Shawnee Dispatch

Proposed Perceptive Software post-mortem prompts lively exchange

June 12, 2012

Ray Erlichman, a resident who attends and blogs about Shawnee City Council meetings, proposed during the governing body’s June 11 meeting that it endorse creation of a volunteer “lessons learned task force” to determine why Lenexa was able to lure the Shawnee headquarters of Perceptive Software.

One lesson Erlichman might have learned: Don’t suggest the task force be led by the man who challenged the mayor during a recent, hotly contested campaign.

Erlichman suggested the task force be led by Eric Jenkins, who, in addition to falling to Mayor Jeff Meyers in April, served on the Shawnee Planning Commission for 21 years and participated in lessons-learned evaluations during careers with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military.

Erlichman said he was not suggesting the task force be formed “so we can hang somebody by the neck or kick somebody in the head.” He said the goal would be to find out what Shawnee officials did right and wrong “so if we have a situation like this going forward, we have something to look back on.”

Ward 1 Councilman Dan Pflumm said he thought the task force was “a great idea.” But Mayor Meyers and Ward 3 Councilman Jeff Vaught said the city already had a group qualified to evaluate the situation: the Shawnee Economic Development Council.

“You can’t find a person with more passion and knowledge about economic development than (Shawnee EDC director) Andrew Nave,” Vaught said. “… Our team is on it; they’re on it 100 percent.”

Vaught added that beyond himself and Meyers, both of whom spoke out in the media following June 1 reports that Perceptive Software was moving, everyone else — including Jenkins — had remained silent on the issue.

And then things got ugly.

“I’m a little upset about being called out at a City Council meeting,” Jenkins said after approaching the podium.

Jenkins added that Erlichman had made it clear he was not proposing a “gotcha” task force, aimed only at faulting current city officials for the loss of roughly 700 jobs.

“I have the credentials” to lead the task force, Jenkins added, directing his comments toward Vaught. “And that kind of disrespect is unacceptable, sir. ... You made a fool of yourself and the City Council.”

At that point, Vaught asked Jenkins, “How much experience do you have in economic development?” And when Jenkins didn’t give a direct answer, Vaught repeatedly said, “Answer the question. Answer the question.”

Eventually, Jenkins answered “30 years,” referencing his work with FEMA.

“Really?” Vaught responded. “I’ve seen your resume. That’s not economic development.”

The heated exchange continued as Vaught asked Jenkins why anyone should not expect the proposed task force to play gotcha. During the recent mayoral campaign, he said, “everything was gotcha. You set the gotcha tone.”

Eventually, Meyers gaveled the pair down, and Ward 4 council member Michelle Distler asked if the city was, indeed, planning to evaluate the loss of Perceptive Software.

Meyers said that a city evaluation would proceed after July 11, when Lenexa is expected to divulge all the incentives it used to attract the company to its Lenexa City Center development.

Distler suggested that the City Council might want to review the city’s evaluation and then determine whether further evaluation is needed.

That ended formal discussion of the issue without a motion. But after the meeting, Erlichman said the governing body missed the point.

“The concept I was proposing was very simple,” Erlichman said. “It would be an independent task force. We have fine people with the EDC. But sometimes, you can’t go with self-evaluation; it tends to be defensive. You sometimes need an outside view.”

In other action:

• The City Council voted 6-0, with Dawn Kuhn absent, to study the possibility of restoring detailed meeting minutes. The city suspended the detailed minutes as a cost-saving measure early last year, directing those who wanted verbatim details of meetings to review posted audio recordings of the meetings.

But after resident Tony Lauer spoke during the June 11 meeting, Councilman Vaught made the motion to review the issue in committee.

Lauer, who is researching an issue in his Crimson Ridge neighborhood, where Vaught also lives, said “the purpose of this message is not to discuss that issue but to implore your reconsideration of an extremely valuable community and educational resource: the readable and searchable meeting minutes.”

• The council approved refinancing of $11.2 million in general obligation bonds originally issued in 2003 and 2004. The refinancing, at the low bid of 1.18 percent, will result in a savings of $654,000 over the remaining seven-year life of the bonds, finance director Maureen Rogers said.

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