Ron Stewart lived a life of service in Independence.

Ron Stewart lived a life of service in Independence.

The former mayor, who previously was an Independence police officer for 31 years, retiring as a captain, and also a City Council member, died Friday.

His service to the community was matched by his vision for how much better that community could be, and today we can see many of results.

It’s important to remember where things were before Stewart began his 12 years as mayor. In the early 1990s, the city’s streets were crumbling and its parks were neglected. City Hall was the source of more than a couple of embarrassing national headlines because of out-of-comments by the previous mayor. The bustling commercial area of southeast Independence – from the 20-screen theater to dozens of place to eat to Bass Pro Shops – was open fields, other than Independence Center.

It’s not just that city hopped aboard the tax-increment financing bandwagon that other cities also have used to lure in development. It’s that the city, led by Stewart, stuck with it. Did every project work? No. Did most of them? Yes. Is the city better off? Just drive down 39th Street.

Stewart and other officials also rejected the voices of “no” in the city – they are loud at times – and said, yes, we need to press ahead and fix our streets, even if it means convincing voters to tax themselves. Same for parks and stormwater control. Again, they just stuck with it. Have the voters gone along every time? No, but they usually have. Is the city better off? Drive around.

Stewart and other elected officials also have stood behind professional city management, again sometimes despite the loud voices of “no.” That means having confidence in having chosen the right direction and then just sticking with it. Is the city better off? By a mile.

The current Mayor, Don Reimal, was just this year re-elected without opposition. His time in office has largely seen a continuation of plans and policies that Stewart and other elected officials put in place starting a decade and a half ago. Plans that Reimal has pursued – the Independence Events Center is a prime example – wouldn’t have been imaginable without the foundation Stewart help establish. The community’s quality of life is better because of it.