JOPLIN, Mo. —
A 5-4 split on the Joplin City Council elected Melodee Colbert-Kean mayor on Monday night after a show of support by business leaders for a motion to re-elect sitting Mayor Mike Woolston.
Colbert-Kean referred to a rift among the city’s elected leadership in her acceptance remarks while chiding the council to get along.
“I am extremely thankful for those who voted for me,” and those who elected her mayor, said Colbert-Kean, the city’s former mayor pro tem. “Hopefully we can get past the perceived differences on the council,” and continue the city’s tornado recovery, she said, “instead of trying to bring to the city down or bringing this council down. She said that the mayor “a figurehead” who signs city ordinances and performs other ceremonial duties “but we have to work together.”
After the meeting, asked what “perceived differences” the council members have, she said, “I think it has to do with the way the mayor is elected and voted on by the council. It brings about divisiveness on the council.”
Colbert-Kean was re-elected April 3 to a Zone 2 post on the council. Another incumbent who was re-elected, Bill Scearce, was elected Monday night as the mayor pro tem.
Colbert-Kean was not clear about whether her remarks were directed at a previous split over whether she or Scearce was to be mayor, or an effort by council members Morris Glaze and Mike Seibert to tab Woolston for a second term as mayor. Glaze and Seibert said Woolston would provide for continuity as the city enters what the city manager has described as a key phase in the city’s recovery from the devastating May 22 tornado.
Glaze nominated Woolston and asked those who were there in support of him to stand. About a dozen people stood, including the president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, Rob O’Brian, and the chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team, Jane Cage.
Asked after the meeting if she would favor a change in the city charter to allow voters to elect the mayor rather than the council, Colbert-Kean said the Joplin Charter Review Commission considered that question in 2006, but wound up leaving it to the council to decide. “Since we are not a strong mayor (form of government), that was the reason why,” she said of the commission’s decision to leave the mayoral election to the council.
“I just hope we can come together,” she said of the two factions that have developed on the panel. Scearce and council members Benjamin Rosenberg, who was unopposed in Tuesday’s election, and Jack Golden are friends.
Council members Scearce, Rosenberg, Golden, Trisha Raney supported Colbert-Kean in her bid for mayor. Glaze, Seibert and Gary Shaw supported Woolston in his bid for mayor.
She said she is the first African-American to serve as the city’s mayor. Former council member Jim West said she is the fourth woman to serve as mayor. The previous women were Lena Beal, Kay Wells and Cheryl Dandridge, he said.
Her goals during her mayoral term are “to continue moving the city forward and continue growing the city,” Colbert-Kean said.
Before the mayoral election, Woolston presented a number of keys to the city to people he felt are keys in the city’s recovery and progress.
Those are Cage and the CART, O’Brian and the chamber, Randy Steele, president of the Joplin School Board, and City Manager Mark Rohr on behalf of city employees.
Woolston said the city is deeply indebted to the first responders and volunteers who answered the call for rescue and recovery help.
“But the lion’s share of the success we’ve achieved is because of our citizens,” he said, and he presented a key to the city on behalf of residents. He said that the key should be displayed in a public place where residents can show their friends and family and tell them stories about the historic tornado, which killed 161 people and destroyed about a third of the city.
Woolston too spoke of the council rift.
“I can’t say why the recovery was so successful,” Woolston said. “But we have to stay working together,” to keep the recovery going, he said. “We have got to stay on track, focused on the future, and we can’t get to arguing amongst ourselves.”
Melodee Colbert-Kean is serving her second full term on the council. She was appointed to an unexpired term in 2006 and elected in 2008.