It has been a week since we have arrived in Kansas State and frankly we have experienced a lot already. From dining at famous food places, home stays, going around the city and watching a live baseball game. Every place we go is picture perfect and we are not sure if our camera memories will hold out long. The City Manager and staff of the City of Mission Hills have worked hard to prepare for our visit and have been going the extra mile to make the most out of our stay here. As a result, their work schedule has become more challenging. We are truly grateful for this.
As fellows focused on legislative process and governance, we have been immersed in learning how the City government of Mission Hills delivers services and communicates to its residents about community development. We couldn’t help but draw comparisons between our city government and their government. But that is actually the reason why we are here to make comparisons, learn the best practices, and apply the essentials. Every city has its own uniqueness but allow me to share 3 things that makes the Mission Hills simply amazing:
1.) The City holds high regard on house patterns and city assets.
In other cities, subdivisions and home-owners’ associations set their own house and park design policies which will be relayed to the future owners. In Mission Hills, they regulate all those matters to keep the vision of J.C Nichols. They have established an Architectural Review Board (ARB) that ensures newly constructed homes or renovations are well designed, constructed and integrated with the community's charm. The City has high regards on historical structures that contributes to the character of the residential area, thus the ARB rigorously evaluates aesthetics, materials and measurements. The City assets on the other hand, are well protected and maintained like parks, statuary, urns and fountains. They have their own set of guidelines on how to properly preserve its original beauty; since most of these assets, and landscapes have been purchased, built or naturally made several years ago.
One of the houses in Mission Hills. (Photo: Adhi Prana)
2.) The City ensures the value of every tree and the environment as a whole.
For all we know all states and cities have laws protecting the public trees, but sadly not all cities enforce the laws accordingly. Mission Hills has hired an arborist to oversee and maintain the condition of the publicly owned trees. There are more than 4,000 public trees and 10,000 private trees within the residential area. The arborist conducts an inventory of all the trees; its species, age, and diameter and tag them to their GIS system that will enable the City to tract the location, maintenance type and condition of all trees, and also to know whether it’s public or private. Every tree has different ways of pruning it, but if the arborist recommends to cut down a tree to avoid possible accidents, it contracts a private firm to do the work. The city also extended its service to privately owned trees by providing recommendations to the owners on how to prune, preserve and the life expectancy of their trees. In addition to their initiatives, they are also exploring and implementing ways to clean water inflows before it goes outside the city’s channel. We can contend that the city has wealth to spend on protecting trees and the environment, but if a city is really serious in protecting the environment it can find ways to do it. On the flip side, it can also find reasons not to exercise it.
The arborist is preparing to cut down the mushroom-like fungus attached to the tree. (Photo: Adhi Prana)
3.) Politicians are volunteers.
It has been a source of argument whether politicians should not be paid or should be paid less than what they are receiving nowadays. In Mission Hills, politicians from the mayor to councilors to committee chairs are only paid a dollar to do their responsibilities. Although being part of the council can require most of a person's time, they are public servants who also have day jobs. Council meetings occur once a month and is mostly scheduled after work hours. Committee meetings may happen more than once a month, but they find ways to participate amidst their work. The City of Mission Hills is one of the wealthiest cities not just in Kansas, but also in the United States and still councilors and board members opt not to be paid to perform their duties. And besides, most of them have been very successful and influential in their own fields and do not need to be in a position. So what's in it for them? Service. Yes, it might sound absurd and unbelievable that a politician will not have any self-interest, but guess what, there are still people who just want to practice public service without expecting any return. Even though they have confronted a lot of challenges and they are not receiving anything, almost all of them still want to campaign for reelection. Suppose if all local politicians will work as a volunteer, imagine them having no monetary self-interest, imagine them running for reelection because of genuine service and imagine them harmoniously working for the development of the community. Having a hard time imagining it? Visit Mission Hills.
Council Chambers (Photo: Adhi Prana)
All city government are compelled to perform their duties for the communities, but not all are doing more than what is expected. Not all are unsatisfied with the status quo or what's given, not all are initiating change, and not all are in sync for the development of the community. As a fellow for legislative process and governance, we are on a constant journey of finding local governments that are known for their best practices. A journey that will broaden our perspective to develop a sense of values that will guide us along the path. And a journey that will forever mark in our minds and hearts to constantly remind us of our role as a fellow.
*Mission Hills is a beautiful master planned residential community with houses that resembles French estates, English Manor and Italian homes which is a vision nurtured by a famous developer and architect, Jesse Clyde Nichols, better known as J. C. Nichols