Santa and his crew are loading up the bus and hitting the streets of Grain Valley beginning Saturday, November 28th. This annual tradition will be modified due to COVID-19.
This year, children will greet Santa outside the bus, and Santa and his helpers will tossing stuffed toys and gifts to visiting children. Pictures with Santa will be allowed with social distancing in mind. Residents are asked to not gather in groups of more than 10 people.
The Santa bus will visit neighborhoods in Grain Valley each weekend beginning November 28th. A full schedule and maps of Santa’s route can be found at www.gvsanta.com and on the GV Santa group on Facebook.
Upcoming routes for the Santa Bus include:
November 28th, 9:00am—approximately 7:00pm:
Grayleigh Park, Rosewood, Whispering Park, and Woodbury Sub-Divisions
November 29th, 11:00am—approximately 7:00pm
Everything North of I-70 other than Grayleigh Park, Rosewood Whispering Park, and Woodbury Sub-Divisions
December 5th, 11:00am—approximately 7:00pm
Everything between 40 Hwy and I-70
December 6th, 9:00am—approximately 7:00pm Everything between 40Hwy and Eagles Pkwy including Cypress St & Broadway East of Buckner-Tarsney, and Winding Creek Subdivision
Ongoing squabbles on social media among current Mayor Chuck Johnston, former mayor Mike Todd, and Grain Valley resident and Planning and Zoning Commission member Scott Shafer over the recent mayoral campaign and community campus bond issue grew even more heated in mid-September.
Former Mayor Todd posted criticism of Mayor Johnston to his former Mayor Facebook account, renamed “Grain Valley Community Advocate Michael Todd” on September 16th. Todd criticized Johnston for not lowering the City’s property tax rate after Johnston stated during the mayoral campaign that the tax should be lowered further than cuts made under Todd’s administration. Johnston replied to Todd’s statement with the following statement:
“I’m sure that the former Mayor knows that the Mayor can’t reduce taxes he can only try to influence the Board of Aldermen in those decisions. It is ultimately their decision. He also fails to mention that the City’s accounting firm had made the recommendation to the BoA (Board of Aldermen) to maintain the existing tax levy which in turn would pay off the entire city debt a year earlier and create a substantial savings in interest over the remaining term of the debt.”
Todd, Johnston, and Shafer continued to argue via Facebook, with Shafer posting a screen shot of a 2015 lawsuit filed by Diane Adams vs. Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. (OOIDA) in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Valley News was subsequently contacted by Shafer, who shared a copy of the suit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. Shafer stated he felt compelled to visit the courthouse and request a copy of the suit after receiving emails and calls about the case from unnamed sources.
The case was filed in October 2015 and dismissed by both parties in March 2017. The suit states the plaintiff, Ms. Adams, “was subjected to an unwelcome, hostile work environment including physical and verbal harassment by supervisor Chuck Johnston, causing PTSD, anxiety, and depression.” The suit also alleges the plaintiff registered several complaints with OOIDA President Jim Johnston, and was notified Chuck Johnston would be terminated. The suit alleges Chuck Johnston was reinstated and returned as an employee on January 7, 2015.
Reached for comment, OOIDA shared the following statement regarding the case:
“Diane Adams, a former employee of OOIDA, filed a lawsuit against OOIDA in 2015 alleging that she was subject to disability discrimination in connection with her employment. OOIDA denied Ms. Adams’ allegations and vigorously defended against the lawsuit. OOIDA and Ms. Adams agreed to resolve the lawsuit after approximately more than a year of litigation, with no admission of liability by OOIDA. Because the matter has been resolved by the parties, OOIDA will not provide further comment on this matter.”
Johnston declined to comment in detail regarding the suit.
“Ms. Adams didn’t file a lawsuit against me. Her claims were against OOIDA. However, because this matter involves personnel issues relating to OOIDA and because I’m still an employee of OOIDA it would be inappropriate for me to provide any further comment on this matter,” Johnston said.
Reached for comment regarding the recent arguments via social media, Shafer and Todd point to unmet campaign promises and lack of communication on the part of Johnston as their source of frustration.
