there’s no question that Independence Power & Light rates are high -- particularly hurting commercial users -- and said it’s mostly a function of having too few large industrial users.
“There’s an imbalance in our customer load,” she said.
The candidates said a study due in July should help the city figure out such things as the future of the seldom-used Blue Valley Power Plant on Truman Road.
Weir said the city should easily meet its goal of getting 15 percent of power from renewable resources by 2021. DeLuccie said she supports that but said reliability and cost are important, too.
“You have to balance desire with what’s realistic.” she said.
• DeLuccie and Medley listed city revenues – specifically stagnant sales taxes as more commerce is online – as the city’s most pressing issue. “The traditional ways of paying for city services aren’t there,” Weir said, adding that the use tax on the April 3 ballot – extending the city’s sales taxes to many online sales – is crucial.
Still, the mayor had different take on the city’s No. 1 challenge. It’s getting people ready for the demands of today’s workplace, she said, a theme she was consistently stressed during her time in office.
“What I am focused on is workforce,” she said.
• The candidates were asked if they could keep an open mind about “smart meters,” which would replace human utility-meter readers and save money. Some have raised concerns about privacy, safety and health. The council is to vote on the issue in April.
Weir said the city, at her behest, took the time to study the health and other questions. DeLuccie said she has read extensively and, like Weir, has not yet made up her mind.
Medley said the city will save money. “I don’t see it as an issue,” he said.
“I believe it will happen,” Weir said. “It may not happen in April. It may not happen next year. It will happen.”
• Weir said she’s had some talks with the Hawley family, which recovered the Steamboat Arabia years ago and has tried to recover a second 19th century steamboat buried near the Missouri River. The Arabia is a popular attraction at the River Market in Kansas City, but there’s speculation that it might move.
“It’s not an ideal space for them any longer. … We would love to have them in Independence. … But it’s an expensive proposition,” she said, adding that by expensive she means tens of millions of dollars. For now, nothing is in the works.
DeLuccie suggested a sit-down with the Hawleys, and Medley said having the Arabia could be another source of community pride.