Archive for the ‘city council’ Category

Should Anne McGregor Resign from the Primary?

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Anne McGregor was the first person in the race for the at-large council seat for the 4th District of Kansas City, and she ought to be the first person out. If she truly cares about Kansas City and its residents, she holds the power to give us a chance at solid and effective representation in that seat rather than unwavering support for the economically powerful. She can do that by resigning and encouraging people to support Jim Glover.

Right now, there are 4 people in the race. Two of them seek to represent privilege, and two of them (Glover and McGregor) seek to stand up for Kansas Citians who don’t own hotels or country club memberships. One of the candidates of privilege WILL be one of the two winners of the primary on 2/22, and, if McGregor does not resign and unify behind Glover, we may well get stuck with only the two candidates of privilege in the general election.

John Crawford is far and away the leading candidate in terms of effective campaigning, staggering bankbook and support of every rip-off artist eying the Kansas City budget like a personal piggy bank. The development departments of every major law firm have hosted events for their rapacious clients to meet him. Herb Kohn is on board. Tim Kristl is on board. It’s a rogue’s gallery of the wrong people flexing their economic muscle through a likable but wholly-owned candidate. John Crawford will absolutely get through the primary with a strong plurality of the electorate.

Annie Presley is a Republican who brings big money to the race and a Rolodex that includes the country club set of KC. She’s linked to the Blunt family, and she blogs for The Independent, “Kansas City’s Journal of Society”. She does not seek to represent us – she’s there to represent the hyper-privileged segment of KC WASP society that resents the influence of Catholics and Jews on societal institutions. Money and well-connected friends, though, mean that she could be the second person to make it through the primary, delivering the 4th District At-Large Seat to one of two candidates of privilege.

So, either McGregor or Glover needs to beat Annie Presley and mount a serious challenge to Crawford in the general. If both remain in the race, they may well split the core of voters that don’t live on tax-incentives or trust funds. We have one (kind of slim) chance at getting a representative of the people in that seat, and Jim Glover stands the best chance of being that candidate. Ann McGregor should resign from the race and throw her support behind Jim Glover in a last-ditch effort to save the seat for the people.

McGregor has been in the race since before Beth Gottstein announced she wouldn’t run, and she has failed to harness any popular support. She has demonstrated an inability to sway voters at least twice in the path. Her work for Obama delivered such underwhelming Missouri support that we bucked the democratic trend in 2008, and her noisy and expensive ($30,000 +!) effort to unseat Funkhouser was a colossal failure, after she repeatedly and stridently assured us that it would be successful.

Glover, on the other hand, has won City Council races in the past, and his fresh entrance into the field has given a jolt of hope to those that want to see that seat remain responsive to the people instead of the insiders. He has name recognition that Anne McGruff-McGiver-McWho can only dream about. What he lacks, though, is excitement, and McGregor could generate a bit of that by publicly embracing his campaign and standing up for the people of Kansas City.

The time to make this move is now. The primary election will be held in less than 2 weeks. Will Anne McGregor join up with Jim Glover and help Kansas City, or will she ride her dwindling campaign into the ditch it is headed for, and help Annie Presley?

Hushing the Minority Voice: Should KC Have At-Large Council Seats?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Kansas City has 6 seats on its Council that are elected by the entire city, instead of by district. While African-Americans comprise ~30% of the city’s population, only 1 of those seats – 17% – is held by an African-American. This election cycle, a white male, Durwin Rice, is running for that seat, having recently moved to the district. Kansas City may soon have an all-white group of at-large council members.

Frankly, I had never given much thought to at-large seats as a policy matter until I read this blog post criticizing Durwin Rice’s candidacy.

I was struck by the incongruity of a white university professor living in Camden, NJ, opining about who should seek the at-large seat of the largely African-American 3rd district of Kansas City. She’s correct in claiming she is an ally of that district, helpfully explaining “which means, I got your back.” Pointedly denying that she could be a good leader for that district, she nevertheless seeks to prevent someone else not “of the district” from running at large, fearing that “her people” (presumably, white people this time) will elect him. It’s a fascinating piece, full of internal conflict and raising all kinds of questions.

