Friends of Baxter Springs:
I would like to extend well-wishes to the fine people of the city of Baxter Springs. I inhabit a genuine love for our city and the terrific citizens that create the community within. I thank you for the faith you placed within me by electing me as your mayor as the honor has been mine to serve you during this first year in office.
After my years of service to the city as your councilwoman, the role of mayor has allowed me an invaluable amount of exposure on the front lines of city government. Exposure as to the design and function of municipal government, daily functioning and happenings of city process; allowed for the building of relationships with local business, employees and contractors of the city, offered a clear view as to how your elected council choose to utilize the governing privileges/rights granted to them by the people,etc. The before mentioned points are among just a few of the revelations that have been brought to a greater light through my role as mayor of Baxter Springs.
Yet, the greatest of gifts that the office of mayor has provided me with is that of proximity to the people. I so enjoy my weekly visits to diners, coffee shops, hardware stores, club organization meetings, churches, food banks, grocery stores, etc. This closeness has granted me opportunity to develop and foster strong viable relationships with the fine citizens that comprise the city of Baxter Springs; the people whom Baxter Springs truly belong to.
When making decisions and superintending daily tasks, I am often reminded of the same fine people that encouraged me over two years ago to consider running for the office of mayor. There was a blatantly evident concern with the citizens and that concern was a desire to put someone in office that would insure that the Baxter Springs government and appointed officials in the city were being held accountable, to be adequate and fair stewards of city dollars coupled with a desire to see that city officials were geared to more earnestly and readily serve the community and its citizens. The people requested the necessity of having a mayor that would be a voice for them in policy and decision making in Baxter Springs. The people shared a desire to have government that would make changes that were necessary and fair. The people wanted the happenings of their government to be more transparent and open to the public.
I hold my responsibility to the community in high regard. So much, that to insure that I could give adequate time in the deliverance of the people’s needs/requests, I retracted my teaching career to a half-time status to make certain that I could grant adequate time to the mayor’s office. This move also allowed me to be more readily accessible to the employee’s needs and issues and be available to the people on a regular basis.
During the campaign, I reiterated the fact that I would not be referenced as a “politician” as I am most certainly not a politician. I will tell you today as I told you then, I am one of you; a person who has been witness to a system that has been free to perform as so desired without any consult or consideration of the people that placed them in their position.; a system that gravely lacked accountability and checks and balances within its confines. I am often approached by citizens whom carry a deep frustration with various happenings within the city that seemingly slip by without consideration to make change for the better of the common good.
While visiting throughout the community, I am often asked to publish the happenings of the city in the local news publications. In the beginning, I made a decision to refrain from a weekly editorial as to try to prevent the days of yesteryear when the city was unfairly submitted to editorial slashing and fodder. With this said, and after much consultation with various persons throughout the city, in light of a compilation of ongoing nonsense and very recent happenings/discussion from some individuals of your government, I now feel that is time to make you aware of what is happening within your city.
I have been forced to spend the first year in office outfitted with boxing gloves and expelled to the corner of the ring with “dukes” up at all times. I have a strong belief that the victory of battle is not the acme of skill; the true skill is found in the ability to subdue the opponent without fighting. Hence, I have tried to survive the year without utilizing the newspaper as a platform to air the ugliness I have been subjected to. I remember the days of past when our city was forced to endure such nonsense and hold no desire to return to those days. But, some of the key players of those days still exist or have returned, and with their return, chaos is repeating itself. Also in gallant repetition is a severe lack of respect for the people and their voice by way of total disregard for government.
I have found that this city has 5,300 hundred individuals that desire and seek goodness for our town. I have been so very thankful for the astounding support of the people. Your e-mails, letters, visits around town and cards are such an inspiration to me.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some wonderful employees and council that truly are committed to Baxter Springs. To the contrary, I have also been witness to some members of council that are strapped with personal agendas, sharing no concern for the people; council and appointed officials that harbor an enormous lack of interest in accountability across the board. It seems as though a handful of your elected council (St. Clair ward 1, Underwood ward 2, and Wren ward 4) have succumbed to a convenient form of selective amnesia while serving with your city government. The above mentioned council do not seem to appreciate my constant reminder to them that Baxter Springs and its governing body belongs to/works for the people, not vice versa. The said council has repeatedly been in violation of KOMA (Kansas Open Meetings Act) holding illegal, private meetings, congregating before/after council meetings in violation of quorum regulations and has been reminded/reprimanded on numerous occasions resulting in the city attorney being forced to submitting information to the Cherokee County Attorney’s office for investigation.
