In early December, Brentwood mayor Pat Kelly gave Patch a 90-minute interview to reflect on 2011 and discuss what's next for the city.
The following Q&A includes highlights from that conversation. Some answers have been condensed for readability.
In a few sentences, what has 2011 been to the city of Brentwood?
As a city and as an organization, you grow and you live and learn. We've had our challenges this year, but I still think, overall, the city is in a great position. We continue to build upon our positive aspects and I think we have the opportunity to take Brentwood to the next level from a professional standpoint. That's the direction we're going in.
We still continue to have very good revenue sources. Things that we started to put in place almost 15 to 20 years ago are starting to come into play and really put us into that position. We'll have the Dierberg's TIF completely paid off within about a year to year-and-a-half. And then just a few years later, it will be Brentwood Square. I think the city is in a great position as we go forward.
You said you build upon the positives. Beside the revenue sources, what are some of the positives?
We've been fortunate with some of our proactive things. For example, the Helen Avenue Stormwater Project that's going on right now. That really started about six or seven years ago when the city made the initial investment to analyze what the problem was to come up with a designed solution for that. They're in the final phase of completing that project. That's a big positive, that on a lot of people's radars wouldn't have even been there.
We've been successful in getting some grants. We're in the process of a…grant to improve pedestrian access through the Brentwood Promenade. We're also in the process of another…grant for pedestrian access from the MetroLink to our trail system at Memorial Park. We've been able to get those grants because we're able to contribute and have matching funds.
This year, we completed the Litzsinger Bridge improvement…to reduce flooding in the Hanley Industrial Court. It's not going to eliminate it, but I can tell you a couple of storms that we've had this year, we would have had flooding, but we didn't have it because of the (bridge).
And we continue to work with Drury on the Drury Hotel project. They hope to be under construction by next summer. That would be a great addition as we finish that corner off as an entry way into the Brentwood community.
Looking back at 2011, what is the major storyline?
I know that a lot of people will think, and you hate to have it, it's the scandal with our city administrator. But, you know, unfortunately, those things can happen anywhere. That was unfortunate. We have to look at that and…make improvements. And I think we are.
I'm really excited for a finance (director). If there's one thing we've learned from this, it's that you don't want to give too much control to one person. That's going to bring a new level of professionalism to the city.
So what's the storyline of the year?
I think that is our storyline of the year. We're building. We have our new city administrator. We're going to have a new finance (director). We're looking at the city and looking for ways to improve. And I think that is the storyline. It is an ever-changing environment in any organization…and I think because of some of the things that happened that this is an opportunity for the city of Brentwood.
I don't want to dwell on all of the mistakes. I want to focus on the positives as we move forward. How do we continue to provide good services and continue to have the kind of community that our residents want in the long-term?
Let's stop for a moment and talk about the new leadership under Bola Akande. What are some of the changes?
I think she brings a new level of professionalism to the city. I'm not criticizing the way things were done in the past, because I think the city liked—we're a small community, and people liked the access they had… and yet, what Bola is bringing to us, is she's going to make people accountable.
I think that that was (lacking). I think the former city administrator did a lot on his own instead of doing things through committees and those things, making department heads feel more a part of the decision-making process. I think the department heads feel like they have more input. I just think she's bringing it to another professional level.
Just so I'm not assuming, what do you mean by a higher professional level?
Now she has regular staff meetings with department heads. That was never done before. The city is just better coordinated. Through the budget process, they met regularly to discuss the needs (of the departments). It gives people ownership in the process as we move forward. I think it brings the departments together as well.
How much of what happens, when it comes to things like the embezzlement, becomes personal for you?
It was hard. And I really think that the hardest one was the city administrator because I feel like I lost that trust.
It's been a long, hard eight months. We have to learn from our mistakes and continue to move forward. That's what I'm trying to do. We have too good of a community.