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In-fighting causes loss of grant money

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Downtown drama.
Between disagreements and personality conflicts, Parkville has had its share of downtown drama when it comes to relationships among merchant organizations and city leaders.

The latest episode has cost the Main Street Parkville Association a $40,000 grant that would have helped the organization fine tune its procedures, assisted with training of staff and helped it utilize volunteers more effectively.

The drama occurred at a meeting last Wednesday at which MSPA officers were being elected for 2016. A slate of officers was being chosen, and printed ballots were handed out to attendees as they arrived. The ballot contained the names of Troy Wilson as returning chairman, Alisha Blackwelder as vice chairman, as well as the nominees for secretary and treasurer.

After that slate of nominees had been put forward, Marsha VanDever, the paid executive director of the Parkville Chamber of Commerce, asked Blackwelder if she would be interested in serving as chair instead of vice chair. Blackwelder accepted the idea and what some are calling a “coup” was on. Blackwelder was elected.

Those who were there indicate there was some confusion in the process and a clear divide in the room. Sitting in the room was a liaison from the statewide organization that had already given verbal approval to the Parkville MSPA for the $40,000 grant.

Two days later, the MSPA was being notified it had lost the grant. The notification letter from Gayla Roten, executive director of the Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. says the grant is being recalled because “the community is struggling with coming together to be able to put in appropriate time and energy into carrying out the goals and objectives for a united community revitalization plan.”

There is an outside chance the MSPA could requalify for the grant at some point in the future. But for now, the money is gone.

“I didn’t see it coming,” said Wilson of being voted out as chairman.

Wilson has earned praise from many MSPA members for his leadership, guiding the organization to a bank balance of around $100,000 and putting in many hours toward securing the People Energizing Places grant from the Missouri Main Street Association.
He indicated the loss of the grant is a major blow to downtown Parkville and the MSPA.

The grant, which would have included a match of $9,600 in local money split three ways from the MSPA, the Parkville Olde Towne Community Improvement District and the City of Parkville, would have brought in the Missouri Main Street Connection, Inc. as a major asset to the local organization.

“We’ve lost out on all the insight and training that they can bring to the table,” Wilson said. He said areas that have been awarded those grants in the past have shown growth despite strains in the general economy.

“I’m saddened by the whole thing. Disappointed. Just at a loss for words, really,” Wilson told The Landmark this week.

So was there an intentional coup to bring in a sweeping change of leadership and if so who orchestrated it?

Some of the MSPA members are pointing the finger at Nan Johnston, Parkville mayor, who was at the meeting and took part in the voting.

Contacted by The Landmark, Johnston denies she had a plan in place for a new slate of officers. And she blames the loss of the grant on “people who were upset at the outcome of the election of officers.”

Johnston on Tuesday said “the elections were not the issue. it was the reaction of the people who were disappointed in the board members that were elected.”

Johnston claims some disappointed MSPA member(s) contacted the state organization and encouraged the state group to pull the grant.

Who does she think contacted the state?

“I have no idea,” Johnston said.

Asked if she was happy with the change of leadership at MSPA, Johnston said: “That’s completely irrelevant because I will work with whoever is there,” but then she quickly added: “I had heard a lot of disappointment about the (originally nominated) slate of officers.”

“I hope that everything can be worked out and that we can salvage the grant. But we all have to be on the same page and I think that will take a while yet. It’s a setback only in that there won’t be expertise to guide the association,” the mayor said.

“It will take the cooperation of all the interested parties downtown to get the grant back,” the mayor remarked.

Tom Hutsler, active member of the MSPA, told The Landmark “it was no secret” Johnston had been trying to recruit people to serve as new officers for MSPA in recent months. Hutsler says the mayor has tried to micromanage Parkville’s downtown organizations.

When asked whom he thought generated the push for a switch in officers, Wilson said he has no idea.

“I can speculate but I have no idea. You hear rumors but I don’t operate by rumors, I go right to the horse’s mouth.”

Wilson said the rumors he heard were that the mayor had orchestrated the change in officers. He said he asked her about it.

“Nan says she had nothing to do with it,” he said.

VanDever, the chamber of commerce paid executive who openly asked Blackwelder if she would like to be chairman instead of vice chairman, said:

“It was just a question if she would be interested in being chair. I didn’t have any thoughts one way or another. I had heard that Alisha was interested so I was curious if she were nominated would she accept,” VanDever said in an interview with The Landmark Tuesday.

VanDever said she did not consider it inappropriate for her as a paid representative of the chamber to be involved in influencing the outcome of board elections for the MSPA.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I’m a voting member of MSPA. I was just there as my position with the chamber. I attend monthly meetings,” she said.

VanDever said she had no advance discussions with anyone in regard to a new panel of officers being nominated.
Attempts to reach Blackwelder, who works for Park University in university relations and development, had been unsuccessful at Landmark deadline.

Asked if she was aware that the $40,000 grant had been pulled, VanDever said:
“I think the grant pulling is unfortunate. There was a representative of the state organization there so he saw what happened. It was pulled shortly after that.”

The representative of the Missouri Main Street Connection who was at the meeting was Keith Winge. He had not returned phone messages prior to Landmark press time.

“It’s politics. This is a not-for- profit organization but politics somehow weaseled its way into it,” said Wilson, the ousted chairman.

“It’s a sad day for Parkville.”