Mayor's Annual State of the City Address
Mayor's Annual State of the City Address

Mayor Michelle Distler's Annual State of the City Speech -- February 8, 2017

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. Thank you to the Chamber for hosting this today. The strong relationship between the City and the Chamber is valuable and something none of us take for granted. So thank you for having me here today.

This is now my second State of the City as Mayor of Shawnee and I am honored and humbled, as I’ve always been, to be in this position of representing all of you and this wonderful City of ours.

I was at a Chamber of Commerce coffee last month when the theme for this year’s State of the City just kind of came to me after being put on the spot by Mary Taylor. She insisted we go around the room and introduce ourselves and say a word that signified what we wanted to focus on for 2017. I had no idea! I have to think these things through and analyze everything. So I was put on the spot and the only thing I could come up with was the word "More". Both Julie Breithaupt and Dave Holtwick's heads spun around as they asked how I can possibly do more.

I want to do more, be more places, interact with our residents and businesses more and see Shawnee as a whole do more. This has been a tremendous year and we have accomplished so much. Today, I can only tell you a small part of all that we have done. But there is so much more I want to do! Our community has so much potential, and I want us to keep getting better every day. I quickly realized this wasn’t just a good word for ME to focus on for the New Year but for our entire City.

So believe it or not, there are MORE people than just ME who help get things done in Shawnee, right? I’d like to quickly introduce my fellow City Council members who join me in making big decisions that impact you and your lives.

We’ll go by seniority…whoever has MORE years, right?

Councilmember Dan Pflumm
Councilmember Mickey Sandifer
Councilmember Jeff Vaught
Councilmember Jim Neighbor
Councilmember Mike Kemmling
Councilmember Stephanie Meyer
Councilmember Eric Jenkins
Councilmember Brandon Kenig

Another round of applause for our Council and thank you for all you do.

So speaking of more, one thing I think we can all agree that we want more of is development. The group in this room gets that better than anybody. We’ve had some really good projects this year. Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange is constructing a 36,690 square foot professional office building on Renner Road and will be relocating their 60 employees to this new headquarters building. Summers, Spencer & Company, P.A., moved their offices to the BMO Harris building, and Citywide Electric is constructing a new 7,659 square foot building at 5911 Barton. Near the close of 2016, the second building at WestLink filled up with Amarr Company, and another nationally recognized company that we’ll be able to announce soon is committing to occupy over 160,000 square feet. Centra Care is about to complete their urgent care medical facility on the Parkway in the center with JoAnn Fabrics and Harbor Freight Tools. This shopping center received a new fašade in 2016, too. In other healthcare news, a “small hospital” has been approved for the northeast corner of 67th and Lackman.

We’ve also been glad to see a number of new retail and restaurant businesses…..

McAlister’s Deli opened a new restaurant on Shawnee Mission Parkway on the former site of Arrow Rents. Joining them very soon on the east part of this site will be Discount Tire.

Oishi Japanese Cuisine & Bar opened in the Ten Quivira Center and Mi Pueblito Meat Market opened in Westbrooke Village.

Panera Bread recently added a drive-thru to their building on the Parkway and The Other Place opened in western Shawnee in Shawnee Crossings.

Stag’s Creek is putting in a beautiful new building at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Goddard, giving our gateway the look it deserves. We have two new hotels under construction that will be bringing more people to Shawnee and who isn’t excited about B&B Theatre’s renovations? It is awesome to have a state-of-the-art theater right in our backyard.

Nieman Now is truly going to change the face of downtown Shawnee. Our hope is that this major makeover will boost business and attract new development while also making it even more of a place where people want to hang out, have a bite to eat and do some shopping. It’s a multi-million dollar investment that will not only enhance the look and feel of downtown Shawnee but it will also convert flooding streamways into green space and provide even more community connections between neighborhoods with more trails and paths. Nieman Now is one of those big projects that we will look back on decades from now and see what a solid commitment this was to our downtown and to making Shawnee even more than it is now.

Another development that we are really hoping has a bright future is Westbrooke Village at 75th and Quivira. As you’ve probably heard, a Kansas City firm called Mission Peak Capital bought Westbrooke and we have reached out to them to see how we can help support a vibrant and viable development for this area. This has long been a property residents have asked about and wanted to see change. We’re hopeful that something positive is on the horizon for that area.

Most of you in the room right now represent a Shawnee business. We have such great businesses, owners and workers in the City. We are honored that each of them has chosen to be here in Shawnee. So thank you and please know we appreciate your dedication to Shawnee. I am always committed to supporting our local businesses and look forward to doing even more of that this year.

But wait, there's more....

How about more books? More reading? More technology? We have that on tap too! Construction of the Monticello branch of the Johnson County Library will kick off this year out in western Shawnee and it is going to be a state of the art facility. These are just a couple shots of what it will look like but they are really working to attract young and old alike by offering more options than what you think of when you think of a standard library. It will feature cutting edge technology, a rooftop terrace and trails with interactive elements outside the building. The Monticello Library is just another example of new development that will help draw more people into our wonderful City.

