Two-term District 1 City Council Member Diane Forte is about to tackle the biggest political battle there is in city politics — taking on an incumbent mayor.

Forte announced she is running for the top job in Lee’s Summit, a shot across the bow to current Mayor Bill Baird, who was elected in 2018 and is up for re-election in April 2022. Baird has not yet announced his intention to run.

John Beaudoin

COMMENTARY | John Beaudoin

Conventional wisdom, however, would say Baird is most surely going to make that declaration in the coming weeks. After a nine month hiatus on his Facebook account, the mayor has posted five times since Nov. 13. And with major projects like the Downtown performance space and large chunks of undeveloped land coming to the table, Baird’s political notions will likely keep him in the game.

If so, he faces a challenge in Forte, a female small-business owner, two-term council member and former school board member in the Raymore-Peculiar School District.

As challenging of a proposition as it sounds, Forte’s run against an incumbent isn’t unheard of in Lee’s Summit. Baird’s predecessor, Randy Rhoads, unseated 16-year Mayor Karen Messerli in 2010 and went on to serve two terms in the big seat.

Diane Forte

Diane Forte, District 1 Council Member

While Rhoads’ time in office was somewhat marred by political infighting, a recall election and bad behavior by the police and fire unions, it also was a time of transition in the city as far as development and growth, and Rhoads brought a different mindset to the seat in many areas.

Now, the city is seeing a population surge at over 100,000 residents, new, higher-end multi-family housing going up in many corners of town and has massive commercial development opportunities in nearly every zip code.

“We have to recognize that we are now a city of 101,000 and it would not be my intent to constantly be fighting Jackson County,” said Forte, who has owned Diane Forte Enterprises since 2014. “We can look at coordinating with Blue Springs, Grain Valley, other cities to partner with. We have to decide what we want to offer, we need to make those decisions for our own community.”

Forte is running on better communication and making sure all council members are brought into the loop on projects, council actions and all the nuances elected officials are faced with. During his first term, Baird has chosen some interesting battles to fight, including taking on the Parks Board in a city that is known nationwide for its outstanding Parks and Recreation programs and facilities. Baird’s comments to the board are of public record and it was an ugly incident that the mayor likely wants to forget. Forte says she believes city and community volunteers have been disrespected under his leadership.

“As a mayor, the volunteers could be more respected, we have to make sure of that,” she said. “They are giving their time and talents to our community.

“I am certainly open to listening to what other people think. I don’t have all the answers, but we have a community that can come together and give us the answers to anything.”

The voter-approved Downtown performance space is another area Forte says she plans to address during her campaign. She has concerns with land deals that are not yet completed and the overall lack of communication to the council on a project that voters said yes to in 2013 for $600,000 and has now ballooned to a mutli- to tens-of-millions dollar plan.

“Not only as a District 1 council member, but just as a council member, we are getting very little information on what is being proposed,” said Forte, noting that the recent programming meetings seemed premature. “There are still so many questions, and I don’t have the answers. And I don’t think any of us do. We have to have more property to do the things we’re trying to do.

“We need to have a complete breakdown of where the money was, where we’re at and how we get there. I’ve never seen budgets for this. I would make sure, the council on the whole, would have more information to make decisions and more dialogue to make those decisions. You need to welcome the dialogue, whether you agree with it or not.”

The downtown performance space, developments, union contracts, all of it will be up for debate and discussion now that Forte is in the race.

“I have a lot of ideas on how to bring people together,” she noted.

Promoting Lee’s Summit, being not just the political but personable face of the city is a critical role for our mayor. Forte points to our parks system, our historic downtown and the safe culture the city has built and maintained over the years as some of its best selling points. And, she says, she is the one to sell it.

“I am running because I love this city and I think I am the best cheerleader for this city,” she said. “I know we can do better in Lee’s Summit, everywhere.”

Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, its employees or any other guest contributors.

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