• City officials have goals for year ahead

  • For three Independence leaders who represent all of the city’s constituents, their City Council experience ranges from nearly two decades to two months.

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  • For three Independence leaders who represent all of the city’s constituents, their City Council experience ranges from nearly two decades to two months.
    At-Large Council Member Chris Whiting, who was elected in early November, says that’s a good thing, as the seven-member body looks ahead to make significant decisions related to the new regional animal shelter, business relations in Independence and transportation needs.
    Whiting, along with Mayor Don Reimal and At-Large Council Member/Mayor Pro Tem Jim Schultz, this week discussed the most significant progress they saw take place citywide in 2012, as well as what is at the top of their to-do lists in the new year.
    Several major projects took place on the western side of Independence last year, Reimal said, including new, affordable housing through the Norledge Place redevelopment; Truman Medical Centers’ placement of a temporary clinic in the Fairmount area; and the announcement of Swope Health Services moving to a new facility on Truman Road.
    Reimal also cited the renovations taking place inside the Truman Courthouse on the Square as significant, as the Tourism Department will relocate its central offices there once the project is completed.
    “I think that is going to be a major asset to our tourism,” Reimal said.
    This year, Reimal said he would like the city to continue working cooperatively with businesses and in attracting new businesses into Independence.
    “We really have a lot of small businesses that come in and do their job every day and don’t bring a lot of attention to themselves,” Reimal said. “But they hire 10 to 20 people, and they do their job every day. We want those folks to know that we appreciate them and let them know that they are a major asset to the city.”
    Reimal also would like to see citizens take more responsibility for keeping Independence clean, whether it’s putting dirty diapers in trash cans or not emptying ashtrays into intersections, he said.
    “It takes just a little bit of effort on everybody’s part to keep the city clean,” he said. “We’ve got a good city to live in and a lot of nice amenities, but we do tend to be a little on the messy side with things being dumped in the intersections and on the streets.”
    Also to look forward to in 2013, Reimal said, is a new sewer system on U.S. 24, continued improvements in the Englewood Arts District and the reopening of the final stretch of the Little Blue Expressway.
    A new transit system, with improved access to areas like the Independence Events Center, the 39th Street retail corridor and Metropolitan Community College-Blue River, marked the city’s biggest accomplishment in 2012, Schultz said. He served on the committee that studied the issue prior to First Transit taking over the city’s bus services on July 1, 2012.
    Page 2 of 3 - “It provides more services to citizens than we’ve ever had before,” Schultz said. “That’s a life-changer for some of the citizens in our community.”
    Another council committee, which Schultz chaired, studied bicycle transportation needs in 2012, including how to improve and add more share-the-road bike lanes.
    “We’re going to pick that up again this year and expand it even more,” he said. “For some folks, this is their only mode of transportation, so we want to make it safer for them.”
    Two issues, Schultz said, “are really staring us right in the face” as the City Council holds its first meeting of the year this Monday evening. The first, he said, is finding a solution to the operations and a possible amendment to the 2009 contract for the new regional animal shelter.
    “It needs to be fair for the citizens of Independence,” Schultz said. “It needs to be best for the animals, but we also need to keep a good working relationship with (Jackson County).”
    Schultz also said the council needs to figure out an answer “to make the Crackerneck Creek LLC owners pay the bill.” He was referring to the developers for The Falls at Crackerneck Creek, anchored by Bass Pro Shops, and their inability to pay for the shortfall for debt service payments that the city has been making since March 2011.
    “I don’t know what that answer is yet to make them pay their bill,” Schultz said, “but we need to figure it out as a council.”
    In just the two months since he took office, Whiting said he’s received calls and emails from constituents on many issues.
    “I expected it,” he said, “but it’s been refreshing to see how many people feel comfortable reaching out to the council members, especially me as a brand-new person.”
    Whiting also said he is encouraged by the level of experience on the City Council, ranging from himself, to District 2 Council Member Curt Dougherty and District 4 Council Member Eileen Weir, who were both elected in April 2012, to the veteran council members. Reimal was first elected to the City Council in 1994.
    “I think that gives us a diversity of perspectives and opinions, but I’ve also been impressed that everyone seems willing to work together,” Whiting said. “Although we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on every issue, everyone works well together, and I think that is going to serve this community well.”
    He saw encouragement in 2012 with the announcement of two new businesses within The Falls at Crackerneck Creek, as well as the opening of Children’s Mercy East off of Interstate 70 and Little Blue Parkway. In 2013, Whiting wants to help resolve the issue of the former Medical Center of Independence, which is near his neighborhood.
    Page 3 of 3 - “It’s a blight, and it’s an eyesore,” Whiting said. “I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and do whatever I can to support council members (Myron) Paris and (Curt) Dougherty to get rid of that and make that area look nice again.”
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