Sure, Great Bend City Administrator Kendal Francis fielded concerns from citizens gathered for his second Coffee with Kendal Friday morning. Complaints ranged from streets to cemeteries to economic development.
But, there was one thing about which those gathered around the table at Great Bend Coffee weren’t complaining ... they appreciated Francis for getting out into the public to field questions and concerns. “I’m impressed to hear what you’ve done in such a short amount of time,” said Angela Delgado-Sycz.
In turn, Francis appreciated the public’s willingness to share. “I want to engage other voices. There are a lot of smart people in this town, a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers.”
Francis was hired last July, moving into an office that had been rocked by a feud pitting former Administrator Howard Partington and other city officials against former Police Chief Clifton Couch. He said he has moved swiftly and aggressively to make improvements, sometimes making the City Council a little uncomfortable.
“It was pretty much top-down, closed off,” he said of City Hall. “That’s not my way to do it.”
He sees the job as that of a facilitator. He wants to hire good people and let them do their jobs.
“It’s a culture change,” he said. He has had to provided supervisor training to some of the new department heads.
• Streets – “We need good streets,” Dan Bonine said. But, too often the work has been substandard and repaired streets are soon in disrepair.
“Looking forward, don’t ease up on them,” he said of contractors, adding they need to be held accountable. “They are taking advantage of the citizens. Demand better.”
Francis said he is have city personnel trained through the Kansas Department of Transportation to be certified to handle project inspections in-house.
• The Great Bend Cemetery – “I would be ashamed to be buried there,” said Bonine, who has purchased plots at the cemetery. The streets and sidewalks are cracking, the grass isn’t mowed like is should be, and his concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
• Economic Development – Francis said the city contracts with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce to handle economic development. That agreement has recently been renegotiated with the city paying the chamber $153,000 this year, but demanding more accountability and transparency.
A sliver of the city’s sales tax goes towards eco devo efforts, he said. There is now a little over $1 million sitting in a fund for incentives. The next step is to establish standardized guidelines to use that money.
Despite the recommendation by Francis, the council earlier this month rejected hiring Retail Strategies of Birmingham, Ala., for retail business development and recruiting. The council cited the timing of the $50,000 proposal and the need to focus more on finding industry, something with which the Friday morning crowd agreed.
Francis told those present Friday morning that he understood, but still sees the need to seek outside advice.
In an area dominated by the oil and agriculture industries, something insolated from those needs to be found. Possibilities include hemp and alternative energies.
However, with unemployment at about 3.8 percent, most of those who want jobs have them. “We need to boost our workforce.”
• Other topics included: the discussion of a proposed trip by city officials to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of small communities; the recently completed Eighth Street expansion between Grant McKinley; possible traffic woes caused by the pending improvements to the 10th and Grant street intersection; and a complete streets plan that would make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
In the end, he said he loved hearing the ideas.
But, he cautioned, the city can do what it can, but it has its limitations. “Not every solution can come through the city.”
This marked Francis’ second coffee conversation. The first was last October at Perks Coffee Shop.