Lenexa State of the City Address
February 20, 2013
I would like to begin by thanking the Lenexa Chamber for hosting today’s luncheon. If memory serves me correctly, this is the 11th consecutive State of the City luncheon sponsored by Kansas City Power and Light, and I would like to thank them for their continued support as well. Finally, I would like for you to join me in thanking the Sheraton Hotel and staff for providing us with great service and a nice lunch.
As I noted, this is my 11th annual state of the city luncheon, and I just completed my 10th full year as mayor of Lenexa this past January. I thought that I would change things up a bit this year and begin with a look back before the traditional review of the previous year.
During my tenure as mayor, we’ve been a part of significant change in Lenexa - starting with the elected leadership of the community.
As many of you know, I was elected by the City Council to complete the final three months of Mayor Bowman’s term when she resigned due to health concerns.
Only three faces remain on the city council from that time. Diane Linver, who was first elected in 1989, has served 24 years on the council and by virtue of being unopposed this election cycle, will continue to serve another four-year term; Tom Nolte, who first joined the council in 1995, has served the city for 18 years; and Amy Slater, who was first elected in 1999 and is now serving in her 14th year. I believe Amy has the distinction of being elected four times without opposition! Amy, Tom and Diane continue to serve as the strong link to our past and a rudder of stability for the council.
Andy Huckaba was appointed to fill the remaining few months of my term, which ended in April of 2003. Andy has been re-elected by the voters three times and now has 10 years of service.
In July of 2004, Dick Dyer retired from JCCC and moved to a neighboring community. Cindy Green was appointed to the council in August of 2004, was affirmed by the voters in 2009, and served until December of 2010, when she accepted a position as the district representative for U.S. Senator Jerry Moran.
Tragedy first struck the city in April of 2009 with the passing of longtime councilmember Jane Klein. Joe Karlin was appointed to represent Ward 2. The appointment has been affirmed by the citizens, as Joe is unopposed for re-election this election cycle.
Tragedy struck the city a second time in the fall of 2009 with the passing of John Ramsey after 14 years of service. Steve Lemons was appointed to represent the residents of Ward 2 in December of 2009 and was affirmed by the voters in the 2011 election.
In November of 2009, Dan Sullivan resigned from the council, down-sizing to Mission Hills. Veteran councilman Lou Serrone, who previously served the city on the council from 1989 to 1997 was appointed to fill the remainder of the term and is currently running for re-election in Ward 3. If you’re a resident of Ward 3, please remember to vote in the city primary election next Tuesday.
Finally, as previously noted, upon Cindy Green’s departure from the Council, Mandy Stuke was appointed to the council in February of 2011 and has been affirmed by the electorate in 2013, as she too is running for re-election unopposed.
I went through that historical exercise not to highlight the change but to celebrate the fact that Lenexa, over the years, and especially in the last 10 years, has been blessed with a dynamic group of leaders who respect the past and adapt to the challenges as they are presented. Regardless of the composition of the elected officials, Lenexa has continued to be served by a group of caring, selfless individuals who focus on doing the right things at the right times.
They study and discuss; they focus on the issues and not the personalities; and they make the tough decisions - always in the best interest of the city – and in the end, support the decisions of the majority. I cannot tell you how proud I am to serve with these outstanding men and women, and I ask that you join me in thanking them for their service today. I believe these appointments are the most notable accomplishments of my tenure as your mayor.
Elected officials weren’t the only leaders changing in Lenexa the past 10 years. Only one department head remains in the same position with the city as they were when I became mayor in 2003, and that is Cindy Harmison, who will celebrate her 25th year with the city and 17th year in the position as city attorney in December. Congratulations Cindy!
After 10 months on the job, I received a telephone call from then-City Administrator David Watkins, who had served the City of Lenexa the previous 19 years. David informed me that he was a finalist for the city manager position in Auburn, Ala., and wanted to tell me personally, as the following day, he would participate in a community-wide interview, and the news of his candidacy would be public at that time. As most of you know, David accepted the position and returned to the city of his Alma Mater shortly thereafter.
Tom Kaleko was appointed the interim city administrator for Lenexa, and a search committee was put in place to fill the vacancy. In June of 2004, we appointed Eric Wade to lead the city into the future. Eric had a monumental task ahead of him in what I refer to as a “John Wooden Moment” – he had to follow a legend in local city management here in Lenexa. As with any great leader, Eric spent much of the first year listening, getting to know the elected officials and the staff, and learning the more about Lenexa. As a current resident and a former member of the Johnson County staff, Eric was well positioned to take the helm.
