Friday, October 19, 2018

Missouri girl gets a taste of local politics



by Mary Wilson 

Mayors across the state of Missouri are showing their sweet side as one five-year-old girl invites each of them to meet her for an unforgettable treat. Taylor Duncan, the “almost six-year-old,” as she’d tell you, from Waynesville, is on a mission to meet every mayor in Missouri while learning about each town and enjoying some ice cream along the way.

On Saturday, October 13, Taylor, her mother and younger siblings, visited Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones, her 116th mayoral ice cream visit, to be exact. The idea came about when Taylor, who is homeschooled, was studying the state and learned that the ice cream cone originated in Missouri. So, she set a goal to have an ice cream cone with every mayor in the state.

“It’s a really delicious idea,” she said through a big bite of her rainbow sherbet.

Taylor toured the Truman Farm Home before heading over to Topsy’s with Mayor Jones for their special treat. There, she also met Alderman Damon Randolph, and was excited to ask questions of both elected officials. Randolph, with bubblegum ice cream, and Jones, with his vanilla swirled with fudge and peanuts, answered questions from Taylor like why they decided to get into local politics, the biggest challenges, and what their favorite thing about living in Grandview is.

When asked which mayor has been her favorite so far, Taylor responded, “Mommy asked me to not answer that question.” Her mom said that she’s supposed to answer the question differently than that, but Mayor Jones is convinced that he’s the favorite.

While she couldn’t answer which mayor she likes best, cotton candy ice cream is the flavor she chooses most. She also loves orange sherbet. Following their treats at Topsy’s, Jones, Randolph and the Duncan family headed over to City Hall. There, Taylor was impressed with the size of Grandview’s municipal government building. She also sat at the mayor’s desk and played at Freedom Park.

After Grandview, the family was headed to Oak Grove. Taylor’s trek across the state is documented by her mom on a Facebook page. Follow her journey at Show Me Ice Cream.





Friday, October 5, 2018

Aldermen approve a number of ordinances to finish out Grandview’s fiscal year


Splash park and shooting range to become reality; shopping center revitalization receives CID; outer roads to eventually convert to two-way

by Mary Wilson


With sixteen ordinances to get through in one meeting, the Grandview Board of Aldermen had a stacked agenda before them for their regular session on Tuesday, September 25. In just over an hour, all 16 ordinances were approved, but not without opposition on a handful of items from one alderman.

“Each issue I voted no on is the same issue that I voiced concerns and opposition to during all previous work sessions,” said Ward 3 Alderman John Maloney. “Though, knowing that I am in the minority doesn't stop me from voting no on any issue that I have serious concern or opposition to. Our responsibility as aldermen is not to be a rubber stamp, but to make the best decisions for the future of our city. Luckily, the Board usually sees eye-to-eye and we always treat one another with respect, but I believe we can all do a better job saying no and asking for more responsibility and accountability from staff and developers.”

Maloney’s first opposition of the evening had to do with the construction of the city’s newest splash park, which will be located adjacent to The View community center. Grandview citizens approved a no tax increase bond vote in 2014 for the splash park for $2.25 million. The project had been tabled after the original bid came in over budget. Mega Industries will be responsible for construction in the amount not to exceed $1,859,653. The project will include spray features, playground with slides, site furnishings, cameras, and fencing.

“We have a very limited amount of money, and I think we’re doing a very poor investment by putting the Splash Park next to The View,” said Maloney. “I think this is being used as an excuse to raise membership rates at the community center, and we’ll essentially be competing with ourselves because we have a free Splash Park on the other side of the city. This goes against what the parks commission and staff are wanting.”

With Maloney’s no vote, the ordinance still passed 4-1 (Alderman Sandy Kessinger was absent from the meeting). Ward 3 Alderman Jim Crain stated that while the location of the splash park is not preferable to him, he is simply going along with the majority on his yes vote.

Maloney also disagreed with the two ordinances on the agenda that would begin the process of converting Grandview’s I-49 outer roadways to two-way traffic. While both passed 4-1, Maloney said that he was not in favor of the conversion project partnership with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission

“I’ve voted no on the outer roads before,” said Maloney. “Grandview lost a lot of its economic competitiveness years ago, and most of the businesses that have moved out don’t even exist anymore. Everyone wants to blame Grandview’s loss on the outer roads. We just didn’t do a very good job selling ourselves while neighboring communities offered so many incentives to developers and they went elsewhere.”

