Frank Offutt, Platte City’s longest-serving mayor, to step aside
t is clear, strolling down Main Street with the longest-serving mayor in Platte City’s history, that Frank Offutt has achieved exactly what he set out to do.
And that’s building and sustaining relationships with members of the community. People trust and support the 37th mayor of Platte City even during a time that many politicians find unforgiving.
Business owners and residents alike say Offutt is blessed with patience, a great sense of political efficacy and an ability to listen to people, invaluable qualities to have as a mayor of a fourth-class city.
The good people of Platte City first elected Offutt as mayor in April of 1998. After serving a pair of 2-year terms as mayor, he was defeated by Dave Brooks in the 2002 election.
Then in April of 2008, Offutt defeated Brooks in a mayoral race and was reelected in another five consecutive elections.
It certainly wasn’t a design to set a record for service in office, said Offutt Thursday at City Hall. Instead, Offutt humbly claims, it’s only because the citizens granted me the privilege to remain in office.
The privilege to serve is a great one, he added. Public service is a higher calling. To be allowed to serve in an elected office is a tier above that.
But with the privilege comes the responsibility, acknowledged Offutt. Not only do politicians ask people to trust their vision of a better government but support it by passing tax measures or bonds at the ballot box.
Offutt often says he sees the role of local government as the chief maintenance of authority. A well-designed local government provides the basic necessities that its citizens rely upon on a consistent basis, like maintaining roads, providing sanitation services and taking care of recreational areas, said Offutt. These services affect the everyday lives of citizens and he believes it is essential for local governments to ensure these basic functions are carried out.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have curbs and gutters in town, we didn’t have sidewalks, we didn’t have a park system. Main Street was two or three blocks and all the businesses were on it. People would come to town on Friday night to exchange chickens and a can of cream for products and goods sold by merchants,” said Offutt.
As unlikely as it may seem, local government didn’t have the resources to purchase a garbage truck in 1967. The city had to pass a bond issue, added Offutt.
Times have changed. Today, Platte City’s 3.5 square mile domain is quite different. It has all the amenities and necessities one looks for in a place to settle down. It has a community center, casual neighborhood restaurants and shopping hotspots, but it’s also full of small-town charm.
Sure, the amount spent on local government services differs from city to city. But Platte City delivers excellent services for what the taxes are that pay for those services, Offutt says.
Platte City has approximately 5,000 residents and spends $1,200 per person on public services annually, the mayor said.
Categorically, Offutt has created a very tight budget process that has resulted in high quality municipal services during a multi-year period of declining revenue, said D.J. Gehrt, city administrator of Platte City since late in 2011.
While focusing predominantly on public services, local governments often do not have adequate resources or are sharply limited to address mental health needs or the poor. Offutt said churches are sometimes in a better position to address some social programs and services, including unemployment services and counseling centers.
Moreover, a local government that attempts to provide social services runs the risks of attracting more needy people.
“Those social services are not something that local government was built for,” he said. “But we can support those industries that take on that work.”
During his tenure, Offutt worked on some extraordinary projects, like building out Kentucky Avenue from 4th Street to Price Chopper, adding basic infrastructure east of I-29 and embellishing Settlers Crossing Park at the end of Main Street with a boat anchor.
The results of his effectiveness, integrity and total dedication to Platte City are evident anywhere you look throughout the community, said Gehrt. Frank has been a longtime supporter and advocate of east side development, which is finally beginning to occur today. His leadership played a major role in the city and school district partnering to construct Kentucky Avenue as a full four-lane street. This project had been on the city plans for over 30 years before he saw the time was right for the city and school district to work collectively to fund and construct this important roadway.
Offutt is first to admit the improvements occurred over a prolonged period of time, and after much encouragement and planning by ordinary people.
Another way in which Offutt makes city government run smoothly and effectively is by not hesitating to address an issue that becomes before him.
“Much of his success was his understanding that the timing of decisions is almost as important as the facts of the decision,” said Gehrt. “He had an uncanny knack for knowing when the time was ripe to move forward with a project or decision, and when it was better to stay still and let things work themselves out. Frank was also keenly focused on working with the board of aldermen to develop a durable consensus regarding the direction and policies of the city. His focus on board consensus allowed the city to quickly make the most important business and policy decisions at the monthly board meetings.”
Offutt agrees much of his success has been due to his ability to work effectively with others and not waste people’s time.
“The successes that I have seen have occurred because of cooperation between the business community, the residents of Platte City and the direction in which they wanted to see the city develop and grow,” said Offutt.
The city staff, operating collectively, has significantly shaped Platte City, claims Offutt.
