by Diane Lowrey
A group home proposed to be located in a neighborhood area will not receive a special permit required by the city following action taken by a mock city council that met on Tuesday night as part of a Leadership Trenton class exercise.
Participants in the 2014 class presented arguments for and against the proposal to a six-member “city council” composed of five former Leadership Trenton participants and one current city councilman. The exercise was the final session of the program, which graduates its members next Tuesday night.
Trenton Community Developer Ralph Boots is in charge of the program, which he said is designed to develop potential community leaders through a number of activities such as team building, learning the history of the community and connecting with various facets of city and county government.
“We want to develop leadership skills and get those individuals to find some kind of spark or interest in a project where they can contribute their skills and knowledge,” Boots said.
The class, which got under way in October, began with a general overview of the program, including discussions with Leadership Trenton graduates, who told of their experiences in the program. Other activities included visits to the city’s electric, water and wastewater facilities; visits to the Grundy County Detention Center (including the sheriff’s office and police department) and the Grundy County Courthouse; a business and industrial tour, including presentations by Barnes Greenhouses and Murphy-Brown; a tour of Wright Memorial Hospital and other health facilities; and a two-day visit to the city of Moberly, which served as a partner with Trenton in the program. Trenton hosted the Randolph County leadership program (which included Moberly) for a visit last year.
“It’s amazing as we did these visits, how many of the people said that they had lived here for years but never really knew what went on behind the scenes,” Boots said. “I think this program provides a good look into what we do in our community and how it works.”
The mock city council meeting on Tuesday night gave class members a chance to use the skills they have learned in the program by participating in a “real-life case study” which required them to work together, do research and develop a presentation to get the council to either support or reject their request. In this instance it was a public hearing involving location of a group home in a residential neighborhood.
The 12-member class was divided into two groups of six members each, with one group promoting the “House of Hope” and one group that was opposed. The hearing was held as part of a “city council meeting,” which also included regular city business (reports and ordinances).
“We wanted to make it as real for them as possible so they can understand what the process is like,” Boots said.
The case used was one that occurred in the city of Excelsior Springs and former Excelsior Springs City Administrator Darren Hinnen was present and presented information about the case to the “council” before the hearing was held.
Both sides presented their arguments to the council, with the proponents pointing out the need for the facility and the benefits to the community. The group’s “attorney” also presented information regarding the laws that govern group homes and answered legal questions posed later in the meeting. A mother with two mentally and physically challenged children also talked of the need for such a facility as did a potential occupant of the home.
Opponents of the home cited safety concerns as their main objection to the project, noting that four mentally and physically handicapped individuals were going to be in the home with only one to two caretakers at any one time. In case of a fire, they were afraid the occupants could not be evacuated in timely matter, pointing to state requirements involving group homes. There was also opposition based on the safety of children in the neighborhood and concerns as to why the city was not notified of the location of the home until after the state gave its approval.
As is done in a regular city council meeting, there were many questions asked before council members took their vote. Questions ranged from safety concerns and property values to financial feasibility and zoning issues.
When the discussion was all said and done, the council members voted 4-2 against granting the special permit for the group home. It was pointed out that the state makes the decision as to whether or not a group home can be located in a certain area, taking the decision making responsibility out of the hands of the community. Hinnen noted that in the Excelsior Springs case, the council went ahead and decided to ask for that a special use permit be secured locally, citing safety concerns. Hinnen said that in the end, the home withdrew its contract to purchase a home in Excelsior Springs and, instead, moved to another community.
At the end of the session, each member told about what they got out of the exercise, with many expressing appreciation of getting the chance to be a part of a city council experience. Boots noted that the reaction was similar to others during the 12-week program.
Members of the class include Eric Hall, Teresa Cross, Lee Simmons, Robin Chambers, Donita Youtsey, Julie Johnson, Jim Whitley, Jordan Anderson, Matt Arthaud, Jeb Walker, Amanda Hibner and Destiny Silvers.
Taking on city roles were Rick Hull, as the mayor; Hinnen as the city administrator; Boots as the city attorney; Cindy Simpson as the city clerk; Donnie Vandevender as the code enforcement officer; and Jeanette McBee, Sarah Maloney, Mark Robinson, Matt Osterthun, Debbie Carman and Jackie Soptic as the council.
The class will conclude next Tuesday with a graduation ceremony at the Riverside Country Club. During this time, class members will announce a project on which they want to focus during the coming year. The project is a requirement of the class, with selection based on interests developed during the program. The past two classes have focused on downtown improvement projects.