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Examiner
  • City Council planning for 2013

  • Although the Independence City Council hasn’t met in two weeks, council members aren’t necessarily taking a break from thinking about progress made in 2012 or their goals looking forward into the new year.

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  • Although the Independence City Council hasn’t met in two weeks, council members aren’t necessarily taking a break from thinking about progress made in 2012 or their goals looking forward into the new year.
    Each of the four district council members – two newly elected in April – reflected on accomplishments in the city’s districts while also taking time to set forth priorities for the year ahead. The council will next meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7.
    Later this week, Jim Schultz and Chris Whiting, the council’s two at-large members, as well as Mayor Don Reimal, will look back on 2012 and talk about their objectives for 2013.
    DISTRICT 1 – Northwest
    While two significant streetscape projects were announced in early 2011, the Englewood and Delaware Street improvements came to fruition this year, and District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg counted them among the biggest accomplishments in her district.
    Gragg also said significant improvement took place through renovation and construction by 12 Blocks West on Overton Avenue.
    “It’s not a big area, but it has a big impact,” Gragg said. “It shows that we can do things that way, and it’s going to be a tool and a method that we use in pooling financial resources to continue revitalizing western Independence.”
    Another major announcement took place with the McCoy Park Inclusive Play Project, which is within walking distance of Gragg’s home and will be a valuable asset for her own son, Joshua, who has played on a similar playground at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and is looking forward to the addition in Independence.
    For 2013, Gragg said she wants to take a closer look at several ordinances related to rental property. She would like to see a strengthening of landlord and tenant ordinances to require strong inspections, including interior inspections to ensure properties meet a standard to attract good renters and combat the percentage of code violation properties in Independence.
    “We have to improve the quality of rental housing stock,” Gragg said.
    DISTRICT 2 – Northeast
    Curt Dougherty, a former Democratic Missouri House representative, was elected in April. In his time on the City Council, Dougherty said he’s helped three local businesses resolve long-standing problems with the city, as well as vote against utility rate increases that he felt weren’t justified. Dougherty also voted against an ordinance because he thought the contract should have gone to a locally based company, saying that he wants city staff to take notice of doing more business with local companies with future contracts.
    Looking ahead, Dougherty wants to resolve the issue of the former Medical Center of Independence just east of the intersection of 23rd Street and Missouri 291. Dougherty said he recently met with the property’s owner and that he is expecting an asbestos report back soon.
    Page 2 of 3 - “I’m hoping we can get some progress on that this year,” Dougherty said.
    He also would like to streamline processes with responsibilities that overlap in city departments, as well as encourage the city government for work for the citizens more.
    As he has mentioned at previous City Council meetings, Dougherty said he doesn’t find the current structure of study sessions effective. He suggested that instead of having city department heads present reports at the every-other-week study sessions, council members should have an open dialogue about issues facing their districts.
    “It seems like we’re never together to work on resolving some of this stuff,” Dougherty said.
    DISTRICT 3 – Southeast
    In the eyes of District 3 Council Member Myron Paris, council members made one of their best decisions of the year in September when they placed a one-year moratorium on the new construction license surcharge for commercial, office, warehouse and industrial developments, effective Oct. 1, 2012, through Oct. 31, 2013.
    Paris also counted new sidewalks to schools and new wastewater systems among the top improvements made in southeastern Independence, as well as the announcement of the Stoney Creek Inn to be built near Bass Pro Shops.
    “That is going to be a super thing, not only for the retail and the new taxes, but also new employment for the area,” Paris said.
    This year, Paris said he is looking forward to the completion of the Little Blue Expressway, as well as the addition of new retail surrounding Bass Pro Shops. Like Dougherty, Paris also wants the former MCI issue resolved.
    “It’s just an eyesore,” he said. “People are tired of it, and I’m tired of it. I’d like to get something done out there.”
    Paris also wants to see the city and the Missouri Department of Transportation address the lack of sidewalks along 23rd Street/Missouri 78, especially between the Noland and Lee’s Summit roads intersections.
    Once the final stretch of Little Blue Parkway opens up, Paris said new homes and businesses will likely be built in eastern Independence.
    “Now that the economy is breaking a little, I think we’re going to see some development possibilities around there,” he said. “I just know that we have a bright future in Independence, and I’m looking forward to working with the other council members to make sure 2013 is a great year for the residents.”
    DISTRICT 4 – Southwest
    District 4 Council Member Eileen Weir – also first elected in April – said one major accomplishment in 2012 wasn’t necessarily council-driven: She applauded Jim Harlow, the city’s director of finance and administration, for refinancing the debt three different times in the second half of the year, “which will help us all out in the long run,” Weir said.
    Page 3 of 3 - Not too long after she took office, Weir saw significant community concern arise in her district over the closure and sale of the former Rockwood Golf Club. She said the sale of the property to Ron Bruch, a longtime Independence resident and former Independence School District employee, was crucial to ensure the property wasn’t vulnerable to negative development.
    “The long-term plan for that has yet to be seen,” Weir said, “but just having it under solid ownership and the work that’s been done to clean it up has made a big impact on the neighborhood and has eased peoples’ minds.”
    Weir is counting economic development and public safety needs among her top priorities in 2013. She said the city needs to continue to do everything it can to retain businesses and attract new businesses into Independence, as well as support small businesses and work with the Independence Chamber of Commerce and Independence Economic Development in creating a business-friendly environment.
    “I particularly feel like small business is an area where we could really thrive,” Weir said. “That’s the heart and soul of Independence: Small business. That’s been a focus of mine for many years and will continue to be a focus.”
    Her constituents continue to tell Weir that police and fire protection are important to them. Weir said she supports Police Chief Tom Dailey’s idea of engaging citizens in public safety and partnering with the Police Department to keep businesses and neighborhoods safe.
    Mostly, though, Weir said she wants to maintain open communication with citizens, which includes making herself accessible to them and help solve their city-related problems.
    “I don’t really set the priorities,” Weir said. “I listen to (my constituents) and they tell me what’s important, and then I try to work on their behalf.”
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