“I would put this community and staff up against the bigger cities, we can take them on,” said Offutt. “If there is an issue, we can address it–instead of appearing inept in response to a situation that develops.”
Offutt is mindful that if the local government is unproductive and unresponsive, population and property values will decrease. The housing market in Platte City is a strong indication that local government is running effectively.
“A house hardly comes up for sale in Platte City,” said Offutt. “If it does, it just changes hands magically.”
Offutt’s personality and extensive history in Platte City have also led to his effectiveness as mayor.
“While Frank has a great deal of professional knowledge and an uncanny ability to focus the board’s decision making, the most evident quality that I saw every day for the past nine years is his commitment and dedication for Platte City and the Platte City community,” said Gehrt. “For Frank, almost every street corner, every building, every person had a story that tied into that location or person into the larger Platte City community. I cannot think of one day of working for Frank in which he has not pointed out or discussed some nugget of Platte City history.”
Background and keeping pace
Frank Offutt is a lifelong resident of Platte City. His maternal grandparents had the good fortune of running a farm south of Platte City, while his paternal grandparents ran a general store in Hampton. Later, his paternal grandparents had the good sense to move to Platte City, where his grandfather became a judge, an elected position now known as a county commissioner.
It was eavesdropping on his grandfather’s intellectual debates with ordinary citizens on issues like whether to construct an airport in this county that prepared Frank for city government. He learned early on that city officials need patience and that community projects should keep pace to match the city’s growth.
Generally, local governments operate as a “slowly geared machine.” Offutt sees this as a positive benefit in many cases, pointing out the process of holding public hearings, vetting discussions with business leaders and engaging church members, reduces unforeseen conflicts in the long run and assures any proposed project will last the test of time.
Offutt said he was in favor of the recent use tax question on the ballot in Platte City, especially as big boxed stores lose their popularity to commercial purchases conducted on the internet.
“To keep our local businesses on equal footing with e-commerce, it’s a necessity to keep the playing field balanced,” said Offutt. The use tax question passed by a mere four votes, with 206 in favor and 202 opposed earlier this month.
Being that Platte City is a sales tax community with low property taxes and no personal property taxes, encouraging people to do business here is a major supporter of keeping the quality of life in various services. “We’re humble that we don’t have big dollars,” said Offutt.
“Even with less funding, under Frank’s leadership the city has nearly doubled its rainy day reserve funds, maintained the same or lower property tax rates for the past 20 years and increased the city’s bond rating to AA+, a level almost unheard of for a city with an official population of less than 5,000 residents,” said Gehrt.
The city is also adding a splash park with funding generated from the city’s half cent park’s tax. Over a 10-year period, the city generates just enough resources to enhance the community with a new park project.
Permits and procedures
When Mayor Offutt enters the Bee Creek Café and Bakery on Main Street to grab a cup of tea, it is not surprising to see him personally greet the staff and customers by name. He points out the establishment installed an overhead sectional garage door during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“It (the shutdown) was a good use of time for businesses to invest in their buildings and attract customers to their storefront,” said Offutt.
But an obvious concern arose among city officials when several folks didn’t realize in certain cases, depending upon the extent of the work, it’s a necessity to obtain a building permit.
Although the city’s website makes it easy for businesses and homeowners to obtain an application for a building permit, Offutt says it’s his responsibility to explain why it is required and try to issue permits in a timely fashion.
“People aren’t versed in permits and procedures, so we make the process easy and free of intimidation,” said Offutt. “We’re not punishing anybody. These are the rules and we’re just trying to uphold them. That’s good government.”
Many in the business community admire and appreciate Offutt’s ability to look at every situation with a sense of usefulness. His can-do attitude is certainly contagious, supporters say.
“It is difficult to put into words the depth of gratitude we have for Mayor Offutt and his enthusiastic support he has offered the Platte City Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council over the years,” said Angie Mutti, the executive director of the Platte City Area Chamber of Commerce/EDC. “From ribbon cuttings and open houses to proclamations and business outreach, Mayor Offutt has not missed a beat expressing his desire for Platte City to be a top-notch community for everyone.”
Passing of the gavel
Over the next two years, the daunting role of mayor will fall on the shoulders of another experienced member of city government.
At 7 p.m. on June 23, Offutt will pass the gavel to Tony Paolillo, who has served as president of the board of aldermen for several years.
Paolillo is owner of the small business, Pao’s Custom Decks and Construction.
Of course, Offutt sat the bar high for this critical role.
“I only hope that I can serve the city half as well as Mayor Offutt,” Paolillo recently told The Landmark.
It appears Paolillo is seeking to reinvigorate the business community.
“This will be an opportunity for a new vision to step in and see where they want to take the city in the future,” said Offutt.