Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grandview Considers Projects for No Tax Increase Bonds

 

By Mary Wilson

With the upcoming election less than two weeks away, the Grandview Board of Aldermen already has sights on the August 5 election. City Parks and Recreation Director Eric Lucas presented to the board administration’s wish list of items to be considered in the upcoming no tax increase bond election. The goal of the work session was to come to a consensus as a board on the projects they would like to see brought before the voters.

“We started the seeds to success back in 2008 with the bond that we’re currently finishing up,” said Lucas.

The bonds from 2008 included the parks and public works facility, which has received a “Green Design” award from Capstone. Eleven of Grandview’s thirteen parks will be fully renovated within a few months. Brumble’s Forest in Meadowmere Park has been rated number one in South Kansas City, along with recognition received for the John Anderson Splash Park.
“We see every day the positive impact that all of the facilities have had on our employees as well as in our community,” said Lucas.

The 2014 No Tax Increase Bond will be $13 million over twenty years. Continuation of these bonds will enable the city to continue to place emphasis on first-class public safety and the parks system, essentially a renewal of the 2008 bonds.
“If we were to not place this on the ballot, or if it were to not pass, any future bond issue would be a tax increase because of the lack of bonding capacity,” said Lucas. “We would basically be starting over.”

On the public safety side of the bonds, the first item for consideration is a new radio system for the police and fire departments in Grandview. The city is one of two cities in the metro that has yet to transfer to the newer system, and it is a requirement that Grandview is broadcasting on the correct airwaves. The price tag the city is looking at is approximately $1.8 million.

"This will be the way we communicate, not only internally, but with other cities in the area in the event of an emergency,” said Lucas. “It is a city-wide safety communication system. If other cities are on the new system and we are not, then we have a lot of difficulty trying to converse.”
Also included in the safety portion of the bonds, the fire department would like to refurbish the ladder truck, while also buying an additional pumper truck, at an approximate cost of $450,000 each.
Included in the parks projects to be considered are renovations at Shalimar Park. This entails renovating the former Shelton softball fields and turning the former Ricker baseball fields into multi-purpose fields. Also under consideration is a larger splash park in Meadowmere, north of Brumble’s Forest.

“Other than John Anderson, we don’t have another outdoor aquatics area where people can get wet,” said Lucas. “A splash park is really the way to go, short of building an outdoor pool, which can be extremely costly.”

Lucas said that a splash park would provide the water opportunity for the community, with minimal staffing requirements and low safety concerns. Another parks project would potentially be an expansion of the View. The expansion would be, according to Lucas, a teen/senior center. The wing would cater to seniors in the morning and early afternoons, and teens later in the day and in the evenings. Also in the Meadowmere Park area under consideration is the future Meadowmere East, which is the city-owned property directly east of the View. This property could potentially be a parking lot, tennis courts, basketball courts with the ability to flood with water for ice in the winter, a large green space, and an outdoor amphitheater.

The projects Lucas presented total approximately $12.8 million. City staff included a few additional projects to be considered, including secured police access at the police station and storage buildings, as well as a police and parks shooting range that would be open to the public at Grandview the ballpark.
The city will be surveying the citizens of Grandview through social media and other forms of communication to garner the feel of the community in their support of these projects in August. City administration will bring the citizen survey results back to the board in early May for a vote before issuing the bond to be on the ballot. After the board determines what items the public will be voting on, the city will begin a community education campaign throughout the summer on the projects.

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Grandview Has Eyes on the TIGER

By Mary Wilson

 
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, provides a unique opportunity for the DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve critical national objectives. Since 2009, Congress has dedicated more than $4.1 billion for six rounds to fund projects that have a significant impact on the nation, a
region or a metropolitan area.


The TIGER program enables the DOT to examine a broad array of projects on their merits, to help ensure that taxpayers are getting the highest value for every dollar invested. In each round of TIGER, DOT receives many applications to build and repair critical pieces of the country’s freight and passenger transportation networks. Applicants must detail the benefits their project would deliver for five long-term outcomes: safety, economic competitiveness, state of good repair, livability and environmental sustainability.

