Lee’s Summit Mayor Bill Baird used his first moments in office Thursday night to pledge close collaboration with residents and to ask city council members for both “elbow grease” and “grace” as they tackle the challenges and opportunities facing the city.
“I don’t think it’s luck that brought us together,” Baird told the council following his swearing-in at City Hall. “I think we came together because we have a common cause, and that cause is that we have a passion, a love for this community.”
Baird succeeds Randy Rhoads, who was not able to run for reelection because of term limits. Rhoads ended his 20-year political career with the city Thursday and was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I am touched,” he responded, adding that he had now run out of excuses to avoid the “to-do” list of his wife, Mary Ann Rhoads.
Baird, unlike Rhoads, will be a mayor with a regular city council vote. Previously, the mayor only voted in the event of a tie, but voters last year approved a change in the city’s charter giving the mayor a more direct role in council business.
The real estate broker and former school board member said he and council should “leave a bit of elbow grease” as they tackled improving and diversifying the city’s economy, particularly in dealing with the continued move of certain economic sectors, such as retail, to the Internet.
“These digital disruptions have not only affected our local economy but are going to continue to affect the landscape of our city,” Baird said. “We have to be forward-thinking, and we have to be a city planning according to the economic development that will be 10 years from now, 15 years from now.”
Lastly, he asked the council members to put aside political and personal differences that have sometimes disrupted council meetings and made decisions difficult in recent years.
“This grace will free this council so that we may focus on the critical decisions that we must make for the great population that we serve and consider the great opportunities that we have before us,” he said.
Two new council members and three incumbents also took their oaths of office Thursday.
Jose “Beto” Lopez replaces District 3 Councilwoman Diane Seif after winning by a four-vote margin, and Bob Johnson, who last served on the council in 2016, replaces District 4 Councilmember Dave Mosby. Mosby, like Rhoads, was not able to run again because of term limits.
Incumbent councilmembers Diane Forte (District 1), Trish Carlyle (District 2) and Fred DeMoro (District 4) retained their seats. DeMoro will serve only two years after being appointed to the position last spring following a recall election.
Besides attracting new businesses, the reconstituted council will face a number of challenges, including finding ways to diversify the tax base of a rapidly growing city, increase revenues, upgrade streets and stormwater infrastructure and solve the months-long riddle of how to pay for a desired wage increase for most city employees.
Before the swearing in, Rhoads and the former group of council members held their last meeting. Among the items, they voted unanimously to reconsider the rezoning of almost 4 acres at 5621 NE Maybrook Road to allow the construction of a single-family home. They sent the proposal back the city planning commission for review.
On April 5, the council voted 4-3 against rezoning the property after hearing concerns from residents that a baseball field built on the site had disrupted the neighborhood, and they were concerned that would continue, despite promises from the new owners. Councilman Rob Binney asked for the reconsideration, saying the city had received additional information from the new owners and that the proposal should be reevaluated and put before a new public hearing. He did not disclose the new information during the meeting.
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org