It is perhaps unfair to point out that the piece is a white University professor writing from Camden, NJ, to tell a white resident of the 3rd district that he should seek office because he might get elected by the people who get to vote. Passing strange.

All of which is a lengthy introduction to the issue of at-large seats on the Kansas City Council. Why DO we allow people who live up near the airport to vote on who gets to represent people who live at 31st and Indiana? Or vice versa?

As demonstrated by the current under-representation (and potential future non-representation) of African-American at-large Council members, it’s tougher for minority candidates to win at-large races than in-district races. At-large seats have a strong pro-majority, anti-minority bias.

Imagine if, instead of 12 seats divided into 6 districts, we had 12 districts. Perhaps we would see more African-Americans elected. Perhaps we would see a Latino representative. Perhaps we would see large money playing less of a role in our city elections (it’s more expensive to run at-large, while dividing the city into 12 districts would allow a shoe-leather campaign a better chance of winning).

I’d be willing to give up my right to vote for who represents people in the Northeast if I could vote for someone from my neighborhood. What about you?

Dump the E-Tax Now

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Circumstances have changed, and those who don’t adapt to the new reality are going to suffer. Unfortunately, this city’s leadership, from the Greater Johnson County Kansas City Chamber of Commerce to the dim-witted Star and City Council are clinging desperately to the e-tax, not recognizing that the disruption of abandoning it now is better than the economic suffocation which will result from preserving it.

Renewing the e-tax is short-sighted, unsustainable, and fiscally sentimental.

Make no mistake, I understand the impulse. The earnings tax is a great thing. 55% of the earnings tax is paid by nonresidents, compliance is high, and most is paid in through corporate withholding. I even supported making the tax higher for the wealthy, back in the day.

But times have changed, and Missouri voters have approved a measure requiring that the e-tax be renewed every five years. Abandoning the e-tax – approximately 40% of the city budget – would require either rolling back basic city services to a point that the city would become unlivable, or replacing it with some combination of sales taxes, property taxes, fees for services and heaven-knows what else.

The only “good” news is that if we reject the e-tax in April, we would have 10 years to implement those changes. We can start working on the transition now and face the new economic reality with some degree of self-determination.

On the other hand, if we renew the e-tax in April, we will launch a 5-year frenzy of disinvestment and economic abandonment of Kansas City. What kind of business would even consider investing in Kansas City if no civic leader can guess what the tax structure of the city will look like in the future? “Welcome to Kansas City, we might double the property taxes on your factory, and we might add another 5% to your sales tax, but we don’t know right now” is not a good slogan for bringing new business to our city, or retaining those we have.

What kind of investor would buy a bond from an entity that needs to subject its budget to a 40% pay cut every five years?

I don’t like the economic time bomb that Rex Sinquefield (the funder of the statewide proposition that requires a vote on the e-tax every five years) tossed into our lap, but it’s there now. Even if we get rid of it this time, it’s coming back every five years, and it will eventually go off. Even if, by some miracle, it doesn’t go off, nobody wants to live in a city that faces economic catastrophe twice every decade.

Let’s get it over with and move on.

Schools First – Can’t We Agree on Anything?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The level of discourse among the chattering class of Kansas City is sometimes astounding. Occasionally, though, a conversation with someone removed from the political sphere casts a shaft of light into the room, and the ugly reality of political gamesmanship is revealed in all its sordid detail.

A friend this weekend asked me what I thought about Funkhouser’s Schools First initiative. I started to discuss the challenges it will face, and whether Jan Marcason and a couple others will do their best to sink it, and what the ramifications of the bonds would be, etc.. My friend looked at me with something near disgust, and shut me up with a few simple words. “It’s a good idea, isn’t it?”

Wow.

Lost in all the maneuvering, all the intrigue, all the paybacks is that simple question. “It’s a good idea, isn’t it?”

