Another year is coming to a close and 2018 is almost upon us.
Before we move on into the new year, we’re taking a moment to look back at some of the most-read stories and biggest news events that happened in Lee’s Summit during 2017.
Student commits suicide inside Lee’s Summit North, sparks community conversation
Shortly after she was taken to a hospital, a 17-year-old girl died after shooting herself Sept. 29 inside a bathroom at Lee’s Summit North High School.
The Lee’s Summit Police Department identified the victim as Gemesha Thomas shortly after the Lee’s Summit R-7 superintendent and police conducted a press conference in the wake of the incident.
Thomas had died by suicide, police said.
Wanting to show their support and bring awareness to suicide prevention, Lee’s Summit North students dressed in purple, released purple balloons at kickoff, and observed a moment of silence with other fans during a high school football game that had been postponed to Sept. 30.
A GoFundMe page created for Thomas’s family raised more than $22,000.
Ten days later, another Lee’s Summit North student — Matthew Kelley, 18 — died Oct. 9 by suicide at his home.
The two deaths later led to a community conversation in Lee’s Summit City Hall, where around 100 people sought advice from local mental-health experts, doctors, a representative from the school district and from the police department.
“Listen to what your children are saying, but also watch their behavior,” one doctor said at the meeting. “People who say that they are a burden to other people are being serious and people who say they are thinking about suicide, they are being serious.”
New superintendent comes to LS public schools
Dennis Carpenter, who had led the Hickman Mills School District since 2013, joined the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in 2017 as its new superintendent.
Carpenter was among six finalists after the district conducted a regional search and replaced David McGehee, who resigned in May 2016 after he and the board agreed to a one-year contract buyout worth $450,000.
McGehee resigned amid controversy with school board members who questioned whether McGehee’s romantic relationship with a lead attorney for the district presented a conflict of interest. He was the highest-paid superintendent in Missouri, with a compensation package that totaled $397,000 in 2015-2016.
The Lee’s Summit school board approved Carpenter’s three-year contract in January and his term began July 1.
Off-duty LS officer fatally shot in Westport
The Lee’s Summit community mourned the loss of one of its police officers in August.
Thomas Orr III, 30, who had just started work as a school resource officer at Bernard Campbell Middle School, died Aug. 20 after he was shot during a party at Californos bar and restaurant in Westport.
Orr, who was off duty at the time and had been with the Lee’s Summit Police Department since March 2015, was an innocent bystander in the shooting.
Lee’s Summit Police Chief Travis Forbes described Orr’s death as a shock to the police department and tweeted about Orr’s commitment to the community.
“Officer Orr was someone who truly wanted to make a positive difference in this world,” Forbes said. “What a loss to our community and society.”
One month after the shooting, Jackson County prosecutors charged Sean D. Steward, 22, with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in Orr’s death.
Court documents said the shooting happened after one man struck another man in the face, causing him to fall to the floor. Steward allegedly fired into the crowd and fled in a vehicle.
The case remains pending in Jackson County Circuit Court with a trial scheduled for next year.
Lee’s Summit will be highlight of 2018 Main Street Now Conference
Downtown Lee’s Summit learned in 2017 that it will be showcased as part of the 2018 Main Street Now Conference, which is scheduled for March 26-28, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo.
The “Big Bash” party in downtown Lee’s Summit will help end the three-day conference, which is expected to bring more than 1,600 attendees from across the country, according to Main Street America.
Gayla Roten, director of Missouri Main Street Connect, said the Big Bash is typically a party that includes a trip to a museum, food, and dancing to celebrate after a day of workshops and meetings.
“When we found out that Missouri Main Street Connection was chosen to host the 2018 Main Street Now Conference, we immediately began plans to bring the conference to Downtown Lee’s Summit,” Roten said earlier this year. “We knew Lee’s Summit was a place we wanted to showcase with the Big Bash event, and now our conference attendees from across the country will get to experience one of the very best communities in America.”
Fundraising for the event started during the summer. Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street said in November that its goal is to raise $35,000 to support the Big Bash in Lee’s Summit.
The Big Bash is scheduled March 28, 2018 — the last day of the conference.
Mike Cierpiot to replace Will Kraus in Missouri Senate
Mike Cierpiot, a Republican state lawmaker from Lee’s Summit, emerged victorious from the November 2017 special election in a three-way race for an open Missouri Senate seat.
Cierpiot received 50.3 percent of the vote, Democrat Hillary Shields totaled 42.6 percent and independent Jacob Turk amassed 7.1 percent.
Cierpiot replaces Republican Will Kraus, who resigned in July to take a job with the state tax commission. The state senator-elect will represent the eighth district of the Missouri Senate.
Previous reports said Cierpiot and Republican allies had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the race to help keep the eighth district a Republican stronghold.
“I am incredibly grateful to our friends, family and supporters for their tireless work in support of our campaign,” Cierpiot said after winning the special election. “This was a hard-fought race, but our common-sense conservative values ultimately prevailed.”
Voters decide to recall councilman
In other election news of the year, Lee’s Summit voters said yes in April to every question on the ballot — all of the 12 charter revisions, the recall of a city councilman Chris Moreno, and extending a half-cent sales tax for 15 years.
The recall of Moreno was noted as the first successful recall election in Lee’s Summit’s history.
Moreno used to represent District 4. Voters in that district voted 1,634 to 956 to remove him from office, with about 63 percent voting yes.
Those who spoke out against Moreno, including a committee called the Lee’s Summit Citizens for Responsible Government, pointed to his bankruptcy, his political style, and claims he led a witch hunt while demanding investigations of the city’s purchasing policies.
“While it is unfortunate that a campaign built on personal attacks prevailed, I am good with knowing that I lost standing for what I believe is right, rather than remaining silent for political expediency,” Moreno wrote in a Facebook post following the recall.
By May, Fred DeMoro, a planning commission member, was chosen to fill the vacant District 4 Lee’s Summit City Council seat.
DeMoro will serve until the next municipal election — April 3, 2018 — and recently filed to run for a two-year term in District 4.
Old Price Chopper will be renovated
One of the most popular stories of the year came in June when readers learned that a Springfield area developer had plans to renovate the Pine Tree Plaza shopping center, which was once home to a Price Chopper.
Previous reports said the shopping center had been on the decline since Price Chopper moved to a new location at Blue Parkway and Todd George Parkway. Pine Tree Plaza was declared blighted and targeted for redevelopment by the city.
In November, it was announced that two new tenants were expected to move into the former Price Chopper space within the next few months — Planet Fitness and Harbor Freight Tools.
Redevelopment of two retail “wings” on the east and west sides of the former grocery store, which total about 40,000 square feet, was expected to begin in early 2018 followed by improvements to two outbuildings, which could be suitable for restaurant or medical office tenants.
“We are going to be doing a complete façade remodel, so it should look like a new center when we are finished,” said Trent Overhue, the developer. “This will be a dramatic improvement with all new landscaping, parking lot lighting and signage.”