“Let’s just say people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks. You never know who’s going to throw it back,” Shafer said.
“Mr. Johnston to start with ran a campaign on a lot of misleading information on the new complex. Mr. Johnston ran on a platform of better communication, better leadership, lowering taxes, cutting wasteful spending, and how he was not only going to fix more streets, but get it done at a faster rate. So far I have not seen any of this happen, in fact the city just passed the tax levy with no change. Under Mr. Johnston’s leadership, as for wasteful spending, Mr. Johnston has ran for Mayor three or four times in the past on how he was going to stop the wasteful spending. But when asked, no reply on where the city has and is wasting tax payers money,” Shafer said.
“After asking him questions on his Mayor (Facebook) page which, he said he would reply to, I’ve not received any reply other than criticizing my spelling. I attended a City meeting, asked questions with no reply other than ‘thank you’. Whether Mr. Johnston likes me or not, I do pay taxes and should get some answers to my questions. After all, he is the one that made all these accusations and promises. I think it’s only fair he should give answers.”
“My disagreement with him is that for years he had constant complaints about me. He said I wasn’t a leader and just a yes man. He said that everything that happened in town would have happened regardless of me and that I didn’t have a part in any of it. He also complained that I wasn’t on the Residents of Grain Valley Page to respond to residents and that he didn’t like the responses I gave to citizens during the citizen comment time at Alderman meetings. He ran on a platform of better communication with residents, lowering taxes, better streets happening faster, and cutting wasteful spending,” Todd said.
“He will have been in office 100 days as of September 30 I believe, and I haven’t seen any of that. Actually, I have seen the exact opposite of that in pretty much all of those areas. I would argue that his communication has been well below what mine was. On his Facebook page he has made very few posts since becoming Mayor and most of them are him complaining about what someone has said about what he is or isn’t doing or a conflict of interest he may or may not have. He also is not responding on Residents of Grain Valley (a Facebook group) and is hiding behind the social media policy that is in place.”
“I guess the bottom line is that I spent 10 years as Mayor and Grain Valley means a lot to me. It bothers me that he ran on all these promises and we haven’t seen action towards any of them and in most cases, we have seen actions that are direct opposites of what he said. He first ran for Mayor 10 years ago so he had lots of time to prepare for this, so he should have hit the ground running on day one with his ideas, and that is not what we have seen at all. I guess I call it like I see it and right now I’m not seeing anything that he sold the citizens of Grain Valley on,” Todd said.
Public posts and comments from the trio have been quiet in recent weeks. Johnston shared he plans to discontinue responding to posts on social media to the issues raised.
“Regarding Mr. Todd and Mr. Shafer, they are private citizens and entitled to their opinions. I have already spent too much time addressing their personal attacks on me and I will not spend any additional time responding or commenting on those issues. There are too many good things happening in Grain Valley and I intend on devoting my time and efforts towards working on those and additional improvements to our City,” Johnston said.
The Board of Aldermen met virtually by video conference for their August 24th meeting. The Board approved three resolutions in a brief meeting. The Board met virtually while City Hall makes changes to the Council Chambers to allow for proper physical distancing in the space.
“We are working to put precautionary COVID-19 safety measures in place inside the Council Chambers so we can, whenever possible, continue to meet in person during the duration of the pandemic,” Sara Nadeau, Public Information Officer for the City of Grain Valley said.
The measures were not completed by the August 24th meeting, so the meeting was held virtually.
The Board approved a resolution adopting an updated employee handbook and a resolution authorizing the City Administrator to enter into an agreement with Tyler Technologies for MyCivic 311 citizen engagement mobile application and cloud computing services.
The Board also approved a resolution authorizing the sale of bonds for the refunding of the Series 2011 General Obligation Bonds maturing in 2022 and beyond.
Community Development Director Mark Trosen and his staff received acknowledgements Alderman Headley for addressing a safety issue at a four-way stop in the Woodbury subdivision. Alderman Cleaver asked Trosen to look at the road markings at Sni-A-Bar and AA, as Cleaver has heard concerns from constituents regarding the lack of lane markings in that area.
