Leaders and leadership take many different forms in Lee’s Summit. Really, in any city of any size.
For better or worse, the 80/20 or the 90/10 rules often apply when it comes to community engagement driving financial or political forces, as well as with overall involvement. That is, 80-90 percent of your work is done by 10-20 percent of the people.
While I don’t have a specific gauge of that number here in Lee’s Summit, what I do know is that volunteerism, activism, engagement and just good, ol’ boots-on-the-ground work is alive and well here.
So when our newly-elected Mayor Bill Baird — being fair, he has been in office less than 100 days — lobbed out seriously baffling and, in some cases, inaccurate statements about our Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council and Downtown Main Street, it turned a lot of heads. And rightfully so.
Downtown Lee’s Summit Board President Dave Eames and Executive Director Donnie Rodgers penned a response letter to Baird regarding his assertion that the “Downtown leadership has never responded” in 30 days of contact and that members of the board or staff were openly “mocking” members of the council.
Since we (thankfully) didn’t get a deeper dive on that, we are only to assume that questions or criticisms coming from this organization have somehow offended one or more of the council members. That seems awfully short-sighted and thin-skinned. Citizens, board members, whomever, have a right and responsibility to question our government.
For an organization that has worked so hand-in-hand with City Hall — their offices have for decades been literally feet apart — it is hard to fathom that being the case. DLSMS leaders were rightfully muddled about Baird’s statements. And when noting the investor base for downtown, the mayor also shortchanged the businesses that financially give to the betterment of the heart of Lee’s Summit. As of this column, Downtown Main Street has more than 142 investors, far more than the 106 quoted. And of that group, 100 are businesses, individuals and families in downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Those impressive numbers reveal this: not only do the downtown businesses find investment in downtown important, but more than 50 businesses outside of the core do as well.
Baird finished his curious thoughts on downtown saying, “The more success downtown has had, the more the organization has isolated itself.”
To that, we should simply remind him of this: Downtown Lee’s Summit draws volunteers from all corners of Lee’s Summit — including a massive group of the largest church in Lee’s Summit that keeps our district spotless during Downtown Days. Not to mention it boasts investors of all sizes, from Longview Community College to the hospitals and Paradise Park to Summit Bank of Kansas City.
People, dollars and passion for downtown do not point to isolation.
But the theme of seclusion carried over, unfortunately, to the Chamber of Commerce, another target that evening.
Our Mayor, who has always been involved in Chamber activities, board work and in hosting an annual after-hours event, said the Chamber’s board is heavily influenced by too small of a group of people.
“It’s time for us to shed once and for all the brand of being cliquish. We can no longer be a Chamber that is operating under the direction of the perceived few instead of the many.”
These types of statements are startling for many reasons. First, there are 25 board members making decisions for the Chamber and overseeing a talented staff that works to bring more than 1,000 members together to network, do business and legislate for the betterment of our community.
But even more compelling is the fact that there are 10 Chamber committees and four task forces with more than 300 unique men and women that do the on-the-ground volunteer work driving the day-to-day mission of the Chamber. These include the likes of the Health & Human Services, Business Development Council, Government Relations and Education committees.
When he aimed at EDC, the message was “we’re just not on the same page.” Of course, that was the takeaway theme for this 15-minute statement on these three organizations. That somehow, at some point, each was either not fulfilling its stated mission and/or they were ignoring members of the council in the process.
While tax dollars are a part of each of these entities, I find it a stretch to see where any elected official would step in to these board-run organizations (and damn talented boards at that — all filled with citizens, parents, investors, business owners and volunteers) and question their decision making, democratic processes and ethics.
The final fact-check is this: while a small sample size, many past chairs of all three have gone on to do continued, wonderful service to Lee’s Summit. Heck, some of them — like past EDC Chair Christine Bushyhead — was an elected official before she even became involved in EDC leadership.
It was refreshing to see Baird single out Diane Forte as an example of a leader brought up in our community. And it should be noted that both Ron Williams (1998) and Diane Seif (2007) were also chairs of the Chamber, both going on to serve in office.
And on that front, when we discuss the notions and conceptions of leadership, let us remember that leadership is all around us in Lee’s Summit. Whether or not a chair of an organization goes on to become an elected official is largely irrelevant. The stated goals of these organizations are clear. And, whether or not raising leaders is one of those stated goals, it happens with each committee member, board member and volunteer.
When I look back at the past five or six years of the Chamber’s Leadership Lee’s Summit graduates, I spot city councilmen like Rob Binney (after he was elected) and Beto Lopez (before his election). I see people already in leadership positions from MoDOT and St. Luke’s East hoping to further their skills and talents through the vision and programming provided by the Chamber. I see up-and-coming and longtime leaders like past chairs of Government Relations, members of various Rotary clubs, owners of small, family businesses and the head of the Lee’s Summit Educational Foundation.
In short: leadership isn’t measured by an election. We’ve seen plenty of elected officials never grow into leaders in Lee’s Summit.
Volunteers, committee members and board members from the EDC, Chamber and Downtown go on to lead in infinite ways in Lee’s Summit. Sometimes those roles are public. Other times, they may not be. The leadership skills they glean from being a part of these groups can be seen in our nonprofit organizations, in our HOAs, at the PTA level, at their churches or neighborhood groups.
These and other organizations in Lee’s Summit cultivate and foster talent with each hour of volunteerism, each dollar of giving and with each time they speak on behalf of a Chamber, an EDC or a Downtown that have helped grow this city into the envy of the Metro area.
And here is another byproduct of leadership: communication.
These topics at Council could have easily been tackled by the Mayor or Council members simply walking across the street for face time with their leaders.
Threatening to end funding at the dais isn’t the definition of leadership, either.
At the close of the June 28 Lee's Summit City Council meeting, City of Lee's Summit Government Mayor Bill Baird took time to defend himself and his City Council colleagues from recent public criticisms while also calling out members of the Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street, Lee's Summit Chamber of Commerce and Lee's Summit Economic Development Council organizations for not cooperating with the Council and not developing enough leaders who run for elected office. Watch the full 18:45 clip here.
In the latest issue of the city-produced magazine “Community Counts,” Baird wrote, “…the citizens of Lee’s Summit expect a government that is a reflection of the good people of Lee’s Summit.”
Citizens and volunteers get the work done and lead in Lee’s Summit. We ask that our elected officials reflect that in their leadership and their words.
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.