It IS a good idea. The Schools First initiative would direct some of the city’s resources toward one of its most troubled areas of public service, perfectly timed to build upon the spirit of change and opportunity developing in the Kansas City Metropolitan School District. Each of the 5 facets of the initiative would have a positive impact on the lives of children and families in our city.

Only in the oxygen-starved rooms of Council Chambers and Star Editorial cubicles can that be a bad thing. When all is said and done, the Schools First initiative is about helping children and families. Can’t we at least agree on that?

What’s wrong with using $100 million in general obligation bonds to improve infrastructure around the schools? The need to upgrade the city’s infrastructure is universally acknowledged – the only question is where to start. Why not start where it will help the lives of children and families?

What’s wrong with renewing the public safety sales tax and using it to support security around schools? Jefferson City stands ready and willing to make the necessary changes to the law so that we can spend our money on people instead of buildings.

What’s wrong with prioritizing schools in city services? Why wouldn’t we want to clean up graffiti around our schools first, and clear weeds from where school children walk?

What’s wrong with seeking grant funding in partnerships with schools?

What’s wrong with putting someone in City Hall in charge of making all this work smoothly?

Only in the misguided power world of politicos and editorialists is there anything wrong with helping children, families and schools. I hope that those members of the City Council who are “struggling” with this simple decision will come to their senses and work to improve the lives of children and families.

If we can’t agree on that, voters will have a clear direction on whom to vote for in 2011. A lot of voters will agree on that.

Meeting Candidates – Why Does it Matter?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Political season is upon us, with sequential waves of candidates descending upon us seeking votes for school board elections, followed by County primaries, followed by County generals and Congressional elections, followed by City elections. And, if you take the slightest interest in voting, you will be bombarded with opportunities to “meet and greet” candidates.

It’s a strange phenomenon, really.

From a politician’s perspective, shaking a voter’s hand is THE most effective way of securing a vote. No mailer, no phone call, no 20 page position paper will be as effective for that voter as a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a couple meaningless words. “I’m Joe Blow, I’m running for ________, and I’d appreciate your vote on August 3,” is all it takes.

We voters are star-struck with shocking ease. That’s the only explanation that accounts for the incredible success that hand-to-hand political conquest offers.

We voters are fools. We believe, like the Worst President Ever, that we can look into someone’s eyes and get a sense of their souls. Spending 30 seconds with a candidate makes most voters think that they’ve taken the measure of the candidate, and gives them confidence that the candidate is worthy of their trust.

It’s not even limited to the charismatic candidates. I’m not immune, and I’ve seen the phenomenon happen with some of the least charismatic candidates imaginable. Somewhere I have a picture of my son and me beaming with Governor Bob Holden – Holden may or may not have been a good Governor, but he certainly was not a splash of transformative inspiration.

It’s the celebrity, I suppose. Meeting someone whose name is in the news gives us a touch of importance otherwise lacking in our daily world. The fact that someone you’ve heard of is sticking his or her hand out meet you is flattering, and, as much as we want to believe otherwise, most of us vote with our emotions more than our brains. Researching policy positions and comparing them to our own half-formed beliefs is nothing compared to having a politician look us straight in the eye and treat us, for a few seconds, as if we matter, as if we are worthy of respect and attention from someone “more important” than ourselves.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. The importance of meeting candidates does force politicians to expose themselves to malcontents and germs, which at least assures us of politicians with a good immune system and some awareness of mental health issues. And, as voters, we are offered the opportunity to weed out a few whose arrogance, general creepiness, or other personality flaws outshine their star power. We may not be able to get a sense of someone’s soul, but we can occasionally recognize a total loser.

So, it’s meet and greet season, and I’ll be out there meeting and greeting. I’ll even host a few candidates I feel strongly about, through deeper conversations and more thorough vetting. That’s how the political process works, particularly at the local level. It’s the best we have, particularly in the absence of an impartial local press that can adequately cover local issues and candidates.