The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Aldermen is a workshop scheduled for Monday, August 31st at 6:00pm in the Council Chambers at Grain Valley City Hall.
One of the beloved traditions of fall in Grain Valley, the Grain Valley Fair, plans to continue this year with modifications due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic..
The Fair, scheduled for Friday, September 11th and Saturday, September 12th, will be held in its usual location at Armstrong Park, but gone are many of the traditional events.
Mike Todd, Grain Valley Fair committee member, said the carnival will not be held due to the complications of social distancing and safety protocols.
“There will be no carnival because social distancing is almost impossible and the amount of riders they are limited to along with the additional staff they have to have to disinfect the rides each time makes it a non money maker for them,” Todd said.
The parade has also been canceled because social distancing cannot be guaranteed along the parade route.
“A lot of people are packed into a pretty small area standing shoulder to shoulder and we want to make sure to be as safe as possible,” Todd said.
The 3rd annual Grain Valley Fair 5K is currently scheduled to continue as an in-person event, with a virtual 5K option as well. The 5K is planned for Saturday, September 12th at 8:00am. A link to register for the 5K event can be found on the fair website,
Those who come to the fair for food are in luck. Friday evening will feature food vendors and some of the popular food trucks featured at this summer’s Food Truck Friday events. The food vendors and trucks will be located in the parking lots behind the Community Center where the fair is traditionally located. The committee is looking at starting the event around 5:00pm.
With plenty of space in the area, the committee hopes to be able to include a beer garden that would meet social distancing requirements.
“Music is still up in the air and will depend on where we are at on the county's opening plan at that point,” Todd said.
Food vendors and select food trucks will be back on Saturday, September 12th in the parking lot area. A select number of non food fair vendors are also planned.
“We will also have them set up around the track behind the pavilion. They will be in their own pop up tents and will all be spaced at least 10 feet apart,” Todd said.
Much depends upon the status of Jackson County’s reopening plan, so many details remain tentative. Additional details will be provided on the Fair’s website,
www.grainvalleyfair.com, and on the Fair’s Facebook page.
Truman Heartland Community Foundation will present this year’s Citizen of the Year honorees, selected by area mayors as a part of its 25th Annual Toast to Our Towns Gala, presented by CommunityAmerica Credit Union, online on Saturday, September 26, 2020.
These local volunteers were chosen because they lend their time, talents and position to promote our communities. Grain Valley’s honoree will be Christina “Kiki” Claphan.
A pillar in the Grain Valley community for over a decade, friends and family were shocked when Christina “Kiki” Claphan passed away suddenly in February 2020. Kiki’s legacy of kindness continues to make an impact throughout Eastern Jackson County.
During her life, Kiki’s joyful spirit helped her connect with and instill confidence in every child with whom she taught. A paraprofessional, Kiki spent the last ten years working with students with special needs in the Grain Valley School District. An active member of East Side Church in Independence, in 2017, Kiki developed and led a Sunday school class for children with special needs at the church.
Kiki was always willing to lend a hand at school and in the community. For several years, Kiki played the role of Mrs. Claus in Grain Valley’s annual Holiday Festival and in the summer months, she supervised teenagers who worked for the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
Kiki went above and beyond to make the programs fun and exciting for participants with her contagious sense of adventure and excitement. A thoughtful mentor, she went to great lengths to ensure that each child in attendance felt special and important.
Known for her big caring hugs, the Grain Valley community celebrated her life by championing the motto “Love Big, Hug On” and using #KindLikeKiki on shirts and social media.
Kiki’s siblings, Leslie Keys and Don Claphan, will accept the award on her behalf.
The Toast to Our Towns Gala will be held online on September 26, 2020. This one-hour celebration of philanthropy will start at 7:00 p.m. and broadcast to more than 40 different watch parties throughout Eastern Jackson County. Information about sponsoring a watch party is available at www.thcf.org/Gala.
