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Independence voters discuss what they want in elected officials

Independence City Hall
Posted at 7:08 PM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 20:08:57-04

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — As citizens of Independence came to the polls to vote, many of them told 41 Action News what they want from their city council.

Several residents said they want someone who's honest.

Candy Curry, 67, was born in Independence. She moved away for a period of time but now lives near her children and grandchildren in Independence.

Curry said she doesn't think the voices of the citizens are often heard by members of the city council.

"I want to know my voice is heard because I don't think it is. A lot of things, we're not even asked about," Curry said. "Then, they just go ahead and say, 'Oh yeah, we forgot to put this to a vote.' So, we don't always get to vote on everything and I think it's kind of a crime."

The I-Team has reported on several controversies surrounding the city council. In 2018, the I-Team raised questions about the decommissioning of the Missouri City Power Plant after discovering receipts that showed council members Curt Dougherty, Tom Van Camp and John Perkins discussed the project behind closed doors with an attorney who spent time in prison for bribing a city councilman in the 90s.

The city council hired the highest bidder for nearly $10 million to handle the project, even though they could've selected another company deemed qualified for half the price. Records show the high bidder received a special invite to give a presentation on the project before the bidding process began. The agenda didn't stipulate who invited the company. No other companies were invited.

Council members Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson publicly criticized the city council's decision to move forward with the costly project. DeLuccie and Roberson questioned if the deal was orchestrated in advance.

The Independence Public Utilities Advisory Board also said the bidding process for Missouri City wasn't handled appropriately.

While Curry didn't speak specifically to Missouri City, she said decisions are often made regarding taxpayer dollars without the taxpayers having a clear understanding of what the benefit is.

"We end up paying for it and I don't know what people gain out of it," Curry said.

In 2018, the I-Team also exposed Tom Van Camp, councilman for District 4, for spending thousands of dollars on trips to attend power conferences during his time on the city council. While expenses for business related purposes are allowed, receipts show Van Camp's trips often included a rental car, valet parking and on one occasion, Van Camp had his room updated to an executive king suite.

That same year the I-Team also uncovered backroom meetings were taking place over the purchase of Rockwood Golf Course. The city turned the property into a solar farm, which led to backlash from the citizens who live there.

Beverly Harvey, who's home now backs up to the solar panels, said no discussions took place with the residents and the city abruptly demolished the green space. Records show the city council voted the project through during an executive session, which are meetings that can legally take place behind closed doors to discuss sensitive matters.

After the I-Teams stories aired, several sources with city hall said the FBI began asking questions about the projects and Van Camp's travel expenditures.

Curry said she wants a candidate who will listen to the people.

"I want somebody honest and I want somebody that will actually ask the people what we want," Curry said.

Butch Hopkins has lived in Independence his whole life.

"I went to school here, my kids went to school here," Hopkins said. "There's a few things here the past couple years that's kind of shady looking."

Hopkins said, while he wants more transparency from the city council, he's overall pleased with the way things are going in his hometown.

"I think the mayor's doing a good job," Hopkins said. "I think the city's coming along just fine."

Joe Harvey, who's lived in Independence with his wife Kamaria for four years, said he came out to vote because he wants to make sure everyone in the community is represented.

"A lot of these smaller elections aren't always representative of the community, so I just want to make sure we're representing the community the best we can," Harvey said.

Councilman Van Camp lost his seat on the city council in February's election.

Councilman Roberson did not run for another term

DeLuccie, who's not up for re-election echoed the residents of Independence, by saying she too wants a more transparent among members of the city council.

"It's been very lonesome because there's not a lot of discussion of things and Scott Roberson has not run for re-election and he and I would discuss everything out in the open. I'm gonna miss that," DeLuccie said. "I just hope we get an election result that will move this city forward."