Although the two Independence City Council districts are on opposite ends of town, the concerns voiced by constituents remained consistent as the same as four candidates campaigned.

Although the two Independence City Council districts are on opposite ends of town, the concerns voiced by constituents remained consistent as the same as four candidates campaigned.

Property values, the economy and transparency in government were among the top issues heard by Jim Engelman and Curt Dougherty as they campaigned for District 2 (northeastern Independence), as well as Mike Fielding and Eileen Weir as they campaigned for District 4 (southwestern Independence).



DISTRICT 2

Engelman received endorsements from the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO and Citizens for Effective Leadership. In visiting with citizens during his campaign, he said many expressed frustration with the economy, but Engelman tried to reassure them that their voice counts on a local level.

“I want them to know that I’m listening to them, that we live in a great town and that we work together,” Engelman said. “I think the city has done a pretty fair job of trying to keep people satisfied with style of living and comfortable living. Even though we’re the fourth largest city in the state, we still have a hometown feeling in Independence.”

In his seven months on the council, Engelman said he’s heard accusations of the city’s lack of transparency. When he first started attending council meetings as a citizen, Engelman said, he always got the information he needed from city officials.

As a member of the Audit and Finance Committee, Engelman said he also is excited about the recent appointment of Zach Walker as the city’s new management analyst.

“I think he’ll be able to bring a confidence to the citizens through his ability to analyze,” Engelman said.

Engelman wants everything looked at, he said, “and if we’ve got problems, they’ll be addressed.”

His opponent, Curt Dougherty, received an endorsement from the Carpenters’ District Council. In his campaigning experience, Dougherty said, residents said they were disappointed that city resources had been diverted toward private developments in southeastern Independence.

“We have a fancy new area that seems to be the dish of the day,” Dougherty said. “They feel that the older area has been neglected and that the newer areas get all of the goods and services. Sometimes feelings aren’t valid, but they’re still feelings.”

Dougherty agrees that Independence needs more police officers, but he said the department needs to be restructured and that money should be found within the existing budget to fund more officers.

He also would like to see a more streamlined process to locate a business in Independence. Business owners who visited with Dougherty said they have to go to several departments at City Hall, and even then, each department gives different information.

Dougherty said the city should have several “business advocates” on hand who will walk businesses through each step of what is needed in the health and fire departments and with building permits.

“Every single owner I’ve talked to says that dealing with the city is a sheer nightmare,” Dougherty said, “that it’s the most strenuous, difficult thing they’ve ever done.”



DISTRICT 4

Fielding received the endorsement of current District 4 Council Member Jim Page, who decided to not seek a third term.

Residents in District 4, Fielding said, are concerned about the decline of residential and commercial properties, including the perception that all business is moving toward the eastern side of town. With residential properties, citizens say they’ve seen increasing rental properties that aren’t maintained, as well as more transient neighbors.

 “We need to put a major emphasis on attracting strong residents to District 4,” Fielding said. “That is very critical.”

The following elements, Fielding said, must come together to attract strong families to live in District 1: increase public safety to keep crime in check; fair and effective code compliance to keep existing neighborhoods nice and keep property values up; promotion that Independence is a nice place to raise families; and partnership with school districts as appropriate opportunities arise.

Fielding also said he was pleased to see question-and-answer dialogue between city officials and citizens at the District 4 police tax meeting regarding the Bass Pro Shops-anchored development, The Falls at Crackerneck Creek.

“A lot of information was poured out to people for the first time, and I think people really appreciated it,” Fielding said. “The problem is that it should have happened last year.”

Weir’s major endorsements came from Citizens for Effective Leadership, state Sen. Victor Callahan, state Rep. Tom McDonald, Jackson County Executive Michael Sanders, Jackson County Legislator Dennis Waits, Independence Labor Coalition, IBEW Local No. 53, IAFF Local No. 781 and FOP Lodge No. 1, among others.

She said the current City Council has demonstrated a strong ability to work together and to find answers to problems. However, Weir said, she would like to see more debate and discussion about certain issues and why certain decisions are being made.

“People need a plainspoken explanation about what is being discussed, and I think that the council could be doing a better job of providing that information to the citizens,” she said. “By and large, much of what comes before the council is routine, but time to time, some things come up that are worthy of discussion and some explanation to the citizens.”

Weir also heard concerns regarding property values, foreclosed homes and vacant buildings in District 4. She said residents also are concerned that when they call the city with a problem or a question, they aren’t connected with the right resource or don’t receive a response in return.

“People want their government to be fiscally responsible, and they want a government that is responsive to their needs,” she said. “People want to be heard, and they want answers to their questions.”