It is difficult to remember what life was like in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as the virus and its impact has been a focus of our daily lives since March.
In early March, concerns regarding the virus were mainly focused on those who had traveled internationally or to one of the few affected areas in the States. So the coronavirus was not an immediate concern when Craig Hillbrand of Grain Valley began experiencing a cough, congestion, and shortness of breath in early March.
Hillbrand visited his primary care physician who suspected pneumonia and put him on a Z-Pak (Azithromycin). When his condition worsened, Hillbrand headed to the emergency department at St. Mary’s Medical Center. Not one to seek medical help unless absolutely necessary, his wife and son knew it was serious when he told them he hoped he would be admitted.
“I’ve never had pneumonia, but I’ve had the flu a few times over the years. I just couldn’t go. The fever and the chest pain was like nothing else. It’s hard to explain because I wasn’t thinking too clear at the time,” Hillbrand said.
“They both knew for me to mention wanting to go into the hospital, something was really wrong.”
Hillbrand was found to have pneumonia, multiple pulmonary emboli (blood clots), and tested positive for COVID-19.
“They told us if we hadn't brought him in that Saturday, he likely would not have made it through the weekend,” Craig’s wife Beverly Garrison said.
Hillbrand’s condition was tenuous at best many times during his stay. After going into respiratory failure, he was intubated for 29 days. During that time, he had kidney failure requiring dialysis, sepsis, and required an operation to remove dead skin which still requires wound care. Hillbrand lost 50 pounds of muscle and barely recognized himself when he was finally able to see himself in a mirror.
“I remember them taking the tube and the feeding tube out. During that entire period, I had no idea what was going on. When I realized what was finally going on and where I was, my first thought was concern for my wife and son who had been exposed to me.”
Both Beverly and her son Ryan tested negative for the virus.
Garrison and the couple’s three children were not able to visit Hillbrand during his stay, and had to deal with the shock and try to prepare for his recovery and after care in the meantime.
“The first two weeks, I was kind of in shock. Our middle son, Ryan, kept me focused and kept me going. And when the doctor said to get our son from North Carolina home, it was a shock. We called and got him here, and got to wave (to Hillbrand) through the window. From there, you just have to stay informed and go on with things,” Garrison said.
“If they (St. Mary’s) had to do something out of the ordinary, they would call and kept me informed. They are just incredible there,” Garrison said.
After moving into the rehab unit, Craig worked hard with the help of therapists to regain his strength. Used to his independence, it has been an adjustment to have to depend on others for help.
“They had alarms on beds, so if you get out, the alarm goes off. Well, I had a problem with that,” Hillbrand joked and his wife laughed in appreciation. “I got in trouble a few times. I’ve been independent forever, and I hated to rely on someone else.”
Hillbrand gives endless praise to the physicians, nurses, therapists and staff who kept him going and helped him fight.
“Just the overall professionalism and the concern they showed me was incredible.”
“I told my therapists and doctors, ‘If I’m gonna make it, I wanna walk out of here.’ They made it happen.”
Hillbrand walked out of St. Mary’s on May 22nd with the aid of a walker and the applause of St. Mary’s staff and the theme to the movie Rocky in the background. In a social media post, St. Mary’s Medical Center called Hillbrand a “walking miracle”.
Hillbrand continues to regain strength and the ability to be independent, but the after effects of the virus make recovery slower than he would like.
“It’s hard to take. I’ve been active and independent forever. I worked 40 years, was in the Navy. I thought maybe I’d be back to work in August. But I’m having to realize that my body’s not there yet. You have to mentally get square with what you still have to go through to get back.”
“There’s also survivor guilt with this as well that’s harder than anything. You see the stories of 30 year-olds getting the virus, going into the hospital for a week and dying. It is hard to take.”
“He’s still having emotional ups and downs and anxiety when going out, and it’s understandable,” Garrison said.
