The Community Center.
For most of the last year, the Shawnee Community Center has been the topic that has dominated conversations across the city. Whether you were in support of the project or passionately opposed, the votes have been counted, and the decision made. We as a city now need to discuss what happens next, and I would like to offer some context for how we should do so:
1. The decision to put the proposal on the ballot was not made in a vacuum, nor was it a divided vote. All but a single member of the governing body made the decision to allow our residents to determine the outcome, based upon many years of citizen surveys, studies, and community dialogue. Letting the voters decide is always the right decision.
2. In order to provide the complete picture to the voters, the city (again, at a near unanimous vote) hired an architect and construction firm to craft a real plan for the residents—not just a concept. As we’ve seen in other cities, we didn’t want anyone to vote for a project expecting one outcome and then receive another. Transparency is always the right decision.
3. I supported the plan. A community center has been the single greatest request of the residents of my ward in my six years on council, and as their representative, I would be remiss in my duty not to advocate for that on their behalf. I will always be forthcoming with you regarding my viewpoints, even and especially when I may have supported a different outcome. Honesty and accountability will always be the right decision.
4. Forty-six percent of our resident voters weighed in on this proposal, which is incredible! It makes no sense that we would not be reaching back out to these individuals (and even those who didn’t vote) to determine the next steps: what they didn’t like about the plan, what they did, and how to best move forward with consensus. Facilitating this discussion is the precise role of a leader. Learning from our mistakes is always the right decision.
5. My opponent had every opportunity to speak out against moving forward with this project (or in support of it) and did not. As the leader of the city, it is the mayor’s responsibility to do just that: lead. Where was the current mayor during the largest facility proposal our city has ever seen? Sitting silently on the sidelines (while staff was being routinely attacked). And following the vote, my opponent has had every opportunity to bring the community back together and learn from this experience and has not. Building a true community consensus will only happen with a leader who leads.
I still believe there is incredible value in having a strong Parks and Recreation system in our community. I’m guessing many of you do, as well. We enjoy a wonderful quality of life here in Shawnee, and community amenities are certainly an important component. The 2019 plan was obviously not the right one, so let’s find one that is, and do it together. It is an incredible waste of knowledge and resources to simply pretend as though the vote never happened. Instead, we must learn from the engagement and participation to move forward together.
Maybe it’s an outdoor pool. Maybe it includes additional bike paths and sidewalks throughout our city. Maybe it includes more services at the Civic Centre. And maybe it means that we hold on all of these efforts until our business tax base has grown to accommodate a different funding stream, or key partnerships have been identified. But none of it can happen by burying our heads in the sand and not gathering feedback and taking it to heart. I welcome the opportunity to lead on this issue and more—not to achieve my objectives but to achieve our city’s objectives.
Let me be very clear: there is no one on our governing body arguing that we should move forward with the plan as it was. And there is no one on our governing body who advocated for increasing taxes to build the project without a public vote. We wanted to hear from you. We still want to hear from you. To the extent there is a "better way", let's identify the specifics of it. Rather than vilifying our hard-working staff, or standing silent as our current mayor has, let's help them and us take new steps forward.
In the months following the community center vote, the issue has been invoked in regard to every decision that needs to be made moving forward, from stormwater and even to the non-discrimination ordinance. This is a red-herring tactic used to distract and divide us, with the intent of driving short-term election results in favor of candidates who will cut our city’s budget to the bone and leave us even further behind our peers. This will only serve to drive away businesses and increase our already high tax burden in the long-term.
I urge you to join me in rejecting these divisive and unproductive tactics. We are better than that. Shawnee deserves better than that. Let's move forward together - as one city.