When the National League of Cities opens its annual meeting today, Shawnee will be represented by seven council members and one staffer, the largest delegation from Johnson County to attend. Leawood, on the other hand, will send no one. Other cities in the county fall somewhere in between in their delegations to the annual meeting, held in Boston this year. That’s not so much a policy decision as a reflection of who is interested or feels they need training, officials said.
“The economic challenges have made this conference more important than ever,” said Tim Danneberg, spokesman for the city of Olathe. Four council members plus city manager Michael Wilkes will attend from Olathe, at a cost of $2,900 for registration and $4,500 for lodging. Meals and airfare had not yet been determined, Danneberg said.
Danneberg cited tight budgets as the primary reason Olathe sends people to the conference. The conference’s workshops and networking opportunities are helpful for city officials looking for a way to keep their constituents happy with services on a limited budget, he said.
“We recognized we could not find the answers in a vacuum,” Denneberg said.
In Shawnee, Councilwoman Dawn Kuhn, one of the scheduled participants, said the program is valuable for the exchange of ideas relevant to local government.
The National League of Cities conference is four days, but not every city official goes for the entire thing. The schedule consists of meetings and workshops on such things as supporting business startups and retooling public pensions. This year, Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason will be a featured speaker at the “Integrating Green Infrastructure in Your Community” workshop.
The training on economic development and transparency is valuable not only for council members but for staff members who go, said Prairie Village City Administrator Quinn Bennion.
The size of the delegations from Johnson County cities and the cost varies each year. Shawnee, for example, will spend about $13,900 for its delegation this year. Last year no one from Shawnee attended, said Deputy City Manager Vicki Charlesworth. Other years, the delegation size has ranged from one to five.
Lenexa will send a six-person delegation of five elected officials and the city administrator, at an estimated cost of $1,672 per person. Three of the council members going are also on National League of Cities committees, said spokeswoman Jessica Johnson.
The cities contacted generally don’t have a formal process to decide who gets to go to conferences like that of the National League of Cities. Council members and staff just decide for themselves and put in a request.
Prairie Village budgets for five attendees to this event per year, Bennion said. Last year, three went. This year four were slated to go at an average cost of $1,950 per person, including meals, airline, hotel, registration and parking.
The Prairie Village trip has been complicated this year because one of the attendees was to have been Councilman David Morrison. Morrison’s fellow council members voted to oust him from office last week because he allowed a homeless man access to spend the night in City Hall. However Morrison remains on the council unless the county district attorney takes up the case against him. Bennion said Morrison has promised to pay the city for his trip to the conference, if he goes.
Other cities typically send from three to six officials to the annual meeting.
The exception to that would be Leawood, which has not sent a delegation within City Administrator Scott Lambers’ memory. He’s been in Leawood 11 years.
But Leawood officials attend other meetings, such as the those hosted by the League of Kansas Municipalities and the Mid America Regional Council, said Mayor Peggy Dunn.
“If we thought we would be missing a great deal we would probably encourage someone to go. It isn’t that the city wouldn’t fund them,” she said.
“There are some cities that travel a great deal and we are not one,” Dunn said.