Imagine Shawnee - and What You Expect From Us.
The ongoing “Imagine Shawnee” strategic planning process is a necessary and long-overdue step towards creating an overall vision for who we want to be as a city. In reviewing the initial feedback, I think we’re hearing many ideas and concerns that I’ve heard as I’ve knocked doors over the last five months. In summarizing the findings of the many focus groups, the consulting firm found the following themes:
1. The parks and green space draw people to Shawnee.
2. People support public safety.
3. A sense of belonging is very important to people.
4. The geographic location is why people choose to live in Shawnee.
5. People feel very positive about living in Shawnee.
6. People desire more dining and entertainment destinations.
7. People see the need for expanding the commercial tax base.
8. People are concerned about the east/west divide in the city.
If you’ve lived in Shawnee for any period of time, this list probably doesn’t surprise you too much. These are the common-sense, practical responses that I expected from our residents, and I agree with them.
When asked what the City Council should focus their efforts on to help achieve this vision, residents cited:
1. Cast a bold and compelling vision
2. Develop a commercial tax base
3. Provide excellent governance
4. Promote innovation
I’d like to dig into each of these a bit.
Cast a bold and compelling vision.
This visioning process is helpful in that it provides data-driven parameters within which the city should work, but in order to be successful, we must have elected leadership who can listen to that resident feedback and input…and then put it into action. We cannot – nor should we – expect our residents to do our job and provide a detailed plan. That is why they’ve elected us. To lead. We need someone who can help to find consensus and collaboration among the council, while acting as an active voice for the citizens and ambassador for the city (as much of this vision will likely involve strategic growth within a regional setting).
My opponent has a different viewpoint on this, choosing to serve more as a scribe in this process than a consensus builder, and has yet to offer her thoughts on where the city should go, or how we should get there.
Develop a commercial tax base.
This has been the very backbone of my campaign. We must correct the disparity in our tax base and relieve the burden on our residential homeowners. This can only happen by making a conscious effort to engage in the regional economic development conversation and actively promote our city outside of the boundaries of Shawnee. We must have a seat at the regional table. We have a great and compelling story, and we should not be afraid to tell it.
My opponent does not believe we should ever compete with other municipalities, preferring instead that we should “be the best Shawnee we can be". That is impossible to achieve if we are complacent and wait for new business to come to us. We can maintain our unique identity while also securing our financial future.
Provide Excellent Governance.
Residents want to know that we’re being good stewards of their tax dollars and making smart decisions to set the city up for success in the long-term. This includes both transparencies, as well as project implementation and completion – do we say what we’re going to do, and how and when we’re going to do it? Are we providing a consistent, stable direction? My educational and professional background involves a great deal of public sector management, including a master’s degree in public administration (the degree city managers typically must have), and I am ready to hit the ground running for you.
While my opponent has increased the opportunities to speak to the mayor, she has also empowered individuals who regularly attack staff and undermine the city's ability to get the job done. And the Nieman Road project is a clear example of the need for stronger executive oversight. The buck must stop with the mayor.
Johnson County (and the broader Kansas City metro) is a competitive region, and in order to attract and retain residents and businesses, it is important that we continuously look for opportunities to innovate. This can mean in how we conduct our city business (Is an 8:00 am to 5:00 pm brick and mortar city hall still relevant? Are there new, more effective techniques of monitoring infrastructure needs?), but also in how we provide services to our residents. To do this, we must be students of the broader municipal and private sector trends and engage in these important conversations.
To put it simply, my opponent does not believe that looking beyond our city borders is a priority or the role of the mayor. She does not engage in regional economic development efforts, the Kansas League of Municipalities, or the National League of Cities – all organizations dedicated to fostering collaboration, innovation, and best practices within this setting. We cannot innovate if we isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.
Overall, I have been heartened by the participation in this process, and I hope as we work through the feedback and additional focus sessions that we continue to look for opportunities to engage residents and solicit input, as ultimately, we want to implement a strategic plan that reflects our shared identity and where we collectively want to go, incorporating all segments of our population, and neighborhoods in our city.
In the end, this should be just the first step in a greater focus on long-term planning for Shawnee, to be followed by our comprehensive plan, which has not seen a meaningful update since 1987. For too many years, we’ve operated without a road map of how we want our city to grow and adapt, and I think it’s hurt us – both in terms of development, and maintenance of our aging infrastructure. With resident and business input, coupled with strong leadership by our governing body, I am confident that we can set the course for a successful and thriving future.