Over the next 9 years, there was significant change in the management team. Seven of the eight department heads retired from the city and were replaced with three internal promotions and four new faces to the community.
- Ron Norris – replaced by Chuck Williams
- Kenny Hobbs – replaced by Dan Rhodus
- Dennis Howard – replaced by Doug Robinson
- John VanNice – replaced by Andrew Davey
- Roger Kroh– replaced by Dave Knopick who went to the private sector, before being replaced by Beccy Yocham, who joined the city in 1997 in the Legal Department and was named department head for Community Development in 2012
- Bill Nicks – replaced by Gary Ristow
- Ellen Hanson – replaced by Tom Hongslo
With these changes, an enormous amount of institutional knowledge and experience stepped back, allowing the new leaders the opportunity to stand on the foundation of good works of their predecessors, and through innovation and new ideas, further the great works of the city. These professionals, both retired and active, represent what is good about local government and exemplify the true meaning of public service.
Before moving on, I’d like to take this opportunity to recognize and thank Ellen Hanson, who retired in October of 2012, for her more than 37 years of service (21 years as chief) to the City of Lenexa.
We also accomplished a number of projects in the city that continue to enhance Lenexa’s reputation as a premier community to live, work and raise a family.
- Lenexa Conference Center (2004)
- New Municipal Services Center
- New Parks building
- Blackhoof Park improvements
- Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park improvements
- Prairie Star Parkway Bridge
- City Center/87th Street
- Central Green project
- Indian Trails, Ad Astra and Flat Rock Creek Pools
- KCP& L streetlight purchase
- Fire Stations 3 and 5
- Mize Lake
Let’s just say, there are a significant number of accomplishments impacting each of us in a different manner, and I will let you review the list and prioritize their relative importance through the lenses of your mind’s eye.
Finally, I’d like to share some demographic and budget items from the last 10 years:
Comparing 2003 to 2013:
General Fund Budget
For the 10-year period, the General Fund budget increased by $10.6 million, or 23 percent, when including the 3/8-cent sales tax increase approved by the voters in 2008. Excluding the 3/8-cent sales tax increase, the general fund increased just 12 percent for the 10-year period. We have held the line on staffing levels, been prudent with your tax dollars, and based on our Direction Finder surveys, have continued to provide high quality services to our residents and business community.
While talking numbers, I want to confirm that city leadership remains focused on our budgeting efforts and borrowing costs. At no time in history has the city’s finances been in such a strong position. Structural deficits common a few years ago are no longer of immediate concern. Adequate reserves are in place to weather uncertain economic times and to take advantage of opportunities to leverage state and federal dollars. And, as a result of sound financial management, we continue to borrow at the lowest interest rates available due to our continued AAA bond rating from Moody’s Investors.
More than ever, our partnerships with the Lenexa Economic Development Council and the Lenexa Chamber of Commerce allow us to attract new investment in Lenexa. Use of our expanded economic development tools grows our business base and encourages reinvestment in the community. Our tax abatement policy is tight and focused on bringing quality development and high-paying jobs to Lenexa.
Our Neighborhood Improvement Districts continue to attract reinvestment in older parts of the community, and the effects of our first Community Improvement District at Orchard Corners Shopping Center are evident in the updated center, which now includes national retailers like Nordstrom Rack and SteinMart.
As we look back at 2012, a number of things come to mind that made it another special year.
Inspired by Vision 2020 and reaffirmed by Vision 2030, we continue to implement the Rain to Recreation program, and in doing so, we are a model for America. Just last week, we hosted an EPA tour group focused on Lenexa’s approach to storm water management. Signature projects that have been completed in the last 10 years include Mize Lake, Lake Lenexa, the Central Green at City Center, and a number of best management practices along our trails and roadways.
We continue to invest and make progress at City Center. Public investments have been made on Renner; 87th Street through City Center has been redesigned and rebuilt in a divided manner; and Central Green has been completed. Private investments have been made, including the West End Apartments, Cross Point Creek single-family residential cottages, and Lifetime Fitness. You can keep up to date on the happenings at City Center on the city’s new website, www.lenexacitycenter.com .
Two significant developments occurred at City Center in 2012 and continue into 2013.
As you know, Perceptive Software announced its decision to make City Center the location for their world headquarters, and I cannot tell you how fulfilling it was to sit down with Perceptive CEO Scott Coons and hear him say “We are coming to Lenexa, and we want to be a part of the City Center vision.” If that wasn’t enough, Scott challenged us to remain steadfast in our vision to make City Center a special place. Perceptive broke ground earlier this month on the two 120,000-square-foot office buildings that comprise phases 1 and 2 of a planned four-phase development.
