Restaurant Owner by Day, Council Woman by Night: Colbert-Kean Calls it a Career in City Politics

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JOPLIN, Mo. — The response to COVID-19 has affected the everyday lives of health care workers, law enforcement, and everyday people. As a small business owner and city council woman, Melodee Colbert-Kean is feeling the impact in more ways than one.

Colbert-Kean has been the co-owner of Me’s Place in Joplin with her husband, William since 2013.

“It’s a nice escape,” said Colbert-Kean It’s a chance to talk to people, to cook for people, to let them be themselves.”

Like many small businesses in the area, every day was a fight to stay open in the midst of the pandemic response. The soul food restaurant was closed for the entire month of April.

“Restaurants are social gathering and people are meant to be social beings,” Colbert-Kean explained. “The virus has made it difficult for us to connect anymore.”

Despite the setback, operations have since changed to fit the challenging times.

“We’ve been doing carry-out just like a lot of restaurants have,” she added. “And it’s actually going to force us to modify our reopenings not only with spacing, but to modify our hours, how often we are open, offering more carry-out or a day of carry-out. It’s going to be a lot of different changes for restaurants.”

When the doors of Me’s Place close for the day, Colbert-Kean’s sleeves stay rolled up, trading in her apron for a seat in the Joplin city council chambers. She has served with the City of Joplin since 2006, including taking on the role of mayor in Joplin’s post-Tornado rebuilding stage.

“It was definitely answering a call — doing what I was put there to do for a reason.”

Her leadership has carried her to roles beyond the city, serving with the Missouri Municipal League and the National League of Cities.

“If you feel like you can still be useful and still be positive in a situation and still help people then by all means, continue doing it.”

But more recently, her role as a council member has been magnified. Over the past several months, the council has had to make tough decisions surrounding the response to the pandemic.

In March, the City of Joplin issued a stay-at-home order and in April came a plan to re-open the city. Now, as the State of Missouri continues its COVID-19 response, all eyes are on the city in moving forward.

“You have to think of the city as a whole and what is best for the entire city. We are trying to do the best we can with the information we are presented, but I often find myself torn down the middle.”

After 14 years with the city, Colbert-Kean will be calling it a career in politics. With the city council election coming up on June 2, Colbert-Kean will walk into the council chambers one more time for her final meeting on Monday, June 1.

“It gives me a whole new outlook on the work that I was put there to do because like I said, nobody does it on their own.”

But, her desire to serve her community remains constant.

“When it’s time, it’s time,” Colbert-Kean explained. “That does not mean that I am going to stop serving people and helping people. I’ve done what I can do and now it’s time for other people to come in and do even bigger and better things for our city.”

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