Finally, Maloney also opposed the petition to establish a Community Improvement District (CID) for the Grandview Village Shopping Center, located on Main Street. The property owners propose to use the CID as an economic redevelopment tool to upgrade the center, demolish a vacant building (former Econo Lube), and build a next-generation Dairy Queen Restaurant (DQ Grill and Chill). It will impose a one percent sales tax upon all retail sales within the CID, all proceeds to be used for the redevelopment project.

“I will not be supporting this tonight,” said Maloney. “I find it very hard to support an owner who has built and maintained this property from start to finish and has allowed it to become in certain array to be considered blighted, and then reward them with a CID. I think that sets a very bad tone for our city, in which all our property owners are allowed to just let their property become in disarray and then ask for a CID.”

Despite 4-1 approval, Ward One Alderman Damon Randolph expressed concern that shop owners and managers didn’t seem to have any knowledge of the CID process for their buildings nor had any communication with the property owners.

“I know several people up there, and from what the current tenants say, they haven’t been told anything,” said Randolph. “They read about all these improvements happening at the center in the Advocate.”

The project attorney said that he was surprised to hear that the tenants were unaware, but will ensure communication happens going forward.

The first of the unanimously-passed ordinances included the construction of the shooting range to be installed next to the Grandview Ball Park, off of Arrington Road. Grandview citizens approved a no tax increase bond vote in 2014 for the shooting range in the amount of $750,000. An additional $250,000 was secured from the Land Water Conservation Fund, along with an additional $12,300 from earned interest on the bond. TRS Range Services, out of Idaho, will be responsible for construction, including handicap parking and walkways, shooters briefing building and storage shed, the range, a target turning system and fencing.

With the project estimated to be completed in the spring of 2019, Grandview Police Chief Charles Iseman said that they plan to offer an education along with the opening to make patrons aware of the expectations and what will and will not be allowed at the public shooting range.

“This is a new adventure for us, so there definitely needs to be an education piece to it,” said Iseman.

Also approved at the meeting were the installation of a new roof at City Hall; a one-year extension to the Metropolitan Area Regional Radio System (MARRS) user agreement for all city radios along with software support for the Response CAD system, Police RMS and other public safety systems; an increase in charges for ambulance services ($900 for residents and $1050 for non-residents), an increase in the first-aid rate to $250 and an increase in the mileage charge to $14 per mile; and an ordinance to begin use of an electronic grant management system with the Federal Railroad Administration for the Blue Ridge Boulevard overpass replacement project. 

Grandview High School freshmen Taj Manning and Cierra Smith recently competed
on the international level at the first ever Junior NBA World Championships
in August. For their accomplishments, Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones issued a
proclamation during the September 25 Board of Aldermen meeting in recognition
of their outstanding individual efforts, team play, sportsmanship and success in
their sports and academic careers now and in the future.
“On behalf of the Board of Aldermen and the citizens of Grandview, I hereby
congratulate the Central Boys and Girls teams for their Junior NBA World Championship,”

said Jones.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Kander excuses himself from Kansas City Mayor race

About four months ago, I contacted the VA to get help. It had been about 11 years since I left Afghanistan as an Army Intelligence Officer, and my tour over there still impacted me every day. So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour. I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.
But, on some level, I knew something was deeply wrong, and that it hadn’t felt that way before my deployment. After 11 years of this, I finally took a step toward dealing with it, but I didn’t step far enough.
I went online and filled out the VA forms, but I left boxes unchecked – too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms. I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma. I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out. 
That was stupid, and things have gotten even worse since.
By all objective measures, things have been going well for me the past few months. My first book became a New York Times Bestseller in August. Let America Vote has been incredibly effective, knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors and making hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I know that our work is making a big difference. And last Tuesday, I found out that we were going to raise more money than any Kansas City mayoral campaign ever has in a single quarter. But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts. And it wasn’t the first time.
I’m done hiding this from myself and from the world. When I wrote in my book that I was lucky to not have PTSD, I was just trying to convince myself. And I wasn’t sharing the full picture. I still have nightmares. I am depressed.
Instead of dealing with these issues, I’ve always tried to find a way around them. Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems. I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me. But it’s just getting worse.
So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.
I finally went to the VA in Kansas City yesterday and have started the process to get help there regularly. To allow me to concentrate on my mental health, I’ve decided that I will not be running for mayor of Kansas City. I truly appreciate all the support so many people in Kansas City and across the country have shown me since I started this campaign. But I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression.   
I’ll also be taking a step back from day-to-day operations at Let America Vote for the time being, but the organization will continue moving forward. We are doing vital work across the country to stop voter suppression and will keep doing so through November and beyond.
Having made the decision not to run for mayor, my next question was whether I would be public about the reason why. I decided to be public for two reasons: First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own. Most people probably didn’t see me as someone that could be depressed and have had PTSD symptoms for over decade, but I am and I have. If you’re struggling with something similar, it’s OK. That doesn’t make you less of a person.
I wish I would have sought help sooner, so if me going public with my struggle makes just one person seek assistance, doing this publicly is worth it to me. The VA Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255, and non-veterans can use that number as well.  
I’ll close by saying this isn’t goodbye. Once I work through my mental health challenges, I fully intend to be working shoulder to shoulder with all of you again. But I’m passing my oar to you for a bit. I hope you’ll grab it and fight like hell to make this country the place we know it can be.
Jason

