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Grandview mayor seen as a steady hand after upheaval at City Hall

Updated: 2014-02-19T01:24:45Z

By RICK HELLMAN

Special to The Star

The third time was the charm for Leonard Jones Jr., who will remain Grandview’s mayor until April 2015, completing the unexpired term of Stephen Dennis, against whom Jones had run twice previously.

Dennis resigned abruptly in January and then pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court on Feb. 11. Dennis awaits sentencing.

Jones, who had been a Grandview alderman since 1998, was appointed to the mayor’s position by his fellow aldermen in the wake of Dennis’ resignation. But when no one filed by Feb. 12 to oppose him in the April election to fill the remainder of Dennis’ two-year term, it meant that Jones would remain Grandview’s mayor for at least another year.

It’s a prospect that pleases Ward 2 Alderman Annette Turnbaugh, who has served with Jones for the past four years.

“He’s a class act,” Turnbaugh said of Jones. “What you see is what you get. There are no hidden agendas whatsoever.”

Long-serving Ward 3 Alderman Jim Crain echoed Turnbaugh’s assessment, saying: “He’s a very pragmatic person; very straightforward. You always know where he stands.”

Turnbaugh described Jones as “the money guy” on the Board of Aldermen.

“He totally gets the aspect of finances,” she said. “He doesn’t let a penny be spent that we don’t know why. … The city is in very good hands with this man … I can’t think of anyone I would rather have leading us now than Leonard. He was a calming source when all this craziness happened.”

Dennis has pleaded guilty to defrauding the International House of Prayer by using for his personal benefit almost all of two donations totaling $35,000 that IHOP made to Matters of the Heart, a nonprofit organization Dennis founded in 2011.

Matters of the Heart purported to help the poor and elderly in Grandview. But by the time of Dennis’ guilty plea, the corporation was legally defunct under Missouri law, and it had never received tax-exempt certification from the federal government.

The Grandview aldermen are now undertaking their own investigation to ensure that Dennis’ use of a city credit card as mayor was proper.

“As a board, we will be looking into the expense requests ourselves,” Turnbaugh said. “We don’t know what’s personal and what’s not, and we won’t know until we have the opportunity to sit down and ask questions we feel need to be asked. The staff is doing the investigating, pulling receipts.”

Turnbaugh said the Missouri Ethics Commission is also looking into Dennis’ campaign-finance records.

Dennis’ attorney could not be reached by press time Tuesday.

For his part, Jones said he doesn’t think Dennis’ actions have hurt the city government’s image.

“It was personal activity,” Jones said. “Yes, the city is involved, but only because that’s where the individual lived. The city’s objectives haven’t changed, and now we are moving forward.”

Jones, who works full time as a sourcing manager for Sprint, is looking forward to continued service as mayor, even though he will vote only in cases where there is a 3-3 tie among the six aldermen.

“You let the administrators do their jobs and don’t get in the way and set policy and direction,” Jones said.

Jones has been the first African American to serve as a Grandview alderman and mayor.

He and Crain both identified bringing more and better retail businesses to Grandview — and particularly the redevelopment of the Truman Corners shopping center — as a top priority for the coming year.

Jones said sales taxes are “an important component of the general fund,” but he also wants residents of Grandview to be able to “spend more of their hard-earned money here without having to spend the time and gas money to go outside” the city.

Jones said tax-increment financing, empowerment zones and other vehicles could be employed to stimulate development, “depending on the project.”

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