Seek out the candidates. Ask a few questions. See how quickly and intelligently they respond to difficult questons. Shake their hands. But remember to pay more attention to positions and interests than a good grip.

Let’s Talk Politics This Time

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Last year about this time, we discussed whether the City Council should make a $2,000,000 donation to the County, in the form of stadium subsidies. I opposed the decision, the Mayor opposed the decision, but the City Council voted 12-1 to give money away.

Since then, the Chiefs and Royals have had horrific seasons with terrible attendance, the City has not had sufficient money to clear streets, our murder rate remains high, a rapist roams Waldo, city employees have been laid off, remaining city workers have had their wages frozen, and we’ve installed Cathy Jolly’s odious red light cameras to generate revenues. All this, and nobody has had the cleverness to point out that the City Councilmembers who voted for the donation should be held accountable for their shocking priorities.

And now the issue is back again.

(As an aside, why don’t some of the crack reporters for the Star do an article about the FREE Royals and Chiefs tickets handed out to County and City politicians? Who’s sitting in those seats? Are they even being used? I’d be willing to bet there’s a story there – either the politicians are handing them out to donors, or they’re wasting the tickets. And, as another aside, why doesn’t the Star do a story on why, exactly, we even have a Jackson County Sports Authority? How much bureaucracy do we need to pay for simply to keep track of two tenants??)

This year, I’m not even going to bother arguing about the wisdom of stealing $2,000,000 from the city’s coffers. My opinion remains clear, but let’s look at a much smaller issue.

How do the politics of this debate work this year? Will Funkhouser’s suggestion that we end the exemption do him political harm or political good? Will it harm him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and willing to risk our sports franchises? Or will it help him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and being the only one who prefers to spend $2,000,000 on things like police protection, snow removal, and city workers rather than weak athletes?

I’m curious about what people think. A good friend emailed me when the news came out and said that this closes off Funkhouser’s path to reelection – “Voters won’t tolerate our Mayor screwing Chiefs and Royals, regardless of the budget shortfalls.” He may be right, or he may be wrong, and the decision could be a step on the path toward reelection. (I know a lot of you disagree with a lot of Funkhouser’s decisions, and believe that reelection is utterly impossible. That’s fine – but, if you can, try to analyze the politics of this one decision. I’d love to know what you think.)

(Update: A commenter claimed that city officials get tickets, but county officials don’t. The commenter is mistaken. Under the lease agreements, County officials get a suite and prime parking. See page 16, section 7.4. It’s offensive to think that the City Council would steal money from city priorities so that county officials can watch games from a suite.)

Playing Games with "Cops on the Street"

Monday, May 4th, 2009

After hacking $15 million dollars from the budget of the Kansas City police department, the Kansas City Council wants to act like it didn’t do anything wrong. Incredibly, two City Councilwomen have sought to breeze in and wallpaper over their budgetary attack by encouraging the Police Department to eliminate support positions and change the working conditions for 200 cops – all so that they can claim that their budgetary attack didn’t reduce “cops on the street”.

These are the same people who voted to donate almost $2,000,000 to the stadiums, instead of using it to reduce the cuts to cops.

Frankly, avoiding a reduction in the number of “cops on the street” is political showmanship, not effective public safety. “Cops on the street” need support off the street, and $15 million in cuts to the back office is going to have an impact on the ability of the cops on the street to do their jobs. Those cops on the street need supplies, they need well-maintained vehicles, and they need supervision. Like any business, they need support services, and cutting those support services while artificially maintaining the number of cops on the street is likely to do more harm than good.

Sure enough, after the Police Board passed the budget without a single negative vote, one of the City Council members took the low road and preemptively slimed the Police Chief. “If officers are pulled off the street that will be Corwin’s decision, not the council’s.” Folks, I’ve seen some pretty vile attempts at denying responsibility for one’s own behavior before, but that one ranks way up there.

