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Raymore City Council

Council members debate their role when discussing meeting time change

By Raymore Journal staff

August 19, 2022

What started off as a conversation regarding switching the time of the city council meetings ended up being a debate about the role of a council member.

During the Aug. 8 Raymore City Council meeting, council members voted on a resolution that changes the time of council meetings from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. With a 4-4 vote, Mayor Kristofer Turnbow cast the deciding vote to change the time. However, that was preceded by a debate between council members about their role and how to cast votes.

Essentially, the vote was either for government staff or for residents. The council narrowly voted for the former.

Changing time not in best interest of residents

Many of the council members who voted against the resolution claim it could put a burden on their constituents. Essentially, an earlier time can make it difficult for some residents to attend meetings.

“I have strong concerns about constituents being able to make it (to meetings),” Council Member Tabitha Forster, Ward 2, said.

Forster said several residents spoke to her about those concerns.

Council Member Sonja Abdelgawad, Ward 4, echoed those concerns, stating she too also heard concerns from her constituents. People with families have after-school events to attend, among other obligations.

Council Member Victoria Wills, Ward 1, concurred. Wills stated that their role has council members is to vote according to their constituents needs. Therefore, a vote for the resolution goes against those wishes.

Council Member John Berendzen also heard from constituents who are against the resolution and voted accordingly.

Abdelgawad also mentioned that some of the other cities that made the switch have their work sessions before the council meeting. Raymore has its work sessions on weeks when there are no council meetings.

“I am here to represent the people in my ward who voted for me,” Abdelgawad said. “I think it is there voice I need to reflect tonight.”

City staff needs a break

On the other hand, those who voted for the resolution say it gives city staff a much-needed break.

“I believe switching (the meeting time) to 6 p.m. is a benefit for our staff,” Council Member Reginald Townsend, Ward 1, said.

Many city staff must attend the Monday meetings. For many of those staff members, that means sticking around the office for two hours for the start of the meeting. Changing the time to 6 p.m. means less wait time for staff and an earlier time home.

“Tonight, we affirmed the vote of the people that said that ‘We don’t want to raise or use the use tax to help our parks, our public works and police department,’” Townsend said. “Tonight, we added to their workload by adding over 100-some-odd acres to the parks department in future years. Tonight, they’re asking the eight of us to give them a little reprieve.”

Townsend said that if residents want to attend a meeting that is important to them, “they will make time.”

Council members Kevin Barber, Joseph Burke and Jay Holman concurred. Barber pointed out that very few people attend the council meetings anyway. Holman countered Abdelgawad’s claim that council members represent residents in their respective ward.

“Each one of us represents all citizens of the city, not just work for Ward 3, Ward 1, Ward 2,” Holman said. “We were elected by people of that ward so that there is equal representation across the geography of the city.”