This week, we introduced candidates for the 1st District seat on the Lee's Summit City Council. By means of introduction, your Link 2 Lee's Summit has asked each candidate a series of questions as it relates to the business and economic growth of the city. Monday, we introduced incumbent council member Rob Binney, and on Wednesday, the first of his two challengers, Susan Coffman. The third candidate, Franklin Tatro declined to respond to questions from Link 2 Lee's Summit. Below are the responses from both Binney and Coffman.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: How do you feel the business environment has changed since the opening of the Development Center two years at City Hall?
Mr. Binney: When we put the Development Center in place at City Hall, there was a perception that Lee’s Summit wasn’t ‘open’ for business. From the small business owner wanting to put up a sign, to the large companies looking to build a building, make a product, and create jobs; the feeling was that it was difficult to do business in Lee’s Summit.
Since that time, we have taken some of the best personal from various departments and combined them, along with a new approach to working with business and individuals, that is a customer-centric process. In that time, we have seen several hundred projects now come to the Center, commercial development is very busy right now, and everyone is talking about the approach we put together. It took more than just City Council, it took great collaborative effort from many community partners, including the Chamber, the EDC, and Downtown Main Street.
Ms. Coffman: Because of the Development center more businesses have found our community attractive. I have heard many compliments during city council sessions from these businesses regarding the ease of establishing their businesses in our community. The EDC has been very active in selling our community to the business world. We have attracted businesses with higher paying jobs. Cerner is one example .
Link 2 Lee's Summit: What role do you see the City Council playing in the community's economic development endeavors?
Mr. Binney: In many ways, the Council has a role to set direction and policy, and then let the free market do what it does. A good example of that, is this Council has now put in place an Economic Development Incentive Policy. Previously, there was no policy and an applicant if interested in incentives, took a chance to come before the elected body, if they got through staff, and then hope the incentive got approved. Today, there are levels of expectations and parameters for someone in interested in incentives, and a clearly defined process on how to go about pursuing them.
Ms. Coffman: City Council is responsible for making sure the tax incentives are equitable. It is important that the Council balances the cost of Tax incentives with the benefit of improvements which might be made. Also, city council should be responsive to citizens when there are concerns about a business being located in their neighborhoods. Example of concerns that might need to be addressed are traffic and safety challenges.
One last thing regarding economic development. With transportation being one of the most problematic challenges for our entire community (Kansas City area) it is important to establish a competitive job market in our (Lee's Summit) community so that people can walk or bike to work. This is not only a desire of some millennials, but also a desire of experienced members of our community. Citizens want to live, work and play in this great suburb. The only way this can be done is by attracting the right kind of businesses.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: What is economic development to you? How do you define it?
Mr. Binney: Economic Development as an elected official is making sure that we are doing all we can, so that everyone knows that we want and welcome; the growth of existing businesses, the recruitment of new or moving businesses, and the launching of new businesses. That can be as simple as letting our existing businesses know how much we appreciate them and making possible incentives available, or showing up at Chamber ribbon cuttings so that a new business knows they are important to us, or even as with the Marketplace of Ideas, where the Council set a Citizen group in motion to find and help develop the things necessary for entrepreneurs and start-ups to grow.
Ms. Coffman: Economic Development is attracting sustainable businesses in our community. In order for our community to maintain the quality of life we have now, these businesses should offer competitive salaries with the region. It is also important to attract a variety of businesses in order to be attractive to our diverse population.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: As the Charter Review Commission looks at our City Charter, what, if any, changes to the Charter would you like to see made?
Mr. Binney: This will be the 2nd review of the Charter, which is now 20 years old. In that time, the city government has seen lots of changes, but the Charter itself has for the most part, served this City well. The political climate has changed, and there have been questions about City Manager role, Mayor’s role, Mayor Pro Tem, and even Councilmember’s roles. I think the group appointed to review the Charter can help determine the changes that might be needed.
Ms. Coffman: The City Council Districts are extremely large. I would advocate for either the districts being divided or additional council people per district so the citizens receive the representation they deserve. City Council members are doing an admiral job now, but there can always be improvement. Communication is always a challenge.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: What is the most fulfilling volunteer, board, commission or committee task you've performed in Lee's Summit in the last year, and why?
Mr. Binney: I think in the last year, and I will say the last 4 years now, has been that of City Councilmember. It is really eye-opening to see all of the things that go on in the City, that as normal citizens we can sometimes take for granted. From things like having clean drinking water, to great public safety professionals on watch 24/7, to a dependable system of roads, and public infrastructure.
Ms. Coffman: As chair of the Human Services Advisory Board, I have been fortunate to become involved with many of the nonprofits in this community who work tirelessly to address the needs of our less fortunate citizens. It is a rewarding experience to see them working together and to share resources in order to assist this population in reaching their highest potential.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: If elected, which liaison assignments would you seek?
Mr. Binney: I believe I have served on every Council Committee, and had several really engaging liaison roles, from Arts Council, Board of Aeronautic Commissioners, Public Safety Advisory Board, Liveable Streets, and more. I try and follow the ‘learn something new every day’ motto, and look forward to increasing my knowledge of all these citizen-led groups.
Ms. Coffman: I would like to be a liaison to Parks and Recreation or the Housing Authority.
Link 2 Lee's Summit: Day to day, what is the single most important quality of a city council member?
Mr. Binney: Patience..even after being elected, learning the ‘speed of government’ takes some work. Having always been in the private sector, I tend to think of things at the ‘speed of business’, and in this position you are working with and spending tax payers money. Sometimes, ideas take longer to be ‘proven out’ than one would think. It’s also important to get the decisions right. Oftentimes it is not always the loudest voice that has the best interest of the city at heart, and being able to sort through the issues, is critical.
Ms. Coffman: It is important on a day to day basis for council members to respect the ideas and concerns of others. They need to be great listeners and even though they might disagree with the stated concept it is important that they respect the opinion of the other person.