Bill Baird’s opening move as mayor of Lee’s Summit came as quite a surprise to those who watch the political process both up close and from afar.
With the change to the City Charter requiring Baird be the sole decider for who will serve as Mayor Pro Tem. (Before the Charter changes took effect, the position was voted on by council and was, for years, used as a political volleyball, hot potato and bargaining chip in ways that severely hurt the process.) Baird went straight to the media via the city communications office to announce that Jose “Beto” Lopez would be his second-in-command.
The position is largely ceremonial. For Randy Rhoads’ nearly eight years in office, whomever was serving as the Pro Tem rarely had much more to do than recommend committee assignments (another grossly politicized process) and fill in at the center chair on the rare, rare occasion Rhoads wasn’t in his seat.
The Pro Tem decision must have certainly come as a shock to leadership in the police and fire unions as they offered support (tepid at times in the case of the Lee’s Summit Police union after her “no” vote on the compensation plan in March) for Lopez’s District 3 opponent and incumbent, Diane Seif.
And while it doesn’t necessarily behoove the union leadership to have a friendly face at Pro Tem, Baird’s first real act as mayor shows he isn’t beholden to any group or organization, regardless of the massive spending and support during the election.
The move also shows faith in a new politician who, quite plainly, was out counting every last vote on Election Day en route to a razor-thin win over Seif.
The whole dynamic of the council changed with Lopez’s victory. While a split Council could still be a reality — politically speaking — bringing Lopez in as a decision-maker likely made much more sense to Baird than his other options. Naming Bob Johnson, Phyllis Edson or Craig Faith as Pro Tem would have done nothing to show that Baird is willing to work with both sides.
If that truly is his message, the unions, political followers and residents should take clear note. And even if Baird brought Lopez in as Pro Tem as a friendly vote and ally, alliances are often short-lived on our City Council. Johnson, Allan Gray, Ed Cockrell and many others who have come before and served in various roles on Council know this all too well.
In one of his first acts as newly elected mayor, Bill Baird has tabbed fellow newcomer Jose "Beto" Lopez to serve as Mayor Pro Tempore. Both have just begun their first terms as elected city officials. Lee's Summit Town Hall hosts Jason Norbury and Nick Parker chat a bit about this move, as well as their favorite civic-nerd topic, public incentives for development before bringing on now former Mayor Randy Rhoads for a short conversation and look back at his years of service to the Lee's Summit community.
The year Lopez will serve as Mayor Pro Tem will only enhance his first 12 months on council. The learning curve is steep for both Lopez and the new mayor. That’s where experience — well placed, genuine advice and expertise — from people like Johnson and former Pro Tem Rob Binney will be so critical.
We’ve asked this Council to defy the odds and not behave like past bodies. It’s a message they know, they’ve heard and, hopefully, will take with them into each meeting and every vote.
Does Baird have more curveballs for us? He just might. Like any good starting pitcher, he may strike out the side, get a little wild or even intentionally walk a few.
No matter what he’s doing on the mound, though, he has to trust in his teammates.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.