Another round of TIGER grants are being made available. Grandview Public Works director Dennis Randolph is developing a package to submit, including the two previous pedestrian bridges included in the last submission, as well as the addition of the phase one conversion of the Frontage Road, between Harry Truman Drive and High Grove Road.

"I always planned to continue submitting," said Randolph. Last year, Grandview submitted for three pedestrian bridges: one going over I-49 at Truman’s Marketplace, one at 135th Street connecting the splash park and the View community center, and a third pedestrian bridge at 155th Street.

One reason to include 155th Street was to encourage the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to do more than replace the bridge with another two-lane road. MoDOT has made the decision, as of last week, to replace the bridge at 155th Street and I-49 with a new interchange. The new interchange will fit with Grandview’s road project. Because MoDOT is planning to move forward with the replacement, there was no reason for Grandview to include that as part of the TIGER grant application projects.

"That would give us a project that really emphasizes the idea behind the TIGER grant, which is connectivity," said Randolph.

Randolph hopes to include letters of support from the business community, and plans to include the citizens of Grandview as well. With the grant applications not due until the middle of April, it gives Randolph and his team plenty of time to garner the support from the community.

"I think we have a better chance of receiving a grant this year," said Randolph. "Kansas City clogged up most of the money last year with their street car grant. They’re going after it again this year, but I don’t think anyone in congress will give them another $20 million this year."

According to Randolph, the lack of two-way connectivity along the Frontage Roads for Grandview citizens has impacted the city greatly. Aside from traveling extra miles to do basic shopping, Randolph said the trek citizens in the community make going in circles have a deep impact on their wallets.

"On the average, it costs every household nearly $700 a year in extra costs," said Randolph. "For thirty-five years they’ve been doing this. That is a big chunk of money. Roughly $264 billion."

Randolph stated that Grandview citizens travel an extra ten to twenty miles per week for necessities. The final project submission will be one package with the three components: phase one of the Frontage Road conversion, and then the two pedestrian bridges over I-49. Randolph is hoping to receive around $15 million, and believes that Grandview has a chance.

"We’re going to give it another shot," said Randolph. "We’re ready, and we’ve got some time to tune up our proposal."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hickman Mills School Board Sends Mixed Messages in Wake of Audit

By Paul Thompson
By the time Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich released the findings of his department’s 21-month audit of the Hickman Mills C-1 school district on Tuesday night, the district’s Board of Education had already scrambled to distance themselves from the shocking findings.

Last week, an investigative report published in The Pitch linked some audit revelations to Kansas City political group Freedom, Inc., an organization committed to elevating African-American candidates to political office. The article alleged that the organization wielded unusual influence over the C-1 Board of Education, and highlighted examples during the tenure of former board president Breman Anderson, Jr. On Monday, March 3, the history and vision of Freedom, Inc. could be found online at their website, freedominckc.org. By the morning of Tuesday, March 4, the site was shut down, leaving behind only a message that the domain name had expired.

For his part, Anderson has downplayed both his involvement with the organization and its influence on board activities.

"That’s up to speculation. There are a multitude of political organizations that are involved in the district," said Anderson of Freedom, Inc.’s influence over the Hickman Mills district. "I haven’t even paid any dues to that organization this year. That is just one of about seven or eight organizations that I am affiliated with."

Fellow board member Darrell Curls, whose father was a founding member of Freedom, Inc., was up front about his affiliation with the political group. But he told the Advocate that he didn’t feel the group exerted undue influence over the district.

"To my knowledge, I don’t think they have that much influence," said Curls. "There are members of the board that are members. I’m a member. My last name has been synonymous with Freedom, Inc. ever since it was organized."

Nonetheless, Freedom, Inc. connected lawyer Clinton Adams offered his assessment of the audit and the state of the Hickman Mills district when reached for comment late last week.

