Weir faces five challengers in independence primary

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The historic Independence Courthouse sits in the center of the Town Square in downtown Independence.

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Five candidates will challenge Independence Mayor Eileen Weir in Tuesday’s primary election.

Weir was elected mayor in 2014 and reelected in 2018. She previously served on city council from 2012 to 2014.

While Weir has touted economic development projects and quality of life improvements during his tenure, his challengers have painted a bleaker picture for Missouri’s fifth-largest city. The other five candidates are calling for major changes in leadership, both in elected leadership and in city administration, and pushing for new approaches to law enforcement, job creation and governance.

His challengers are: Colleen Huff, Kenneth Love, Holmes Osborne, Rory Rowland and Brice Stewart. Voters will narrow the mayoral field from six to two candidates in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary. The two winners will face off in the general election on April 5.

All of the candidates cited crime and public safety as a top priority for independence. Other campaign issues include the future of the city-owned electric utility, an FBI investigation into city contracts, and homelessness and burning in local neighborhoods.

“Our current mayor has had eight years to fix all of these same issues that we still face,” said Colleen Huff, who runs a social services company. “I mean, year after year, it’s the same issues.”

Huff is unrelated to City Council member Mike Huff, who is seeking re-election. Although the mayoral election was non-partisan, she heavily touted her Republican affiliation and Christian faith in her campaign.

At a candidate forum on Thursday, Weir touted the establishment of the Uptown Market Farmer’s Market under his watch and said crime has been down over the past year. She also said the city is experiencing “tremendous economic growth and job creation,” citing expansions at Centerpoint Medical Center, Cargo Largo and Ronson Manufacturing.

“We did this because we came together, our citizens and businesses are committed, and we worked together to build something incredibly exciting here,” she said. “I’m very proud to be your mayor and look forward to continuing to make Independence the best place it can be.”

Candidates seem to agree that the city needs to do a better job of recruiting police officers. Independence planned for 230 officers, but it is short by 38, despite new retention and recruiting bonuses.

The candidates proposed raising the starting salary for sworn officers to $60,000 or $70,000.

But Stewart said the culture of the Independence Police Department also needs to change.

Stewart, a current council member, is employed in the Jackson County IT department but also works part-time as a police officer in Lawson, Mo. He was a permanent candidate for local office before his upset victory in June 2020 on the titular Curt Dougherty.

“The money won’t go that far,” he said at a Jan. 27 candidates’ forum. “We need to boost morale in the department where these police officers want to stay… Our police officers are the best recruiting tool.

The police department is headless after Brad Halsey retired in December. Ex-chief has been charged with sexually assaulting and harassing an employee; the city eventually settled a $100,000 lawsuit over it.

The department is under scrutiny again after a whistleblower raised concerns about the excessive amount of overtime pay an officer won last year. City Manager Zach Walker said Thursday he would hire an outside firm to investigate how the officer paid $160,000 in overtime in 2021 for apparently completing construction work on the police building.

Rowland, a Democrat in the Missouri House of Representatives, has focused his campaign on ethics reform at City Hall.

It proposes new $1,000 campaign contribution limits for city candidates, term limits for mayor, a new code of ethics for elected officials and a ban on companies and developers doing business. with the city to make campaign contributions.

These proposals target some of the controversies of recent years, including Weir’s campaign donations. Just days before voting to spend $1 million to buy a golf course for a solar farm project in 2017, Weir received more than $10,000 from company-funded political action committees that would continue to operate the project.

“We’ve been paying corruption taxes for too long in Independence,” Rowland said. “And we have to change the rules for a level playing field.”

Osborne touted his experience as a financial planner, saying he would use his expertise to stop wasteful spending by city officials. He has promised to bring a new natural gas-fired power plant to the city if elected, an expensive undertaking but which he says would bring more stability and revenue to the utility. A member of the Metropolitan Community College board of trustees, he pledged to end the scandals at City Hall.

“Everyone wants change,” he said. “That’s why you have six candidates for mayor.”

On Thursday, Love promised to raise the issue of the city manager’s job. He, like several other candidates, blames Walker and others for ongoing problems within the police department, wasteful city spending, crime and homelessness.

“I’m not a polished politician,” said Love, who works at UPS and said he owns rental properties. “I am blue collar. I’m a resident like all of you sitting in the audience wondering where, where was our money wasted? Why was it wasted?

In the City Council primary, five candidates will compete for four spots on the general election ballot. They include current board members Karen DeLuccie and Mike Huff as well as Marcie Gragg, Jared Fears and Billie Ray Preston.

The four winners will then compete for two general openings in the April general election.

Polling stations are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Visit the Jackson County Board of Elections for specific polling locations.

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Kevin Hardy covers the Kansas City Star business. He previously covered business and politics at the Des Moines Register. He also worked for newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Kansas