Though it’s been less than a week since Joplin’s former city manager Sam Anselm left the job, community leaders did not need much time to define what they believe the priorities should be for the person who next takes the city helm.
Among the responses to Globe questions was that a new city manager is needed to build cohesion, not just among city departments but beyond City Hall walls, as well as set a vision that will make the city an attractive place for all to live as well as to provide the infrastructure that will foster growth and vibrancy into the next half century.
Whatever experience and qualities are eventually identified for the next city manager, the search will be a careful one that is not hurried, said Mayor Gary Shaw. That does not mean he’s not moving forward. He has already asked the council to be thinking about what it would like to see the next time around.
Later, perhaps in a couple of weeks, the council will discuss those ideals, the mayor said. Then they will start building a list.
“We are going to take a few months. I’m just one member of the council but I would imagine we would do like we have in the past and put together a search committee and enlist some organization to conduct the search,” Shaw said.
A vision needed
At a recent daylong strategy meeting, there was an internal review of the city organization in which the senior management team and the council were each asked 20 questions intended to assess the purpose, capacity, management and performance of the organization.
The two sides agreed that the city comes up short on a defined vision.
Senior city staff said while there is technically a vision statement, there is a perceived lack of common mission and direction as a whole. Their statements, though, as well as the council’s response, noted that the city’s focus was interrupted in 2011 with the devastating tornado. That has remained the case as $158 million in disaster recovery repairs has been tackled. Those should end by late this year.
Asked if the city has a clearly stated vision, the council’s responses were that it does not. A summary of comments on it included things such as “What exists is generic and not focused upon. No public buy-in. Needs to be updated” and “Vision Joplin 2022 could provide direction.”
Vision Joplin 2022 conducted public discussions in 2016 and early 2017 to compile a five-year slate of possible projects and initiatives that could be adopted through 2022 to promote city growth. Some have been accomplished, such as proposing a use tax, which voters rejected; providing city support for a cultural arts center downtown; and seeking an extension of a state law that would allow formation of a museum and cultural district.
Joplin needs identity
Shelly Kraft, chairman of Vision Joplin, after consulting members of that organization, said that Joplin does not tell its story very well without a vision that can lead the community.
“We do not define who we are. It is a desire that our next leader will work together with other professionals toward creating an identity that will attract people to our city. In order to do that, they must have a passion for the city in which they are leading. When you are passionate about something, you put your heart and soul into setting goals and seeing them through until they are accomplished,” Kraft said.
The city strategy meeting also showed that it was the opinion of senior staff that better communication and cooperation among city departments is needed as well as a unified vision.
Vision Joplin members agree.
“Communication is the key to a successful leader,” Kraft said. “The next city manager must have a vision and clearly communicate that vision to the City Council, staff members and the community as a whole. They need to know that they are not alone. We have citizens who are willing to step up and take on the challenge to fill any void they might see happening in our community. Being able to work with the various committees, like Vision Joplin 2022, will show that they are a team player who can support and work alongside other community members toward common goals.”
Workforce and business needs
There are business expectations among community leaders as well.
Toby Teeter, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said Joplin needs to perk up its ability to appeal to up and coming entrepreneurs and workers.
“We are seeing a clear shift from business attraction to talent attraction (and retention) as the key economic development driver for the Joplin area. Soon, a majority of our labor market will be comprised of millennials and Generation Z,” Teeter said.
“These young professionals are seeking neighborhood-oriented, livable version of the urban lifestyle that still offers viable career and entrepreneurial opportunities, burgeoning music and cultural venues, bike trails and walkable streets, and robust restaurant, coffee shop and bar scenes. The same goes for prospective college and graduate students as Joplin is rapidly transforming into a regional center for higher learning.
“The next Joplin city manager will hopefully champion the infrastructure required to fuel additional public and private quality-of-life investments so Joplin can compete nationally for talent,” Teeter said.
Lori Haun, executive president of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, also sees a need for emphasis on infrastructure, community, as well as updated city practices as an area of focus for the city. She would like to see someone who has experience with small business creation and quality of life. “Local businesses have better long-term impact for the city and work best in places like downtown where the infrastructure is already in place so it will have a low cost to the city,” she said. “Today and in the future, more and more of the workforce will work independently and remotely. These folks will choose where to live. They will choose places with low cost of living, great local businesses, a thriving arts and cultural scene, a vibrant downtown, trails and multimodal transportation options. Joplin is well underway on these things, but it has to continue moving forward.” Quality of life considerations Thriving arts and culture is the purpose of a local community arts organization, Connect2Culture. Joplin’s city manager is an ex-officio member of the board for that organization, said Clifford Wert, president and chief financial officer, on behalf of the organization.
“We certainly desire that the selected city manager will be fully supportive of arts, culture and entertainment as an essential element to our city’s attractiveness as a regional hub and as a driver of its economic vitality,” members of the organization said in a statement issued by Wert.
“We believe a thriving, robust and all-inclusive arts, culture and entertainment effort will definitely help to attract and retain business and industry to Joplin and will draw people who will therefore live, work, play and stay in Joplin. We look forward to having a city manager who passionately upholds these same ideals.”
City financial sustainability is another issue that city staff and the council have been working on and is a concern for those like Haun.
“Much of our development patterns and engineering practices are outdated and not sustainable. City building/street building and industry and business-building have changed drastically. We need leadership, both council and staff, to better understand the long-term implications of growth and change and to be able to lead the community in a direction that is sustainable,” she said.
Candidates the council should consider for the job should include someone who is open-minded and always learning, Haun said, with strong leadership ability to bring people along on a concept.
“This is an opportunity for Joplin to take our time and do our due diligence in finding that perfect person that does not just fit the mold but that can challenge us and push us to think of what a better tomorrow can be for our children and grandchildren,” said Kraft, with Vision Joplin. “We need to be planning for not just five years, but for 50 years and beyond.”