Changing a Small Town from Lax to Legit

Recently Peculiar’s City Manager, Brad Ratliff sat down to discuss the past, present, and future of Peculiar.
Ratliff has served as the city manager since 2007 and has seen and instigated many of the changes that have occurred in Peculiar.
As with anyone who has been in a position for an extended length of time, it is good to reflect on one’s performance over the years. When asked what his top three accomplishments achieved to date, Ratliff named the financial stability and transparency of the city, zoning, and economic development.
When he was hired, it was with the hopes that he would bring an era of professionalism to Peculiar. “They felt the city had some problems and lack of accountability,” said Ratliff. That turned out to be a gross understatement. “After my first week here, I told the Mayor that I could not find one thing that this city does well and is doing right.”
His first undertaking was dealing with finances that were out of control, some even to the point of being illegal. It took a lot of hard work and brutal honesty, but Ratliff did rein it in with the help of leadership from the mayor’s office and the Board of Aldermen. “When it comes to the finances of the city, it’s like a business. Through the recession we were able to reduce the budget and come out with an A+ rating from Standard and Poor (S&P) financial rating firm.” Most cities the size of Peculiar are in the BB range or possibly an A-. Along the financial theme is the commitment to transparency that Ratliff insisted on for the citizens of Peculiar. Anyone can now go on line and view the budget and the five year plan for the city.
The second issue was zoning. Peculiar was caught up in the growing boom of the early 2000’s, but no clear plan was laid out of how to best manage that growth for long term stability. Nor were there up to date codes, let alone enforcement of codes to ensure the best quality of work for all the new construction. “We want to work with anyone who wants to come in here, but there should be some standards that we want anyone to attain and meet,” explained Ratliff. “Getting the comprehensive plan done and updating the code was a huge undertaking that took over a year and a half to accomplish.”
“With having your financial house in order and municipal code updated and professionalized, it gives you the ability to focus on economic development,” said Ratliff. One part of that is having the professional staff on hand to put potential developers at ease and give them confidence in the city. He believes that the grant money that made the new interchange possible would not have been secured without having all the pieces in place. “It is going to be a huge impact when that’s done. It’s going to change the culture and landscape of Peculiar forever.” A marketing company has been hired to help direct and focus the search for potential developers.
As an employee of the city, Ratliff takes directives from the Mayor and Board to operate the city in the way they best see fit. That can be problematic at times when a bill or resolution is passed without unanimity. “To me local government is the last purest form of representative government. When people elect a mayor or alderman, they do not elect them to be managers. They elected them to be policy decision makers. They hire us to manage,” described Ratliff of the relationship between him and the Board. Currently he believes that the Mayor and the Board ‘have a vision’ and are clear about where they want to take the city in the future.
Specifically speaking about Mayor Holly Stark, Ratliff really appreciates how involved she has been with the city and the county as well. “She is much more business minded. She is pretty well versed in not just with the city, but Cass County as a whole. She has pushed forward with the mayors of Belton and Raymore in a continuation of cooperation between the cities,” stated Ratliff.
One thing that continues to haunt Ratliff and the city staff is the previous two decades of misuse of power and money at the city level. “There is a negativity in this city that we have been battling. They still don’t trust [the city]. Even though you show them the changes, they just won’t quite accept it,” said Ratliff with frustration. “I don’t say we’re perfect because we’re not, but I do strive to be the best. If we make a mistake we own up to it, we correct it, and we try to implement policies and procedures to lessen the possibility of that happening again. I want people to be proud of the community they live in.” said Ratliff.
When it comes down to it Ratliff says that while his job requires a lot of hard work and long hours, he still loves what he does. “I enjoy the community and the job. I enjoy making a difference for people.”

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