Of course, in the anti-Funk hysteria this town is currently suffering through, nobody wants to talk about the irresponsibility of the council. Instead, people are aiming their guns at the one person who has worked hardest to preserve the police force. The same Council member mentioned above had the unmitigated gall to complain that “Funkhouser hadn’t helped the city officials dicker with the police staff during task force meetings about the budget.”

I believe that the Council “dickered” the police department quite well without Mark’s help.

Showing an amazing ability to focus on the irrelevant, Yael “Funk is a Big Poopyhead” Abouhalkah even took a cheap shot at Funkhouser for not attending the meeting at which the budget passed without a single negative vote. Again, showmanship gets valued over substance in Yael’s mind. Instead of even mentioning the vote tally, Yael wrote two columns attacking Mark for the same missed meeting, and implied that pre-meeting participation in the budgetary process doesn’t matter if none of the voters mentions it during the vote. Amateurish, petty hack job.

If we want to talk about failure in Kansas City, we ought to be talking about the attempts of certain City Council members to paper over the impact of their disastrous police cuts, and the Star’s biased refusal to call them on it.

Not Gonna Fight It, and I Hope Funk Doesn’t, Either . . .

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Like our Mayor, I disagree with portions of the budget passed by a 12-1 margin yesterday. Most of the disagreements are relatively minor, but a few of them (deep cuts to the police, $1.7M donation to the County) might be worth screaming about. And I know how to carry the fight to them, too. Call on Funkhouser to veto their scandalous budget and force them to cast their votes twice in favor of hurting our City. Divide the $1.7 million by the 12 votes in favor and ask whether any one of them is worth the $142,000 they are giving to the County, and maybe even try to tie them into the Jackson County Ethics Blackout. Scream about the “Marcason-Hermann Police Cuts” and set up a weekly report on which crimes get assigned to which Council members.

Yeah, when it comes to being a screaming ass, I could write the book. But I’m not going to play that game, though some say I’m pretty good at it.

Fact is, our Council has put in a lot of effort on this budget. I can sit here on the sidelines and Monday morning quarterback all I like, but they are the ones who had to jump into the mudpit and wrestle the beast. If I really, really, really, think I’m absolutely, clairvoyantly right about how to set up a budget and balance the priorities to lead our city forward, I should have either run for office back when they put their reputations and wallets on the line, or I should have been at every public budget meeting and forum offering them my spectacular wisdom.

Instead, I stayed home.

That doesn’t mean they’re above criticism for foolish decisions (ahem, extending Cauthen) or that I won’t complain when they use hard cases to make bad law (ahem, anti-Volunteer ordinance), but there comes a time when a good citizen knows when to shut up. This is one of them. They managed to unify behind a budget that may be imperfect, but it’s a sober document reflecting hard choices and deep thought. If I thought they were supporting an insane, irresponsible, ill-thought-out budget, I would be screaming, but nobody can seriously claim their budget is not a realistic attempt to wrestle with our problems.

Funkhouser voted against it, and I can respect his vote. Like him, I personally think the police cuts are too deep, and that when it comes to basic services for all, public safety is job one. Politically, the vote might have been wise, too, since he can now point to that vote as having stood up for citizens and police when the council gave money away to the county and stadiums.

But it’s a pretty weak point, and it’s been made now. Vetoing the budget will change absolutely nothing, practically or politically.

It’s time to move on.

The time for fighting about the budget is over. Ultimately, neither Funkhouser, the City Manager nor any of the Council members won or lost the battle, because it’s really about US. As citizens, we have elected representatives that have decided on a budget by a 12-1 margin, and any further fighting about it is game-playing that can only distract our representatives from getting on with the business of overseeing the implementation of that budget.

So, instead of screaming or personal attacks or any other pushback on this budget, I want to thank our City Council. You’ve worked hard on a budget, and come up with a document that united twelve of you. That’s impressive work, and my admiration is sincere. Each of the twelve who voted for the budget worked hard to arrive at something that you think represents Kansas City’s best interests, and my points of disagreement are incapable of overshadowing my appreciation.