And while we are talking about western Shawnee, you may have noticed crews are working now on the Clear Creek Parkway Project that will extend Clear Creek between Clare Road and K-7 Highway. This will not only allow for more beautiful neighborhoods, it will make it easier for people to drive to businesses out in that area. It’s going to be a beautiful road and will also have a trail for those wanting to walk or ride bikes as well. You’re getting it, right? More connectivity to bring more development.

Of course to support all these businesses and neighborhoods, we have to have solid infrastructure, including our stormwater system. Inspections show that nearly 31 percent, or about 57 miles, of the city’s pipes need to be either completely replaced or have major repairs. We had extensive discussions about this as we worked to put together the 2017 budget. Our Council worked together to make sure the City can fund those much-needed repairs and maintenance. We decided to raise the stormwater utility fee to help pay for that. That was a hard decision because we know it impacts families, churches and businesses but we also know that we will be able to fix more deteriorating pipes now and moving forward. This fee increase marked the first time we’ve had to raise it since 2006 but it is truly allowing us to put more emphasis on your safety and our community’s sustainability.

But wait, there's more.....

We obviously have to talk about our police department. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to reflect on what a tough year it was for law enforcement nationwide. These men and women truly put their lives on the line every single day. And this isn’t something they just sacrifice for themselves. It’s something their entire family sacrifices and it’s all so those officers can keep you and me and our families safe. It’s humbling, to say the least. I am often reminded of the dangers of their job as I witness them out doing their jobs. On my way to work the other day during the fog and black ice I saw them out working a multitude of accidents and I prayed for their safety in the dangers of that situation as I passed by. Fortunately, we are blessed to have an incredible community that surrounds our law enforcement with love and support. Sometimes I think Shawnee is the exception to the norm when it comes to how our citizens treat officers. There is a lot of mutual respect here that sadly doesn’t always happen in other cities. So I want to encourage and embrace more of that as our police department continues to grow.

As you’ve likely heard, we landed two big federal grants at the police department. One will help pay for five more police officers. That means more coverage, more safety and more security. The second grant is making it possible for every single officer to be outfitted with body cameras. That puts us on the leading edge of a trend that is sweeping police departments nationwide. Both of those grants required a local cash match and ongoing expenses. Once again, our Council made the decision to put your safety and security first when they approved and accepted both of those grants. We cannot stress enough that your safety is our top priority at the City of Shawnee. So anything we can do to make things more secure will come high on our list every time.

Our police department has really stepped up its game when it comes to community events. There have been several meet and greets with the public that have gone over extremely well. They’ve recently kicked off a series of seminars about a range of topics including personal safety and residential safety. And who could forget the amazing stories that came out of the Shawnee Secret Santa this year? Talk about heartwarming. That’s saying a lot that our anonymous donor thinks so much of our police to entrust them to hand out $10,000. Every officer I talked to who took part in it talked about how much that meant to them to be able to spread some joy during the holidays and to help give people a much needed hand up. Our police department is continually looking for new ways to do more for our community and, for that, we just can’t thank them enough.

But wait, there's more....

Big things are happening with our awesome Fire Department as well. We’ll be building Fire Station 74 in the northwestern part of Shawnee to make response times even faster and it will help us prepare, prevent and protect even better than we do now. The City is currently looking for the best spot for Station 74 and the hope is to have it up and running in 2018. And with a new fire station comes 12 more firefighters, more equipment and more life-saving coverage for our City. The Fire Department also teamed up with several other departments in Johnson County to land a $360,000 grant to help pay for self-contained breathing apparatus. This of course helps better protect our men and women who are risking their own lives while battling fires and working to rescue people from dangerous situations.

Connecting with our community is something we strive to do very well every day as a City. This past year, the Fire Department hosted our City Open House in 2016. That was the first time we’ve had an Open House in a number of years so we were very excited to bring that back.

But wait, there's more...

Our Public Works Department staff managed an amazing street maintenance program this year, completing nearly 62 miles of mill and overlay. That’s the equivalent of traveling from Shawnee to Topeka. They repaired more than 12 thousand feet of curbs and gutters and 28 hundred feet of sidewalk! Our Public Works crews continue to do an outstanding job of maintaining our 10,054 stormwater structures, 791 lane miles of streets, 58 signals, 241 crosswalks, 44 flashing beacon signs, 2,203 stop signs and 4,213 streetlights. They work around the clock when bad weather moves in… or even the THREAT of bad weather as we saw a few weeks ago with the major ice storm that fortunately didn’t happen. So thank a Public Works employee, the silent heroes of the city, the next time you see one! Their tireless work makes our lives easier every day…

But wait, there's more...

The Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund raised nearly $23,000 dollars this year. That’s more than we’ve ever raised and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of our residents and business community. That money benefitted two local organizations… the Shawnee Lions Club and Rebuilding Together Shawnee. That money will allow them to do more good for our children and for people in need.