I feel it to be of grave importance that the community be aware as to the fact that certain members of council are trying to protect certain individuals whom are currently in appointed positions in the city. Council members St. Clair, Underwood and Wren have been very vocal in voicing their thoughts regarding their desire to strip the mayor of the most important rights the office holds. They have requested that the mayor’s appointment powers be revoked, the mayor’s veto powers be revoked, and the title of “Superintendent” be removed from the mayor’s title and job duty descriptions as issued by the state. In essence, the rights the people wanted me to possess in order to make positive change as you requested are now trying to be challenged and revoked by the above mentioned council members due to protection of “buddies” and personal agenda.
The wolves in sheep’s clothing can no longer hide behind executive sessions and manipulate their ways to selfishly meet their personal goals and gains. The people will not be held hostage in the dark by the very people they elect to serve them any longer. When good is brought forth, I will gladly let the people know and will do the same when I am witness to the negative personal agenda climbing that is taking place currently.
When employees make a decision to accept an appointed position, they are within full understanding of the fact those positions are on a year to year basis and appointments of the mayor. Each mayor before me possessed these rights. Another point to be understood is that a council person only holds authority within the city during dually convened meetings. A mayor holds responsibility and governing powers 24/7 and holds responsibility in presiding over the city and holds Superintending rights in monitoring the day to day happenings as well as serving as a monitor to appointed officials and employees.
I am seemingly unable to garner support from various council in reference to particular areas that many of you have voiced concern regarding issues within the city. I believe in the year 2012 we need to address these concerns. In naming a few, for instance:
• Governing body needs to take a concise look at the extremely high salaries that many of our appointed positions are currently paid. I have analyzed our salaries in comparison to surrounding cities and we have extremely inflated numbers.
• Governing body should request council meetings and minutes to be made public and accessible to the people by way of our cable service as well as official city website and newspaper in an effort to make our government more transparent as requested by the people.
• The mayor and department heads need to have the right to select quality individuals to do a quality job for the people of Baxter Springs. Additionally, we must insure that your tax dollars are being earned rightfully and with hard work, for the people of Baxter Springs deserve none less.
• The time has arrived for a clean slate and a fresh audit of our city. The city was a part of an IRS investigation last year and never once was the governing body made aware of this nor were any letters from the IRS and the results of their findings issued to council or mayor.
• As mayor, I believe it is time for certain bills that have gone unpaid to be settled within the city. We do not float services for free to the citizens, why should we float free services for certain employees?
I am astonished when asked if the council meetings are open to the public. Yes! The meetings are your meetings. I have continually tried to deliver this message to the people and encourage your embrace of ownership. I encourage each citizen to take back what is rightfully yours and hold your council accountable and responsible for the decision and actions they put forth in representing you on council. I have taken note that when the council is forced to come face to face in the council chambers with the involved and concerned citizens in the audience, several are far less brave in making snide remarks, ramrodding the approved agenda of the meeting and being disrespectful of the governmental process as a whole. Please exercise your right to elect quality people to office that will work for you. Make sure that you are registered to vote in the April election by March 13th. Your vote truly is your voice for change and I need your support to make the necessary change our city needs. Council meetings are held at city hall on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 7pm. I encourage you to attend these meetings to have a better understanding as to how your tax dollars are utilized. This is also a great opportunity to hold all city officials accountable. Also, Committee meetings are open to the public as well and I welcome you to attend any/all of these. These should be posted on the official city website as well as the city cable page.
“Broken by it, I, too, may be; bow to it I never will. The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me." — Abraham Lincoln
I shall not be deterred from my belief in my service to this city, for the city of Baxter Springs is my “cause” and I believe completely in our good city and its people. Each day I ask for God's favor and grace as I work to serve and honor the citizens of Baxter Springs. I have an abundance of faith that we will be empowered to bring greatness and positive change to our city, coupled with a sincere desire and strength to persevere through this.
I was asked by you, the people, to be a voice and to hold all to accountability, and that is exactly what I intend to do.
Jenifer J. Bingham, Mayor
City of Baxter Springs, Kansas