“The first time we ate at a restaurant, he had anxiety about going in. Nobody had masks on, and you could just tell by the look on his face, ‘OK, we need to leave now’,”
“I don’t think people are taking it seriously enough. People are saying, ‘I don’t want to be told I have to wear a mask. Well, OK. But that’s a pretty simple thing compared to what you might have to deal with. The statistics are showing that younger people are increasingly being diagnosed with it. You hear someone say, ‘I’m young, I’ll get through it.’ Well, you’d better have a strong body and good insurance, and even then, it can still claim you,” Hillbrand said.
“People need to take this seriously. It affects not just you, but everyone around you,” Garrison said.
“A good support system, both family and medical staff, has been essential, and we were lucky to have good health coverage. I can see where it can bankrupt a family. We’ve seen the bills.”
“But I feel really lucky. I’m capable of doing everything at home now, and I’m getting stronger,” Hillbrand said.
“And we’re all happy to have him home,” Garrison said.
Local fireworks tents have opened for business, offering a variety of products guaranteed to fill neighborhoods with the familiar booms, sulphur smell, and aerials to light up the night sky.
Per Grain Valley’s municipal code (220.090), the discharge of fireworks is permitted between the hours of 9:00am—11:00pm on July 2nd, July 3rd, and July 4th within the city limits of Grain Valley.
Many area fireworks shows have been canceled due to COVID-19, including the annual event held in Blue Springs. The City of Oak Grove will present a fireworks display which will begin at 10:00pm, weather permitting.
Mayor Chuck Johnston and recently elected Board of Aldermen took the oath of office Monday, June 22nd at City Hall, the first in-person meeting held in several months due to Stay-at-Home orders related to COVID-19.
Ward 1 Alderman Jayci Stratton, Ward 2 Alderman Rick Knox, and Ward 3 Alderman Bob Headley also took the oath of office during the meeting. Ward 2 Alderman Yolanda West who did not run for re-election was recognized for her 9 years of service on the board.
In his first report as Mayor, Johnston outlined his two immediate priorities. First, Johnston stated the most common complaint he hears from residents concerns the condition of City roads.
“What we have budgeted now, I don’t even think we can start to make a dent, and with that kind of budget we can never catch up,” Johnston said.
Johnston also stated he is “well aware that we have problems here at City Hall with space for staff and the police department, and I am looking for some recommendations for what we can do in this area to make the changes we need at a more reasonable cost than what was projected”, referring to the recently rejected bond issue to develop a community campus on the site of the former Sni-A-Bar Farms.
In other business, the Board reviewed a liquor license requested by B&B Theatres to add a bar at the location, and an ordinance to gain final plat approval for the 10th plat of the Rosewood Hills subdivision. The final plat contains 42 lots with 10.5 acres designated for common area for water detention purposes and setback from a creek in the area.
The next Board of Aldermen meeting is scheduled for July 13th at 7:00pm at City Hall.
Mayor Mike Todd concludes his term on June 22nd after 16 years of service to Grain Valley. Todd began his service to the City of Grain Valley in 2004 as an Alderman and has served as Mayor since 2010.
Grain Valley has seen historic growth during Todd’s tenure. Todd and the Board of Aldermen were part of the planning and infrastructure of the development of the area surrounding the I-70 interchange area and Rosewood Hills and Woodbury subdivisions. Todd has also been involved in several community building efforts in the City, including the Trail or Treat event established 8 years ago, establishing the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund two years ago, and the formation of the Grain Valley Youth Engagement Services (GV YES).
“It has been a great experience for myself and my family. We got to experience a lot of wonderful things from lighting the Mayor's Christmas Tree to dressing up at Trail or Treat to many more. It has given me a chance to really give back to my community and at the same time has shown my daughter what service to one's community is,” Todd said.
“There are lots of things I'm proud we accomplished as a community. We have had tremendous commercial and residential growth while at the same time keeping Grain Valley one of the safest cities in Missouri. We've lowered our tax levy several times while keeping our services at a great level for our residents. Over the last several years we have really seen community pride when it comes to our events. Attendance at these events has gone up and it really helps to keep that small town feel. Throughout all of this, it is also important to me that we have continued to be able to offer senior citizen discounts on water along with free Community Center memberships. One of the things I'm most proud of is our staff. I'm probably biased, but I truly believe our city employees are the best group of city staff you will find in the state of Missouri.”
