PROGRESSING TOWARD COMMON GROUND — Pastors of the Progressive Ministers Union meet with the first minority elected to the Independence city commission, Louis Ysusi. This is one of several meetings the pastors have planned with Ysusi and the other commissioners throughout the months to come. Steve McBride | Staff Photo
PROGRESSING TOWARD COMMON GROUND — Pastors of the Progressive Ministers Union meet with the first minority elected to the Independence city commission, Louis Ysusi. This is one of several meetings the pastors have planned with Ysusi and the other commissioners throughout the months to come. Steve McBride | Staff Photo


Commissioner Ysusi meets with pastors


It was early Sunday morning that pastors with the Progressive Ministers Union gathered at the Berean Christian Church to meet with the newest Independence city commissioner, Louis Ysusi. This was a historical and groundbreaking moment for the group as they met with Ysusi, the first minority elected to serve as a city commissioner in Independence. It was also an opportunity to ask Ysusi questions that concern the minority community and what he sees as ways to resolve those issues. 

The meeting was well represented by Melvin Simpson, Youngs Chapel Church of God in Christ in Independence and First Church in Coffeyville; Robert Montgomery, pastor, Maple Street Baptist Church; Michael Rose, pastor, Berean Christian Mission; Clifford Johnson, pastor, St. Johns Baptist Church; Antoney Turner, pastor, True Vine Baptist Church; Brandee Mimitzraiem, pastor, Quinn Chapel AME and Charles Barker, pastor, Pleas Temple Church Of God In Christ.

Presiding over the meeting, Barker said, "We had an opportunity to meet with him prior to the election and to hear what was on his heart and see his vision for Independence." 

The Progressive Ministers Union was formed several years ago when the churches came together to encourage one another. "Once a month we typically got together on a Wednesday and had a service at one of our churches. Over the course of the years with the changes of pastors and churches we went our own ways and we stopped meeting collectively. It was prior to the shooting in South Carolina, Pastor Montgomery and myself decided that we needed to get together more often. When the shooting took place we said to each other that we should have been together as a group to help prevent situations like that in the future," said Barker. Since that time they are determined to meet consistently, working to encourage one another, serve the people and the community. 

Barker turned to Ysusi and praised him for his efforts to serve the community as he said, "We are determined to do the same - much like what you are doing. It should always be known we are not a separate group we are determined to serve our community." 

Barker then turned the conversation over to Ysusi for his comments on why he felt it was important to run for city commissioner and to share his vision for the future of the community for all people.

For Ysusi this was his first meeting with a group outside of the city commission meetings. "I am glad you chose me to meet with and discuss the issues concerning the city," he said. Ysusi, who is of Mexican descent, shared some of his own stories of his family's battles with racism and how they have overcome the prejudice through encouragement and perseverance to break down those walls that divide. 

"We come a distance but we have a long way to go. We can now see what happens when we don't bring everybody along. Society is valuable and everybody has value. When we don't give people opportunity to step and be part of their community then society as a whole suffers. We can't afford to leave people behind but the responsibility also relies on people and we have to make sure the people buy into how each person makes a difference in the outcome of their community and society in general. As opportunities arise to be part of the process they must do their part too," stated Ysusi. "There is a lot of responsibility on us as leaders and a lot of responsibility we put on our children to continue to build on the future of our community by having the same opportunities."  

Ysusi never had the desire to be a commission until he began getting involved in attending the city commission meetings over the past three years and watched as, what he felt, decisions were made that were not being taken serious. "One of the biggest issues that annoyed me was the neglect of the water plant. The commission was given a study in 1992 or 1993 that identified the issues we have today with the water plant. The city was talking about the situation three years ago and the commission was told by the department head it was being operated on a shoe string and they couldn't guarantee the plant would be running the next day. Now, three years later, a water rate study was done; the commission before that could not tell if the water plant was making or losing money," said Ysusi.

He point was, if the city had began working on the situation in the 1990s the city could have implemented the project in phases. He reflected on how the city has changed in the past 25 years and how difficult it is to implement the water rates adjustment when the city is struggling to recover from adjustments in population, employment and wages. "I can't give you an answer as to why we didn't address the issue years ago but I had seen too much wasted time and decisions being put off and now we all are suffering for it," commented Ysusi. 

Ysusi stated, he is not doing his job as a commissioner if he does not bring the issues the city faces to the public and keeps them informed of what is happening and asks the community to become involved in providing their input in helping move the community in the right direction that will benefit all citizens. "We (Commission) must be held accountable and we are spending their money wisely while looking at the total interest of the community," he said. 

"I think I am here, in this position as commissioner, because of what God wants me to do. I didn't want to be involved in politics but I got involved because I saw a lot of problems that weren't being addressed."

The pastors asked Ysusi what he saw as remedies for some of issues that face the community. Concerns regarding the high unemployment, wages, housing, retaining our young people, growing use of illegal drugs, taxes, poverty and confidence in local government.

Barker asked, "Here you are with all these city issues and the people don't have much confidence in the elected officials or those in the city government that serve in critical areas. How do you restore confidence in their local government when the people have issues that have divided the community in many cases?" 

Ysusi answered by stating, "We must start by being an open and responsive government. We serve everyone in the community. If we present a situation, we need to explain why we are in it and how we got there and what we need to do about it. We all know that there will be decisions that have to be made that are not always going to be popular. The people expect the commissioners to have a thorough knowledge of that problem and to come up with alternatives to solve it," he said. 

One such proposal Ysusi is investigating is forming an interlocal agreement between all of the county communities and the county government in pooling their resources, utilizing material and personnel to benefit each community. By using the county as a purchasing partner rather than each community buying their own materials the county could buy the materials in bulk and it be dispersed among the cities as per their needs.

"This is one way we could all benefit by saving money," he claimed. He stressed the need to be creative and to look at new ways of doing business in these small communities with limited resources. "Some of these ideas will work and some won't but we should be open to trying to think of new ways of building on the future of our area," said Ysusi.

Ysusi concluded, "We want your (the community's) input. We want your suggestions. I will listen to anything that concerns the public. This is a long process and we didn't get here overnight, but as long as we are showing the people we are taking steps forward and we are willing to make those changes that benefit the community while spending their money as wisely as we can, my hope is that we can restore the public's faith in their local government to do what is right for our city."