We’ve had more interest and attendance than ever at quite a few of our community events from Christmas Around Town to the Scarecrow Festival. Of course we always have an amazing turnout for Old Shawnee Days, the Craft Fair, Great Grillers and the countless other events put on through the Civic Centre and Shawnee Town 1929. There are really too many to mention unless you all want to see a whole lot “more” of me than just at these events because I’d be up here for hours! These are the events that I hear people talking about all the time. How they are looking forward to it or how much fun they had or what special memories they are making by attending these things year after year. Our City should take great pride in playing a part in these community events that thousands of people will remember and talk about for years.

But wait, there's more...

Shawnee Town 1929 continues to draw in more visitors every year. We have accomplished a lot from the first ten year strategic plan, and last year the Council approved the strategic plan for the next ten years. You’ll be seeing some big changes outside these doors over the next several years including the construction of Fisher’s Chevrolet, Murphy’s Filling Station and Dr. Sullivan’s residence. Shawnee Town 1929 continues to be a unique attraction like no other in our area as it brings in thousands of people every year, young and old and from every walk of life. Thanks to the rock star staff and the amazing volunteers and donors, it truly is a crown jewel of our community.

As Mayor, something I always want to be doing more of is communicating directly with the people of Shawnee. I host Third Thursdays every month at the Civic Centre. We have a group of about 20 regulars, and also new faces every month, who come to those to get updates on what is happening in the City. I also do Quarterly Q&A’s and that’s been a great avenue to catch a different group of people who might not be able to come during the day. And I’m definitely working on even more opportunities to connect with the community whether it be more business tours or speaking at even more events.

You may have noticed we are focusing quite a bit more on social media and getting the word out about big City projects, meetings and events. In fact, from this time last year, we have nearly 2,500 more Facebook followers, nearly 1,200 more Twitter followers and nearly 7,000 people get our updates through Nextdoor. This is truly making it more convenient for our residents to get answers to their questions quickly and efficiently and also to just get informed on what is happening in Shawnee.

We are working on building and launching a new website this year. It is one that is being designed with the main purpose of making information at the City of Shawnee easier to access for our residents.

We continue to build more relationships with our community and our schools. One example of this is how our police department has been working with Mill Valley High School Journalism Students to produce videos to promote safety in our City. One of the videos addressed an ongoing problem of folks warming up their cars and leaving them empty and unlocked. So let’s take a quick look at what the students came up with to get the word out about that.

So this has been a really fun new partnership we’ve been working on and we hope to expand it out to produce a few videos for some of our other departments, as well. And you may have noticed a couple Mill Valley High students here taping the speech for us today. Thank you to Kaylie and Julia for joining us today. We appreciate it!

Citizen feedback is perhaps one of the most important parts of my job as Mayor and our job as a City. This year’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey is out now and we will be getting results back in a couple weeks. We are excited to see what our residents think is going well and to see where they think we can improve. And if you didn’t get a survey mailed to you, we’d encourage everyone to go on the City’s website to fill out the survey and please tell people you know to do that as well. The wider range of people we have weighing in on what we are doing, the better. We are always striving to improve and do more for our residents and our businesses.

For me, increasing awareness and engagement with the community is key and it is something we will be doing much more of moving forward.

This past October, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit two of our Sister Cities. My family was able to join me, Councilmember Brandon Kenig, Johnson County Commissioner Jim Allen and Shawnee Sister Cities Club President Dennis Busby on a two week trip to Erfurt, Germany and Pittem, Belgium. It was an incredible trip and we had the opportunity to meet lots of people and really get a face to face and firsthand experience in both cities… especially with their fire departments. To my dismay, they do not have local police and made me appreciate the fact that we do even more. What really struck me is the strong bond of friendship and the respect that is evident between Shawnee and our European sister cities. We have parks dedicated to our Sister Cities and our City flags are flying there as well as other symbols. The connection is everywhere. And even though they are halfway across the world from us, they encounter the same issues we do. Their goals are the same as ours.

Ok, while I LOVED everything about the entire experience, the people, the food, the history, the architecture, etc. There is one thing I was MESMERIZED by. All of their cows and sheep wear bells around their necks and it makes the most beautiful sound I have ever heard. I could have stood out in the rain for hours listening to the cow bells.

Maybe we can get MORE cows in Shawnee? That wear bells?! :)

Here – take a listen so you can see what I’m talking about.

We’ve seen lots of changes over the past year when it comes to retirements and more people will be leaving this upcoming year. People with decades of experience are moving on. We are so thankful for the wealth of knowledge they have brought to the City. We are trying to keep in mind that change can be a good thing and we are fortunate to have good people and good employees who are ready to fill those big shoes.

2016 took some dynamic leaders from us across the country and we were no different. Among others, we lost both longtime City Attorney Marvin Rainey and former Mayor Tony Soetaert. Both men were truly pillars of our community. Their legacy and impact on Shawnee was enormous and will be seen and felt forever. And talk about more. They set the stage for more.

So with the theme of “more” it seems fitting to honor and celebrate Marvin and Tony today, because they of all people would want Shawnee to keep growing and doing more.

So today, I would ask that you raise your glass for a toast to Marvin and Tony, a toast to Shawnee and a toast to more in 2017.

Thank you.