Todd and his wife Tosha have worked alongside a team of volunteers to coordinate the Grain Valley Fair and parade for several years. The Fair added a 5K event two years ago, the proceeds of which benefit local nonprofit organizations. Todd will remain active with the Fair committee, who has recently teamed with the Grain Valley Partnership to offer Food Truck Fridays in downtown Grain Valley beginning June 19th.
As Todd steps away from City leadership, he says he is proud of the work completed and will miss working with the community and City staff in this capacity. As for things he won’t miss, he could only think of one thing.
“Unfortunately, with the rise in social media we have seen negativity increase as well. Not just in Grain Valley, but everywhere. I won't miss the negative attacks based on half-truths and inaccurate information. After these years, it’s still difficult to sit back and see it occurring, but in the position of an elected official you can't really respond for a number of reasons.”
In a press conference held June 17th, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., in coordination with the Women’s Foundation, announced a paid parental leave policy for public employees.
The executive order establishes up to 12 weeks of guaranteed paid parental leave for all eligible County staff following the birth or adoption of a child. The new paid parental leave policy, which adds an additional seven weeks to the current policy of five weeks, extends to same sex parents and takes effect immediately.
“Many people struggle to care for their families, go into debt or even lose their jobs for simply having a baby. Today, we’re sending a message that families come first at Jackson County. We’re sending a message that quality of life is important to us,” Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr said. “Our new, expanded paid parental leave policy is equal, adequate and accessible. It ensures our Associates, no matter their job, salary or status, have the opportunity to be there for the most precious moments of their lives. With the support of the Women’s Foundation, we are proud to be a leader in this nationwide effort and encourage others to join us by taking a stand for working parents to build stronger families.”
The County’s new paid parental leave policy includes the following highlights:
Up to 12 weeks of leave at 100% of the eligible staff member’s pay.
Applies to mothers and fathers equally, and to both parents if they are eligible County staff.
Can be taken all at once or intermittently.
An eligible staff member must start the paid leave within 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child.
Allows County staff who have experienced an eligible birth or adoption within the 12 months prior to the policy’s effective date to access additional paid leave.
“Childbirth and parenting a newborn are physically and mentally hard. It takes time to heal, time to get on a schedule, time to prepare for childcare, time to care for a partner,” Whitney Miller, new mother and Department of Collection Director said. “New parents deserve the time to put all of their energy into their new baby so they can return to work feeling more prepared and focused. This new policy gives associates at every level of County employment just that and I hope today’s action by the County Executive encourages other public entities to follow his lead.”
“When children are born, it’s all hands-on deck for families. Having time to spend together and support each other makes the lives of mom, dad and baby less stressful and more joyful,” Matt Davis, father of two and Jackson County Associate said. “This new policy demonstrates that Jackson County values their associates and their families, is considerate of their health and well-being and is forward-thinking about policies to make this organization a better place to work.”
Expanding access to paid parental leave has been a top priority of the Women’s Foundation, which has been working to educate public officials on the importance of the benefit, advocating for 12 weeks of paid parental leave at 100% pay for state employees. As a result, the Women’s Foundation has helped secure paid parental leave to more than 100,000 state employees in Missouri and Kansas.
"Paid family leave empowers women, their families and helps build thriving communities,” Wendy Doyle, Women’s Foundation President & CEO said. “The commitment County Executive White and his team have made to strengthen Jackson County’s economy and associates' families sets a new standard for both state and local governments.”
Women’s Foundation research, commissioned in partnership with the University of Missouri Institute of Public Policy, found that paid leave programs prevent families from falling into poverty, reduce reliance on public assistance, recruit and retain talented employees and increase worker productivity. It also found about 35% of the country believes expanding paid leave should be a top government priority.
County Executive White’s announcement today comes on the heels of the County fully implementing the recommendations from a compensation study that ensured all county associates are making a competitive and living wage.