Fine work, City Council. I hope our Mayor signs on now that the time for fighting is past.

Is the City Council Irrelevant?

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Yesterday, Funkhouser went ahead and signed the ordinance extending the TIF package for the Savoy Hotel. While I criticized the extension here yesterday, and I questioned the good faith of the Council, the developer and even the developer’s lawyer, it turns out that the only party truly deserving of scorn on this issue is the Council.

The developer, developer’s attorney, Funkhouser and the other taxing districts went ahead and worked out a better deal without the Council, rendering irrelevant the Council’s attempt to actually harm our city. Actually, as Mark Forsythe correctly pointed out the other day, they had already worked out a better deal before the City Council followed joined in Terry’s Terrible Temper Tantrum and, incredibly, approved a worse deal for the city than was already on the table!

Truthfully, they went ahead and approved an ordinance that was worse than the developer had actually agreed to, just because Terry Riley was angry that someone else had negotiated the deal!
Is that the sort of person you voted for?

Fortunately, the adults fixed the situation. Through written, good faith agreements apart from the Council, the developer agreed to do the right thing, whether the Council cares about the good of the city or not. Thank goodness Funkhouser worked with them to make it all come out okay.

Meanwhile, city hall observers are left to smirk at the Council’s behavior. The more juvenile members of the Council have been claiming lately that the Mayor is “irrelevant”, just because they don’t talk to him much. Sadly, the Council is becoming Junior High at its worst, with cliques excluding others on the Council and bragging about it to the rest.

If Mark were the sort to join in those games, he would be out whispering to others that the Council is “irrelevant”, and snickering at the silly ones who joined in Riley’s malfeasance.

But he won’t do that.

Instead, he realizes that the Council remains very relevant, and capable of much more mischief in the future. In this instance, he managed to prevent them from bringing as much harm to the City as they attempted, but he knows we are still burdened with Cauthen for a couple years because of their immature behavior. Alas, the City Council may be outsmarted on occasion, but they are not irrelevant. Fortunately, neither is the Mayor.

Savoy TIF – A Reason to Despair

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

If Kansas City is ever going to do the right thing, this should have been the moment. Everything was set up absolutely perfectly for success, and we absolutely blew it.

We have some fine and intelligent people on our City Council. We have a Mayor who even his most dogged opponents acknowledge has the political courage to stand up to developers seeking to get wealthy from tax funds. We have a budget crisis raging, to keep the focus on the budget imbalances created by bad decisions made in the past. We even have a sane economic development policy that the Council has already agreed upon, to help it make rational decisions.

Surely, under these circumstances, when a wealthy developer approached our City with his hand out, our Council would have the strength and good sense to honor their commitment to the citizens of Kansas City, right? Surely, at this moment of crisis, they would not screw us one more time, for old times’ sake . . .

Wrong.

Absolutely incredible. With the sole exceptions of Mayor Funkhouser and John Sharp, the City Council went ahead and showered a rich developer with undeserved tax breaks, at the urging of a well-connected development lawyer who gave them money.

For a great explanation of just how bad a deal this was, go read Mark Forsythe’s excellent analysis at The Kansas City Post. Make no mistake about it, Kansas City taxpayers are helping to make the rich richer, while facing cutbacks in basic services.

And your council member is fine with that.

If they’re not going to stand up for us now, when will they stand up for us? When Terry Riley chooses not to play silly games over turf? When the development lawyer appearing before them has not greased their palms with substantial campaign donations? When the contrast between having money to pay for basic services and having money to pay for a “four star” restaurant is somehow sharper?

It’s moments like these that make me wonder why I care. The deck is stacked in favor of the status quo, and even good people like my city council representatives are riding with Terry Riley and Jerry Riffel instead of Kansas City taxpayers.

I can only hope that sometime today, Mayor Mark Funkhouser vetoes this disgusting display of legislative sell-out, and that a few good council people will look themselves in the mirror and think about why they got involved in the first place.

I know it’s politics, but, really, how could you fall this far?