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Advocate earns first-place awards in Better Newspaper Contest


As part of the annual convention, the results of Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest were announced on Saturday, September 15. The Jackson County Advocate brought home some awards. We received:
First Place - Best Sports Photograph - Brent Kalwei
First Place - Best Sports Feature Story - Brent Kalwei
First Place - Best Feature Story - Mary Wilson
Third Place - Best Government Coverage - Mary Wilson
Third Place - Best Story About History - Mary Wilson
Honorable Mention - Best Business Story - Mary Wilson
Wilson and Kalwei are pictured above receiving their awards with Missouri Press Association’s Second Vice President Trevor Vernon.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Aldermen to consider updating registration of rental properties ordinance

by Mary Wilson

Dozens of property owners turned out for a public hearing on rental homes at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting in Grandview.

An ordinance proposing amendments to the Grandview Code of Laws that deal specifically with certain provisions of residential rental properties will be voted on by the Board of Aldermen at an upcoming meeting, but not before a handful of landlords put in their two-cents worth regarding registration and inspection of rental properties in the city.

The City of Grandview, in 2009, established a registration ordinance for rental properties, providing the city with detailed ownership and point-of-contact information for these properties regarding issues such as exterior maintenance, building codes, nuisance abatements and general property management. Due to a number of factors, most notably the economic conditions and staffing restrictions, the City of Grandview did not actively enforce the rental registration ordinance. In 2017, the Board of Aldermen asked for a review of that ordinance and for staff to come up with ways to enforce the provisions already on the books. As a result, staff is proposing amendments to the current rental property registration ordinance.

“Most of the changes are definitions, like adding a definition for the city, updating the definition for ‘owner’ to match the definition in the building code, adding a definition for non-owner occupied, clarifying the registration period for the first year, and updating the fee schedule,” said Billie Hufford, City of Grandview Building Inspector and Planner. “It’s a tiered pricing scale of $8-12, depending on how many units an individual has.”

One resident spoke during public comments on the hearing on behalf of support for the registration of rental properties. She stated that near the home she owns, she has seen five other homes become rentals and is concerned that they may be owned by absentee landlords.

“I am pleased to see that the board is considering a registration of rental properties,” said Grandview resident Ann Heinzler. “We are a community of homeowners and tenants, and I would like to be sure that people who are tenants and those landlords who own the properties are all treated in a fair and equitable manner. The first step is to register what properties are rentals.”

Several property owners spoke out against the ordinance, however most seemed concerned with upcoming inspections of their properties. At this time, the Board of Aldermen will only be voting on the registration of rental properties, with discussions on inspections to come at a later date. According to Mayor Leonard Jones, at that time, another public hearing will take place for input regarding that process.

After the latest string of gun violence in the City of Grandview, Holiday Inn Express has suffered financial loss due to issues in the high rental neighborhood directly behind where the hotel sits.

“There’s been shootouts over there at the rental properties behind us, at Greenfield,” said Jovana Johnson, a representative from Holiday Inn Express hotel in Grandview. “We have had several bust-ins from our cars. We lost major accounts, thousands of dollars lost because it wasn’t safe. One bullet went into one of our guest rooms, ricocheted inside the room and hit inside the mattress where the guest’s head was. They didn’t know, our housekeeper found it the next day. I’ve been at that property for six years, and there’s always been an issue.”

Johnson said that due to the violence stemming from Greenfield Village, her employees don’t feel safe coming to work. Her concern with the ordinance is that the city ensures landlords are doing proper background screenings of their potential tenants. She added that the ordinance seemed to have some racial undertones to it.

“I’ve heard comments from CEOs, not necessarily mine, but that it’s Section 8 people that’s the issue. If it’s put out, there needs to be a way that there’s no segregation, that it’s fair,” said Johnson. “I see both sides, I see the businesses that are there, because I’m losing money, and then I see my friends over there who, some of them, might not even make the cut if the registration is too hard.”

