After one week in office, Main Street Parkville Association’s newly elected chief officers collectively resigned in order to hold new elections Jan. 20. The group voluntarily decided on the elections in hopes of attaining a grant that may be held up because of a squabble over leadership.
On Dec. 16, the group’s membership — which is composed of downtown Parkville’s merchants and paying members — voted in new executive officers. Park University Special Events Manager Alisha Blackwelder was named chairwoman, Keller Williams Realtor Susan Smith stepped in as vice chairwoman, Capital Federal Bank Market Business Development Manager and Vice President Chris Collins was named treasurer, and clothing store Middle KC Owner Hilary Murray became secretary.
Blackwelder was to replace Troy Wilson, the owner of Parkville Jewelers. But the attempted transition turned into a dispute over the proposed leadership, with murmurs that reached Missouri Main Street Connection, a state organization with a supporting role in downtowns across Missouri. The Parkville group had solicited a $20,000 grant from Missouri Main Street Connection. Citing the leadership unrest, the state organization withdrew the Parkville group’s pending grant.
The day after the election, the Missouri Main Street Connection State Director Gayla Roten wrote a letter announcing the decision.
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“This situation goes deeper than just the election, and with the many texts and emails received with ‘he did this’ or ‘she said this’… clearly you must see how I came to this decision,” Roten wrote.
“Once the organization, using the governmental processes, has come to an agreement on the path forward, MMSC then will be able to talk about the future of the grant.”
On Monday, Parkville Mayor Nan Johnson wrote a response to Roten characterizing the state organization leader’s comments as asking for a standard of “unanimous consent.”
“That is an impossible standard that Parkville cannot hope to attain,” Johnson wrote in a letter asking for the grant to be reconsidered. “Healthy dissention and dialogue are necessary to consider all ideas and ensure the best decisions for downtown Parkville. We rely on a democratic process to resolve disagreements according to the will of the majority.”
The letter was copied to the city’s aldermen and local print media outlets.
In a phone interview, Roten said the group “doesn’t understand its own organizational structure” and needs to become more open and inclusive as per Main Street Parkville Association’s designation as a nonprofit. The association’s specific IRS designation as a public benefiting tax-exempt organization requires more participatory structure than what currently exists, Roten said. She suggested removing the fee for members of public who do not own businesses downtown but wish to attend and vote in the association’s meetings.
The grant — which the state organization calls the “People Energizing Places Grant” — was going to be used in part to recruit and hire a new executive director for the Main Street Parkville Association. The director is responsible for managing downtown Parkville events like Parkville Days and Gallery of Trees. It has been vacant since Stephany Smiddy left the group in September.
Wilson said the grant is critical to bringing new growth downtown Parkville. He said the grant has been key in bringing tremendous sales growth to the cities that have received the grant.
Wilson said he was elected to a 12-month term in December 2014 in large part to secure the $20,000 grant. He said downtown business leaders have expressed unanimous support of his leadership. Since Roten’s letter was sent, Wilson said he’s spoken with the state organization and received generally positive feedback.
“I think there’s a good chance of getting (the grant),” Johnson said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I think that everyone’s decided to bury the hatchet.”
With regards to the bickering references in her letter, “I’ll tell you it was communication from people who were not elected to their positions,” Johnson said. “I will assure you that nothing was (sent) from my office. Let’s move forward and get something positive. Things were mishandled.”
Tom Hutsler, chairman of the Parkville Old Towne Market Community Improvement District tax board, said politics should not play a role in the downtown grant-making process.
The tax district and Main Street Parkville Association work in conjunction with one another. The district contributes the majority of its tax-drawn funds to the association through grants.
“If you don’t have the cooperation and the unity of merchants working together, that’s not good,” Hutsler said.
The grant required a $3,200 contribution from the district and $4,800 the city of Parkville. Both have pledged to leave their donations with the main street association in hopes that the grant can be acquired.