Lenexa received more good news when Lenexa-based B.E. Smith announced that they were expanding at Lenexa City Center East. B.E. Smith is another national leader, specializing in executive and management recruitment for the healthcare industry. They have purchased the office building in City Center East and invested heavily on a tenant finish to provide Class-A space for their associates and visitors.
In addition to investing in the building, Doug Smith is working diligently to fill the first floor with quality restaurants. We are excited about the news that a letter of intent has been signed with the investors of the Grand Street Caf& to bring a quality sit-down restaurant to Lenexa. I would like to thank Doug for believing in City Center, making a significant investment in our community and helping us solve a lingering issue for Lenexa.
“We need more quality restaurants in Lenexa” is the number one concern that I receive from residents in Lenexa, and when Grand Street Caf& joins The Blue Moose, Spin Pizza, Brewbakers, and the proposed Grinders on Pflumm, we’ll be well on our way to addressing that issue.
While these signature projects receive media attention, the city and the Lenexa Economic Development Council worked hard during 2012 on over 20 projects that accounted for over 2,000 new and retained jobs and over $70 million in new capital investment in Lenexa. This listing details a number of these success stories:
- AirMass, LLC
- Apollo Surgical Group
- Arrow Manufacturing
- AxelaCare Health Solutions
- CEVA Biomune
- Combat Brands
- Gear for Sports
- Jack Henry
- Mortgage Research Center
- Perceptive Software
- Ryan Transportation
- Shawnee Mission Medical Center
- Suture Express
- Wachter Inc.
- Zell-Metall USA
We completed a number of capital improvement projects in 2012, with the renovated damn and spillway at Rose’s pond in Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park, the opening of Flat Rock Creek pool, and the completion of 87th Street Parkway from Pflumm to I-435. While the 87th Street project seemed to drag on and on, I need to compliment Phil Eilers with HNTB on a job well done – on budget and on schedule.
Growth and change are constants in Lenexa, but through it all, our goal is to keep Lenexa one of the best places in the nation to live, work, and play. Our effort to sustain that goal was once again validated by an outside source, when Bloomberg Business Week named Lenexa one of the 51 “Best Places to Raise Kids in America” earlier this year.
Bloomberg evaluated more than 3,200 cities nationwide using criteria such as safety, housing costs, commute times, poverty, median income, and of course, public education. Our many festivals were also cited in the report.
We continue to evaluate our festivals and expect great things from our Parks and Recreation Department in the coming years. The Spinach Festival will celebrate its 30th year, and the Freedom Run will celebrate its 35th year in 2013. In June, Waterfest will be incorporated in a nation-wide initiative encouraging people to “get out and play” at Blackhoof Park, and the reworked Enchanted Forest and Holiday Lighting events will be expanded at Sar-Ko-Par Traila Park.
We continue to be blessed with a great staff that are not only dedicated to the City of Lenexa but also to their profession, as you can see by the large number of staff members that lead boards and committees and continue to receive recognition for their good works.
Of special note, the Fire Department and Municipal Services both had their accreditation status affirmed for another five-year period.
As we look ahead to 2013 and beyond, we look forward to additional investment in Lenexa. Recently, plans for new streets were approved to open a new business park at 99th and Renner on the surface of the Meritex subsurface park. Block Real Estate Services is moving ahead with plans to construct additional buildings at College and Strang Line Road, and with the improving economy, we have a number of investors interested in projects in the City Center area.
In addition, plans are underway to move the civic center at City Center forward. Discussions are underway with potential community partners for the project, and we are hopeful that the delays caused by various government partner budget concerns from 2008 through the present are behind us. The good news is that we now have $8 million reserved in the bank for the project and our borrowing needs will be greatly reduced.
In the next 90 days, we should have direction from KDOT on the 95th Street and I-35 interchange project as to whether the project will be included in the Johnson County Gateway project or be constructed as a stand-alone project. Plans are to rebuild the intersection using a diverging diamond design, which will significantly reduce the costs as the existing bridge structure will be repurposed, and the design will greatly improve traffic circulation.
It truly is an honor and privilege to serve as your mayor. Thanks again to the Chamber, Kansas City Power & Light, and the Sheraton, for making today possible. And thank you all for being here and for the part you play in making Lenexa a premier community.