The first thing you need to know about Kevin Wood is that he loves his job.
He wouldn’t take back a single minute of his 14-year tenure as mayor of Harrisonville.
He loves his grandchildren with the same enthusiasm, however. So deciding not to run for the position again in order to invest more of his time in being “pepa” to the seven of them was tough. Tough enough to shed more than a few tears over it, Wood admitted.
Wood, 52, a Waddell & Reed financial adviser based in Independence, has been a Harrisonville resident for the past 23 years. He was elected to the board of aldermen in 1998 and elected mayor in 2001. He is now the longest contiguously serving mayor and the longest serving city official in Harrisonville’s 179-year history.
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Reading up on the city’s history through old board of aldermen meeting notes and newspaper articles has given him a layered perspective. “The same things happen over and over again in history,” he said.
Once upon a time it was the stench from livery stables and public outhouses around the town square, he learned. Fast-forward a ways into the automobile era, when Harrisonville citizens were up in arms about construction of a new city lake for their water supply. They thought it was a waste of money and would never be used, Wood said.
“Now we look back and see they were visionary,” he said. “You need to have courage when serving the public to stand by your convictions and do what’s right, and sometimes (to not) cave to people who don’t have that vision.”
Getting it right can be like learning to parent, Wood said. “There’s no book telling you how to be a parent. You do what you feel is right every day and hope you succeed.”
As in parenting, a city’s success can be very incremental. The 291 Highway improvement project now under construction after a five-year process is a good example of that. “When it began it was truly a pipe dream,” said Wood. A dream realized “by having a plan in place and chipping away at it year after year after year.”
A long list of improvements and developments in Harrisonville over the past 14 years provided by the city clerk’s office includes construction of a new community center, a new hospital and a new police station, as well as improvements to the courthouse square and reconstruction of Pearl Street. Even more dramatic changes for the community have been seen in the Town Center retail development on Commercial Street just east of I-49 Highway and at the Market Place retail development at Commercial and West Mechanic Street/Highway 7 West.
Some crucial changes are invisible: bringing an aged electrical system up to par and addressing a sewer system that allowed sewage to seep into basements. Next up: improvements to Lake Harrisonville and a total overhaul of the water plant.
“The most important thing we’ve accomplished is bringing the infrastructure up to date so we’re poised to grow when the time is right,” Wood said.
“I have very much appreciated his enthusiasm and his line of positive thinking,” said John Foster, a onetime builder who now volunteers in many community-building efforts, including setting up a farmers’ market on the courthouse square and creating the “Business of the Month” and “Home of the Month” awards.
“He’s had several negative things thrown up in front of him,” Foster said, “but he manages to go right on and handles it.”
Whether it’s residents voicing their opposition to a new police station or builders complaining about impact fees on new construction, Wood said he doesn’t get defensive.
“People are often angry at a situation, but it’s not personal. It’s really frustration,” he said. “My job has been to listen and explain and solve things if I can.”
Wood goes to great lengths to prepare himself for listening, explaining and solving issues, said alderwoman Marcia Milner. He digs deep and wide in his research on any given issue so that he is prepared for any and all questions that come up, she said.
“He doesn’t ever do anything halfway,” Milner said. “He doesn’t rest until he has all the answers.”
Both Wood and Milner remarked on the city staff’s dedication to making that happen, too.
The mayor is equally dogged when he makes a proposal, Milner said. “He doesn’t normally take no for an answer.”
If Wood has a vision, he’ll forge ahead until blocked by an absolute “no,” she said. “If he is one thing, he is passionate about his community.”
Observing the mayor’s career has been a rewarding experience, Foster said. “It’s been a fun time, to see a young man grow.”
Of course, he’s also witness to the fact that making headway in Harrisonville hasn’t always been easy, Foster said.
“I congratulate Mayor Wood on having 14 years of patience to put up with us.”