"Academic achievement in the Hickman Mills school district declined continuously for the past 12 years under the leadership of Marge Williams and Bonnaye Mims," said Adams. "As I recall the district even lost its full accreditation, and children have suffered from an inferior education."

Anderson and Curls offered a similar timeline for the worst infractions within the district.

"There was a time where board members were kept out of the loop," said Anderson. "It took about 11 or 12 years of decline to get to where we are."

"Under previous administrations, there were some things that were not shared to the board," added Curls. "I just don’t think that the previous administration was as totally upfront and honest with us as they could have been."

Board members contend that the issues in the district exacerbated once Anderson took over the board presidency in 2012. At issue was Anderson’s penchant for recommending no-bid contracts to Freedom-affiliated businesses, mismanagement of district resources, the difficulty other board members had in obtaining district records, and Anderson's close relationship with Clinton Adams, among other questions.

Anderson and Adams attempted to ensure a majority on the C-1 Board of Education with the 2013 election, and Anderson offered to endorse candidate Debbie Aiman if she would agree to support his endeavors as board president, sight unseen. 

"I was on the board for three years, and you know that I will not support anything sight unseen," said Aiman in explaining a conversation between her, Anderson, and Adams. After Aiman refused, she never heard from Anderson and Adams again about the election. "They said, ‘We’ll meet with our group, and we’ll get back to you.’ They never got back with me."

Although she suspected as much, Aiman noted that Anderson and Adams never said outright that they were operating on behalf of Freedom, Inc. During that election cycle, Freedom, Inc. supported eventual winners Shawn Kirkwood and Byron Townsend. Meanwhile, an anonymous attack mailer sent out in the days before the election blasted Aiman and fellow candidate George Flesher. Both Kirkwood and Townsend told the Advocate at the time that they had no involvement with the mailer.

Board member (and former board president) Bonnaye Mims is so concerned about Anderson, and his relationship to Clinton Adams, that she offered a public apology for her own past affiliation with them.

"He’s behind the scenes, so his hands aren’t getting dirty," said Mims of Adams. "He’s letting Breman carry his water, but he hasn’t been able to execute what Clinton wanted."

"I am so sorry. When he first came to me and was running for school board, I thought he was sincere," Mims said of Anderson. "That’s why I helped him get elected. I’m so sorry that Breman even was brought to me."

Some board members also questioned Anderson’s actions surrounding the no-bid hiring of Gallagher Benefit Services to conduct the district’s 2012 national superintendent search. Multiple board members told the Advocate that they voted to pay a $30,000 flat rate to Gallagher in exchange for conducting the superintendent search. That fee was later altered to be contingent on the incoming superintendent’s salary. Ultimately, the district paid $36,490 to Gallagher, or roughly 20% of the new superintendent’s salary.

The $30,000 fee had already seemed high to some board members, especially when the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA) could have done the search for roughly half the rate. But further issues emerged from there. The job listings were not as prevalent as anticipated, and the search yielded less than a dozen candidates.

"Almost none of the candidates we saw had any superintendent experience," said board member Eric Lowe. "I did question whether we had a legitimate crop of people."

At the time, Lowe considered holding up the interview process in order to get more candidates. But he decided to proceed with the interview, and was pleasantly surprised with one candidate: new Hickman Mills C-1 Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter.

Carpenter has ultimately proved to be very popular among the community and the board, despite the questions that surrounded the search process. The successful outcome has allowed Anderson to stand behind the process that led Carpenter to the district.

"With regards to what took place during my tenure, I accept full responsibility," said Anderson. "Yes, we hired a search firm. I was comfortable with the search and the outcome."

Clinton Adams has also stepped forward publicly with support for Superintendent Carpenter.

"It’s important the entire community supports the new superintendent, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, in his effort to regain accreditation, so our students don’t continue to suffer," he said.

On April 8, three spots will up for election on the Hickman Mills School Board. Ten candidates filed for the election, including incumbents Dan Osman, Bonnaye Mims, and Breman Anderson, Jr. The South Kansas City Alliance will hold a public forum for all ten candidates on March 10 at the Baptiste Educational Center, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.