Last week, recently elected Independence City Commissioners Louis Ysusi and Leonhard Caflisch received an inside perspective into the operations of municipal government and had the opportunity to walk in the shoes – and the gear - of city employees, literally. The two officials, Ysusi a first-time commissioner and Caflisch a returning incumbent set to begin his second term, participated in a thorough orientation with city leaders Tuesday and Wednesday, covering everything from A to Z (Administration to Zoo operations).
Independence City Manager Craig Whitehead said he organized the orientation to provide the two commissioners with a full understanding of the day-to-day operations and challenges in the city for which they will be responsible for policy making and legislative action.
“Our objective was to make sure the commissioners fully understand their role in relation to city government and are equipped to make well-informed decisions on policies and issues that affect the entire community,” Whitehead said. “It was also an opportunity to showcase our fine staff and the good work they do every day.”
The commissioners participated in an opening session with City Attorney Jeff Chubb to discuss the city manager-commission form of government and how it functions. They also sat down with the city’s leadership team of Whitehead, Assistant City Manager/Zoning Administrator Kelly Passauer, City Clerk/Finance Director Mike Borovetz and Safety and Code Enforcement Director David Cowan to learn more about each leader’s background and daily responsibilities within the organization.
Over the course of the two-day orientation, Ysusi and Caflisch also had the opportunity to meet with Public Works Director Mike Passauer; Utilities Director Terry Lybarger; Police Chief Jerry Harrison and Captain Lisa Helkenberg; Fire/EMS Chief Shawn Wallis; Independence Housing Authority Director April Nutt; and Park & Zoo Director Barb Beurskens. The orientation included tours of city facilities, including the Police/Dispatch area, the Fire/EMS apparatus facility, water treatment plant, wastewater treatment plant, sanitation yard, street office, properties managed by the Housing Authority and the park and zoo.
“My hope is our commissioners came away with a fuller understanding of city operations and a reinforced confidence in the capabilities of our team,” Whitehead said.
Commissioner Caflisch said he appreciated the opportunity to review the policies and procedures regarding the operation of the city government, and the orientation also reinforced the need for teamwork among the commissioners and Whitehead to address long-standing issues, particularly facility maintenance.
“I appreciate City Manager Whitehead's method of orientation for newly elected City Commissioners,” Caflisch said. “While reviewing the numerous city facilities, it became evident of the need to keep in mind the necessity to plan for the smaller details of maintenance. It is easy to allow the larger elements of City operations to overshadow the need to repaint, repair and upgrade our facilities. The current condition of our existing City Hall makes it clear that the city commission and city manager must become a team to prevent this type of neglect from continuing. It is our responsibility to the citizens of Independence that the governing body become more accountable to them in management of their assets.”
Commissioner-elect Ysusi agreed that the tours revealed extensive needs for facility improvements and upgrades. He also said he found the interaction with department directors beneficial, but finds it disappointing that such direct exchange will be restricted once he takes office, according to protocols of the city’s form of government.
“It is unfortunate that this is the only time city commissioners will be able to sit down and direct questions to the department heads and staff,” he noted. “Communication (with city employees) is not a two-way street once the commissioners take oath. Any concerns the commissioners may have are directed to and handled by the city manager.”
Under the city manager-commission form of government, Whitehead explained, strict protocols are in place outlining the chain of command from the commission to the city manager to city staff to prevent inappropriate influence on the hiring, promotion, compensation and discipline of employees.
Regardless of the challenges, Ysusi said he is ready to tackle his new role.
“I'm happy to have been elected, and I look forward to serving the community and helping move the city forward,” he said.
Whitehead acknowledged the commissioners’ concerns and pledged an open line of communication will be maintained with all three commissioners going forward to enable all entities to work together toward appropriate solutions for facility improvements and all legislative and policy issues facing the city.