The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 15, 2012

New mayor says Joplin ‘poised for a takeoff’

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin’s new mayor, Melodee Colbert-Kean, believes her hometown is poised for a big future.

“I think I am going to be really busy,” she said of her two-year term at the helm of the City Council as the city prepares to launch what city leaders see as a vigorous recovery period from the devastation of the May 22 tornado.

“I just have a feeling we haven’t seen anything yet,” she said after her selection last week by a majority of the council to be mayor. Colbert-Kean is Joplin’s first African-American mayor.

She said she is eager to work with residents, the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, other city and state officials, and the business community.

“I want to meet everybody and have give and take with them” on projects for rebuilding, she said. “I’m excited about those partnerships.”

She said she commends and supports the work of City Manager Mark Rohr and all city employees, and the economic development effort of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s vital that we not only develop and get businesses into the city, but that we work with existing businesses to cultivate them and get them to grow,” she said.

Colbert-Kean said city leaders so far have laid a strong foundation for moving forward with the recovery.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle how far the city has come,” since the nation’s worst tornado in 60 years destroyed nearly a third of the city and claimed 161 lives. “I think after the one-year anniversary of the tornado, the city will be poised for a takeoff,” she said.

But Colbert-Kean said she believes Joplin was doing good work before the tornado as well.

Downtown revitalization is a significant achievement for the city that she supported, she said.

That was accomplished through investments and tax credit projects such as the renovation of the Gryphon Building, where offices, a restaurant, an art gallery and other tenants now inhabit a former grocery warehouse. By using streetscaping, helping to lay the groundwork for achieving historic landmark status for some structures, and providing assistance to refurbish building fronts, the city has fostered a downtown district that has synergy with Northpark Mall and other business districts, Colbert-Kean said. She worked as an assistant manager of the mall for 10 years.

Colbert-Kean said she wants to continue work the city had started before the tornado. She said she supports continuing to work with the Joplin School District and on initiatives started by her predecessor as mayor, Mike Woolston.

One of her main goals, she said, is to listen.

“I don’t make a lot of ‘out-there’ promises,” she said. “A lot of people just want them (officials) to listen to them.”

She said she believes in doing a follow-up on each call, email or letter she receives.

“I think it means the world to people to listen to them,” she said. “I find you can defuse a lot of things by listening.” She also wants to be sure people have the help they need to find the tools and resources for their projects.

Colbert-Kean said she wants to make her positive attitude the hallmark of her tenure, “with all of us pulling together toward a common goal.” She said the Unity Walk planned for the city’s tornado anniversary observance is a good theme for the recovery.

“Let’s stand up and be that way as a city,” she said.

She works at Charles Burt Realtors and as a substitute teacher. She is a volunteer with several organizations and a member of a number of boards, as well as being a mother of four and a wife. Colbert-Kean, 44, 527 N. Moffet Ave., has served on the City Council since 2006. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Missouri Southern State University.

Colbert-Kean has served as the council designate to the Downtown Joplin Alliance and is a member of the chamber.

Speaking last week at a reception marking the anniversary of Crosslines Churches, a local food pantry, she said she was not embarrassed to say there was a time in her life when she went there for groceries.

“I think it’s important that people aren’t made to feel ashamed to ask for help,” she said at the Crosslines event.

Family

Melodee Colbert-Kean and her husband, William Kean, have four children. They are Tyler Simon, 26, a Marine stationed in San Diego; Typhanee Colbert, 24, who will graduate next month from Tennessee State University in Nashville; Amber Kean, 20, a sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta; and Alissa Kean, 5.

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