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Harrisonville mayor reflects on first year in office

By Dennis Minich
Harrisonville Mayor Judy Bowman just completed her first year in office. When running for the seat in 2019, she campaigned on a promise of opening the city for business and she said first steps have been taken to make that vision a reality.


“I think the voters said they wanted a forward-thinking, visionary board with a dream for growth. We are developing that plan and I think we have the right staff to carry out policies of a forward-thinking board. Having the right staff is a key to getting it done,” Bowman said.


On her first night in office, she accepted the resignation of city attorney John Fairfield, a move she deemed an important first step.

“We had a city attorney with no experi ence representing a city the size of Harrisonville,” Bowman said. “We were receiving some very questionable legal advice and it led to problems we have had to solve.

“We brought in Steve Mauer as an interim attorney, an attorney with 20-plus-years experience and familiarity with the city’s background.”


She said the board will be posting for a permanent city attorney in the near future.


The next step she said was hiring the city administrator, Brad Ratliff, who had served in a similar capacity in Peculiar.


“He had experience in growing a city,” she said. “He has contacts in the state, county and the area. He has the experience to help carry my vision of moving Harrisonville forward.”


She said the remainder of the staff has performed well. Only one other director has left the city, Marcella McCoy, finance director, who accepted another position elsewhere. The city will likely also lose city clerk Randy Jones in the next few months as he is running unopposed for the county administrator position.

“He will make a wonderful county administrator,” Bowman said. “He is such a kind and wonderful person. The county will be lucky to have him as public administrator, but it does mean we will have to look for a new city clerk.”

Bowman said one of the keys to improving the city is taking care of employees, something which was recently accomplished with a new health insurance plan. The city had been part of a municipal plan and last year rates and deductibles skyrocketed for the both the city and the employees. The city severed its relationship with the group and using Stafford and Stafford as a broker came up with a new plan with United Healthcare, which will save the city and employees significant dollars.

“The employees’ rates went up 26 percent and the city paid a lot more. We eliminated the position of airport director and used that entire salary to make up part of the difference. Under our new plan, the staff’s cost is going down and the city will save $32,000. Stafford and Stafford approached the former mayor and administrator with a similar idea two years ago. The city could have saved a lot of money, but no action was taken,” Bowman said.

Development

Bowman said, “We need young families with children. We have families moving out of town and going to places like Lee’s Summit and Raymore because we don’t have the housing they are looking for. Our schools are shrinking and that is whey they are asking for a levy increase to maintain services.


“We have had land developers come in and make inquiries, but after meeting with the city they have left with the perception Harrisonville is closed for business. We need to change that. We need houses that teachers and employees can buy, but we also need homes for managers and executives. When we get a new industry, we need to have homes the
owners can move into, not have them move to Lee’s Summit.”


In order to learn what developers need, Bowman set up a development review team.


“Brad (Ratliff) and I met with five local home builders, who commented it was the first time they had ever been contacted for input from the city. We asked them what would be necessary to get things going. First off, they were very complimentary of our codes department.

“But they talked about a variety of items including fees and that is something we will look into,” she said.


She added the development review team will meet with prospective builders and various city agencies including codes, engineering, the fire department, everyone involved in the codes process so that all questions can be answered at one time, up front to help builders know what is expected of them.


She said the next step will be to visit with developers who work in the area, but not necessarily in Harrisonville, to see what might attract them to town.
She said part of the improvement within the codes department is consistent application.

“In the past, there was inconsistent applications. Now the staff is comfortable with the rules and know the city will back them up,” she said.

She noted several instances of old homes being torn down and new con struction planned as part of an effort to clean up the city. She added it is
important the city have strategic partnerships, including the school district
and the business community.

“It is like a three-legged stool, the city, the schools and the business
community. We all have to be pulling the same direction for the city to move forward,” Bowman said.


She noted the city has already benefited from its new approach as symbolized by Cedar Hurst, the new $10 million-plus senior living and memory care facility going in near Cass Regional Medical Center. Besides the construction jobs and employees of the facility, there will be nearly $250,000 in utility payments made to the city as a result of the building as
well as demolishing the former tractor dealership which has fallen into disrepair.

Flooding

Bowman said she was limited in what she could say because of pending litigation, but she did say the city has tried to work with every agency which
could lend a hand.


“We sat down at this table (in the council chamber) with state representatives, our state senator, MoDOT, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, SEMA, GIS, DNR and discussed what can be done. People in town are frustrated and I understand that,” she said. “We had a public meeting scheduled and as soon as the social distancing rules are eased, we will have the meeting with each of those groups available so residents can talk to each and every one ofthem and try to get their questions answered.”

She said she hopes the meeting willtake place in May or early June.

Aldi’s

One of the major questions which continues to spring up is whether the an-
nounced Aldi’s Store on Westchester Lane is still coming. She said the plans
have not changed.

“I have had individuals ask if the store is still coming and the answer is yes.
There is no truth to the rumors they have backed out. We checked recently and their plans are the same as when they first met with us, to start construction this fall and open in the spring or early summer of 2021,” Bowman said.


There have also been rumors about the tax status of the store, if it is part of a TIFF district or not. Bowman said the city has been in discussions with Commerce Bank which holds the bonds and said the tax situation is still to be determined.

COVID-19

The Coronavirus outbreak has been setback for the city and Bowman said it will be some time before the full impacts are known. She said the city has been working with utility customers to help during the crisis and said the city will do whatever it can to help.


From a business standpoint, she said Ratliff did a good job of preparing the
city.

“He did an excellent job and had a four-phase plan ready to institute depending on what came from the governor’s office. We have plans to have some people work from home, to split schedules to allow social distancing,” she said.

Ratliff will also be working to help recoup some of the city’s losses.

“He is well connected and knows where help will be coming from the federal and state governments and is making sure staff keeps all related receipts so we can recover as much as possible,” Bowman said.


She said overall she is pleased with the city’s response to the virus.


“You look at the numbers and it looks like Harrisonville has had issues, but other than the one nursing home, there has only been one case and there’s been one case in the rural area. We will follow the governor’s orders, but I think it is important to set a schedule so our businesses can safely get back up and running. We have got to get people back to work,” she said.

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