The headline to last week’s City Speak asked, “Is there anyone out there?” Well, I cannot say that my column had any direct influence, but Independence Mayor Don Reimal certainly asked plenty of questions at Monday night’s two-hour Independence City Council budget study session.

The headline to last week’s City Speak asked, “Is there anyone out there?”

Well, I cannot say that my column had any direct influence, but Independence Mayor Don Reimal certainly asked plenty of questions at Monday night’s two-hour Independence City Council budget study session.

“Are we ready for the growth that’s projected on the eastern side of Independence when things start breaking loose?” Reimal asked Independence Power & Light Director Leon Daggett during his 2010-11 proposed budget presentation. 

“We knew the answers to most of them, but I like to ask questions that get the public informed about different parts of the budget,” Reimal said of his questions at Monday night’s meeting. “Sometimes you need to ask questions, and sometimes it’s self-explanatory.”

Questions also don’t equal ignorance or a lack of preparedness. I can say this with confidence because I essentially make a living in asking questions. 

Council Member District 3 Myron Paris talked to me  before Monday night’s City Council study session, the final in a series of budget hearings prior to the anticipated June 21 budget ordinance adoption. He wanted to share his two cents on last week’s City Speak and how I had wondered why no questions were taking place during the study sessions.

“We’ve had these things for weeks and had time to digest them and go over them in one-on-one meetings,” Paris told me.

Paris’ comment intrigued me. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the point of a City Council study session was to study an issue, ask questions and allow for feedback from city staff and council members alike. I called Paris Wednesday afternoon to follow up. “Isn’t it the responsibility of a public servant to ask questions publicly?” I said.

“No, not really,” Paris replied, “because we all meet one on one with (City Manager) Robert (Heacock) on items so we know what we’re talking about.”

If council members took time to ask their questions publicly, Paris said, each meeting would last between four to five hours, and who has time for that? (I’ve sat through several four-hour Independence Planning Commission meetings in my 18 months with The Examiner where several commission members probed city staff and case applicants for answers to their questions. While the topics were important, I can assure you they weren’t as significant as a $71.5 million budget.) 

“It would be way, way too lengthy, and there are some members who can’t even be there on council meeting nights,”  Paris said. “It’s not that we’re trying to deceptive by any means. We just like to know what we’re talking about. It’s just like any ordinance. We’re just keeping ourselves informed.”

The lone budget public hearing that took place on May 17 served as residents’ time to ask questions, Paris said. That hearing came and went without the utterance of a question, a comment or anything a week-and-a-half ago.

According to Jean Maneke, the Missouri Press Association’s legal consultant, no violation of the law takes place when a city manager meets with a council member individually in a question-and-answer format. Maneke said the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, has ruled that if a series of one-on-one meetings takes place between a city manager and individual council members in an effort to establish a consensus without public discussion, such meetings could be held as a violation of the law.

I knew going into this budget hearing process that it would be a tough fiscal year – with the recent economic recession felt across the country, I believe everyone knew that to some degree. I just want to know where the questions and the line-item scrutiny were in these tough economic times.

Civic-minded discussion and questioning of issues don’t necessarily equal ugly fighting and screaming matches. That’s not at all what I’m asking for. I just want an open government where residents can see their public servants ask questions – and receive answers – in a, gasp, public setting.

“You would never know without being really involved how tough it has been,” Reimal told me Wednesday afternoon about the city’s 2010-2011 budget. “The general public, who is not involved with the process of the budget, would never know without being involved, so that’s why I saw the need to ask questions (on Monday night). All of our department heads did a very good job of describing their particular budget needs.”



Sterling Plaza dedicated

After it was first announced in 2007, the Sterling Plaza Senior Housing at 2855 S. Harvard Ave. celebrated its dedication on Wednesday morning. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development financed the project through its Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program.

Low-income residents ages 62 and older qualify for residing at Sterling Plaza, which includes 53 one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit for a manager’s apartment. Up to two people may reside in a unit, and only one person must meet the 62 years or older requirement.

Sterling Plaza is at about 50 percent occupancy, according to Tom Herlihy, a consultant for Creative Senior Housing. The Ohio-based National Church Residences serves as the property management, and Creative Senior Housing is the Missouri nonprofit organization that owns the facility. National Church Residences also developed Woods Chapel Lodge in Blue Springs.