Of the landlords who spoke against the proposed ordinance, only one stated that they personally lived in the City of Grandview. Their concerns ranged from potential financial burden due to additional fees and potentially raising rents to cover them, tenants who don’t take care of the homes they rent, and what the potential inspection process will look like if and when it is implemented.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Grandview Aldermen to consider turning Municipal Court over to County


by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

Municipal courts in the State of Missouri must now follow rules which have been in place for quite some time, but previously were not enforced, according to Grandview Municipal Court Judge Ronald E. Johnson. With the passage of Senate Bills 5 and 572, the state has begun to take a closer look at court procedures and ordinances; and therefore, it has been determined that the Grandview Municipal Court is doing some things incorrectly.

“The State of Missouri and Missouri’s Supreme Court really hadn’t paid a lot of attention to municipal courts,” said Johnson. “County and state courts have been using these mandates forever. Since the municipal court is part of the same superior system, we are to adhere to the same principles.”

One such principle is that the municipal court be separate from city government. In many situations, according to Johnson, the courts were essentially being treated as another department of the city rather than an independent entity. The offices for the Grandview Municipal Court shares space with the city’s finance department, which Johnson said is not in compliance with the Missouri Supreme Court.

“The court has to remain neutral,” said Johnson. “It’s not proper and it doesn’t set a good appearance. We started making the city aware that we needed to change. What I get from them (the city) is that, because of the cost, because of being told what to do, and because of the space that we recommend using, they’d rather just hand us over to someone else rather than be in compliance with the law.”

Johnson and Court Administrator Becky Diederich proposed moving the municipal court offices into what is now the Business Center inside City Hall. It is a two-room area, away from the finance department and would comply with Missouri Supreme Court’s operating standards.

Because Grandview Municipal Court is not in compliance with operating standards, Judge John Torrence, with the Circuit Court of Jackson County, in a letter dated July 11, 2018, will consider all available sanctions to be imposed against the City of Grandview. Torrence requested a response from the City of Grandview by August 3. On that date, City Attorney Joseph Gall responded to Torrence, stating that he has been directed to prepare an ordinance for the Board of Aldermen to consider at its regular meeting on Tuesday, August 14.

“The ordinance will resemble the ordinance passed by the Lake Tapawingo Board of Aldermen on September 7, 2017, an ordinance electing to have municipal ordinance violation cases heard and determined by an Associate Circuit Judge of the Circuit Court of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit,” Gall’s letter stated. “On Wednesday, August 15, I will advise you of the Board’s decision with respect to the ordinance.”

“Ultimately, if we are not in compliance, the State can shut the court down,” said Johnson. “They’ll be voting on whether to dissolve our court and move our cases to the Associate Circuit Court Judge. As far as I know, Lake Tapawingo is the only other community to have done this. Nobody our size is even considering not having three branches of government but us.”

Grandview’s Municipal Court collects fines and fees associated with traffic and city ordinance violations, and has accounted for roughly $1 million annually in net revenue to the City of Grandview the past two years, with previous years seeing even higher returns. Johnson said that revenues have been down due to the Grandview Police Department’s ticketing numbers decreasing.

“That’s all we do,” said Diederich. “We don’t go out and issue tickets; we don’t collect failure to appear fees because that’s not allowed. We don’t do any of that. Collections of fines and fees are down across the board. There’s a lot of turnover in police departments and it is a statewide issue, not just here. I think we are very proud of the changes we have made to be in compliance.”

Johnson added that they pride themselves on being a citizen-friendly court.

“We’ve got 81 years in Grandview, and now we’ve got someone coming in saying we don’t really need this court and it would be better not having it in our community,” said Johnson. “Instead of building tomorrow’s community here, we’re going backwards. It doesn’t benefit our community.”

If the Grandview Board of Aldermen votes to turn the municipal court over to the circuit court, Johnson said that the city will still have to have a prosecutor and likely a court clerk who will then have to electronically transfer all tickets and violations to the court system. The Associate Circuit would hear the Grandview cases along with all of the other caseload already there.

“That judge would use whatever he believes to be appropriate fines, and the circuit system will only allow 30 days to pay those fines,” said Johnson. “I believe there is a $25 cost to go on a payment plan, which we don’t have here. After 30 days, if you have not paid, it will then be turned over to whatever collection agency they choose. The City of Grandview would not see any part of that money until it is collected, after the circuit court assesses its own costs.”

