Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2005

Straight talker

New Basehor City Council president known for standing up for citizens

May 19, 2005

It's shortly after the 2003 election and rookie Basehor City Council member John Bonee has been nominated to the second-highest position in municipal government. He's less than an hour into his four-year term, yet council members are poised to vote on whether to elect Bonee council president.

The vote, however, never happened. Bonee declined the nomination.

Warp speed to 2005. It's April and council members are again re-organizing a new governing body in the wake of an Election Day overhaul. Once again Bonee is nominated to the council presidency. But this time, he accepts the role and is approved by a 4-1 vote.

Like Bonee, City Council member Iris Dysart was elected in 2003. She nominated Bonee for the council presidency and said her fellow member of the class of 2003 was the clear-cut choice for the role.

"First thing, he never misses a meeting and he always, always comes prepared," Dysart said. "He's very passionate about everything we do. I have certainly appreciated him.

"I don't think he ever loses sight of the citizens' point of view."

While Bonee concedes he could have handled the job two years ago, he said a couple of years' experience and a little seasoning have made a difference. The council president chaired his first meeting Monday night in the absence of Mayor Chris Garcia.

"As long as you know you're not smart enough to know everything you'll be OK," said Bonee of working in municipal government. Such is the practical, common-sense approach the often times reserved, and sometimes brash, council member brings to public office.

"To me, most things are black and white," Bonee said. "Not much falls in the gray area.

"I'm not afraid to state my opinion. That's what I was elected for."

To some, the position of council president in a city of 2,850 residents may not seem noteworthy. However, that misconception would be misguided. Recent years have shown the position of council president is a springboard to the mayor's office -- the last two mayors served stints as council president -- and in the city's current state of unprecedented residential and commercial growth, any official in a position to shape policy is of importance.

For the record, any discussion regarding Bonee challenging for the mayor's post in coming years, or even running for another term, is short-lived. One four-year term is enough to contemplate at a time, he said.

"I'll hang in there and do the time I'm committed to," Bonee said. "It's not that I don't care. I'll have to rest for a while and give someone else a chance (to serve)."

On the subject of handling area growth, one of the primary challenges facing municipal officials today, Bonee is outspoken. During his council tenure, Bonee has taken a hard-line approach to ensure that the growing pains of progress, namely increasing taxes and other fees to keep pace with needed infrastructure, don't spill onto residents.

He said that too often governments fail the public by approving higher costs. Officials have a fundamental responsibility to keep costs from outpacing the public's incomes. When discussing higher fees or taxes, in past meetings Bonee has been heard to ask, "Where does it end?"

"It's necessary to look down the road and play the scenario out," Bonee said. He added, "Right is right, regardless of the repercussions. As long as I know I'm doing what I feel is right for everybody, then I'm going to do it."

In discussions regarding higher fees, Bonee often considers, and asks other council member to do the same, the effects increased costs would have on residents with fixed incomes.

"Well, that's the one thing we all have in common -- we're all going to get old," he said. He added, "I think they've pulled the weight their whole lives and now they're looking at us to do the right thing.

"We're creating a world that we'll have to live in at some point (ourselves) on a fixed income."

Bonee, 42, has lived in Basehor since 1984. He is most commonly referred to as a developer and his resume of projects reinforces at least part of that sentiment. His developments include the Pebblebrooke Adult Living Community on 155th Terrace, the Parkway Place Business Park on Parallel Road and the Maple Wood Lofts off 155th Terrace and Maple Street. He is also the developer behind Hickory Valley, a new single-family residential development on Hickory Street.

While those credentials may signal developer to most, Bonee calls himself a "glorified carpenter." Unlike some developers, Bonee isn't pushing pencils behind a desk, but instead at the job site helping build the homes or buildings he offers.

His occupation as a builder serving on the City Council has caused friction among some opponents who level allegations that developers serving in municipal government is a conflict of interest.

Dysart said with some developers those opinions may prove correct. Not with Bonee, though.

"In some cases that's very true," she said. "In John's case, he's the exception to the rule. His passion is doing what's best for the city.

"Everything he's (built) in this city has been beautiful. He uses the best materials. ... He works hard and his buildings look wonderful. He truly has the city at heart. I picked up on that shortly after I was elected."

Garcia, who has worked hand-in-hand with Bonee on city business in recent weeks, reiterated Dysart's assessment that Bonee places the best interest of residents at the forefront.

"We both have different ideas," the mayor said. "We don't always agree, but we're able to come together and try to do what's best for the city."

Bonee said he's always attempted to "make decisions on behalf of the people that put me into office" and that when council discussions teeter toward issues he's opposed to, he'll continue to speak his mind.

"The public didn't elect a rubber stamp," he said.

"Varied viewpoints and opinions are healthy. Discussion is paramount to good decision-making."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.