It is unclear what the proceedings would look like because this is such a new concept for the associate circuit court, according to Johnson. He also feels that the City of Grandview will lose more in revenues than it would take to simply move the court offices as Johnson and Diederich recommended.

While the state ordinance says that a municipality can elect to have a municipal court which the municipality must pay for and provide staff to run, as far as Johnson knows, there is no precedence on who has the authority to shut a municipal court down.

“It’s brand new; no one else is doing this and there’s simply no research done on how this will look,” said Johnson. “Some other judges in the area have offered their help on this because they, too, think this is ridiculous.”

However, the City of Grandview says that these are unfunded mandates and other municipalities across the state have gone the route of transferring their courts or are in the process of doing so. According to Grandview City Administrator Cemal Gungor, there are 235 cities in Missouri whose cases are heard by circuit courts which include those who have historically done so.

“There are a number of other city’s because of what Senate Bill 5 has done, it has made a lot of cities reevaluate where they were, where they are and some of the other opportunities that we don’t know about that could be forthcoming impacting all types of city budgets,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones.

Since the state passed Senate Bill 5, Gall said that Missouri has seen a number of cities transfer their courts to the associate circuit level. While Lake Tapawingo is the only city in Jackson County to do this, there are several in other counties in Missouri who have, including Platte City, Chillicothe and Washington.

The senate bills call for complete separation of municipal court activities, offices and records from city government. Senate Bill 5, specifically, is not settled, and numerous versions are still being circulated around Jefferson City. The bills are also up to the interpretation of whomever has the authority to implement the mandates.

“These unfunded mandates have specific requirements that are costing us money, and when you look at a small budget like ours, it makes us concerned,” said Gungor. “The other concern is that with complete separation, there is no administrative interaction with the court staff.”

While technically court staff are city employees, as they are on city payroll, receive city benefits, and so forth, Gungor said that when issues arise, specifically in the area of human resources, they are on their own. The Missouri Supreme Court has also mandated court automation, said Gall, which requires a new court software system.

“It remains to be seen what costs that might mean for the city,” said Gall. “We’ve been coexisting with the municipal court since 1978 and even before that, and there weren’t any problems or perceived problems until the new mandates came down. The playing field has changed.”

“We don’t know what other unfunded mandates may come out after this. We know what we know today, but, a scary thing for me, is what we don’t know,” said Jones. “What we don’t know is what we need to figure out for tomorrow.”

According to Gungor, 70 percent of the violations heard in Grandview Municipal Court are not residents of Grandview. If the aldermen determine to keep the court in Grandview, city administration will then have to determine what costs will be associated with the mandates and where the money will come from.

“They (Missouri Supreme Court) have made it clear that they want complete separation here,” said Gungor. “If that is what they want, then complete separation it is.”

Ultimately, the Grandview Board of Aldermen will determine what they feel is best suited for the City of Grandview, going forward. A public vote will take place during their regular session on Tuesday, August 14, 7 p.m., at Grandview City Hall.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Voters won’t decide on Jackson County Sheriff Tuesday


by Mary Wilson

The ballots have been printed. The polling places are beginning their setups. But, the candidates for Jackson County Sheriff are breathing a sigh of relief, for now.

On Tuesday, with one week before the upcoming election on August 7, a judge determined the primary for Jackson County Sheriff was not valid. Any votes cast for Sheriff on Tuesday’s election will not be counted, nor will they be used in consideration as democratic and republican party committee’s will appoint their respective candidates for election in November.

With the abrupt resignation of former Sheriff Mike Sharp in April, County Executive Frank White appointed interim Sheriff Darryl Forte’, former KCPD Chief of Police. The interim sheriff appointment is only through the end of the year, and a new sheriff will be sworn in to serve beginning January 1, 2019. This leaves the replacement being chosen by voters in November, based on the candidate provided from each party.

Jackson County provided the following statement regarding the Sheriff’s election:
“The Clerk of the Legislature, who serves as the election authority for candidate filing and calling county elections, asked for the assistance of the County Counselor’s Office in providing a legal opinion regarding the procedure to elect a sheriff to fill the remainder of the sheriff’s unexpired term, starting January 1, 2019. The County Counselor’s Office acknowledged a lack of clarity in the law on this point, but reviewed that law and prior precedent, and determined that the best way to proceed was to open candidate filings for a primary election. However, that determination was taken to court and the court has decided differently. The County will follow the court’s order.”

The judge’s ruling has no effect on other races, including legislature or county executive.