Posts Tagged ‘pension reform in Kansas City’

Yael Abouhalkah had a very interesting column in yesterday’s Star, in which he touched on some of the biggest challenges facing Kansas City Mayor Sly James at the halfway point of his first term.

First off, Abouhalkah said James is in great position to get re-elected in 2015 because “no current City Council member comes close to matching the wattage of James’ personality or his ability to influence policies and programs at City Hall.”

In the past (with the notable exception of James in 2011), the strongest candidates for mayor generally have come from the council’s ranks, and none of this council’s other members seems to be establishing a high profile for himself or herself.

Some of the major challenges that Abouhalkah listed were:

— Construction of a new, single terminal at KCI

— Proposed local control of the KCPD

— City Hall pension reform

In brief, here’s what Yael had to say about each of those issues…and my observations (not as brief).

Single terminal

Yael: “If it (the single-terminal concept) remains as unpopular  as it seems with a large contingent of Kansas Citians, James could face a possible defeat on a major issue.”

Me: Organized opposition to a single-terminal is growing, with the formation of a Save KCI! (savekci.com) group, and letters to the editor continue to tilt heavily to the status quo. Yesterday, the City Council voted 9-3 to move ahead with further planning for construction of a new, single terminal. The mayor voted with the majority, but it appears that he has begun equivocating on his previous strong stance in favor of a single terminal.

In a report on the meeting, KSHB-TV, Channel 41, said that James “admitted he is not completely sold on the current proposal, but said since Kansas City is not obligated to anything at this point, the process needs to continue.”

I don’t think James’ position on this issue will be a major factor in whether he gets re-elected. If he is going to establish himself as a strong leader on difficult issues, however, and if he wants to be remembered as a bold and farsighted mayor, he needs to stay out front for a single terminal and resist the impulse to assuage those who are steadfastly parochial and nostalgic about KCI.

If you’ve traveled to just a few other major airports in the U.S., you know that KCI sucks by comparison in just about every aspect except the distance between parking and gate. Now, that is an important consideration, but the facts…that KCI is way too expensive from a security standpoint and that it’s a HOLLOW, DARK, BORING, ANTIQUATED PIECE OF SHIT... far outstrip the convenience factor.

The correct call on KCI is as clear as it was on Sprint Center and the Power & Light District. If Mayor Kay Barnes hadn’t led courageously and pushed hard for those two massive attractions, Downtown would be a fuckin’ wasteland, and we would be well below Omaha (not to mention St. Louis, Denver and Louisville) in the category of downtown venues that attract tourists and area residents.

It seems abundantly clear that if we don’t get a modern airport within the next several years, usage of KCI will continue to drop dramatically and the airlines will shift many flights to other cities.

Don’t let us down on this, Sly. This isn’t a re-election issue; it’s a legacy issue. Do you want to be remembered as a big, energetic guy with a big personality — another H. Roe Bartle — or as a mayor who catapulted us into the ranks of big cities with great airports? 

Local control of KCPD

Yael: “The mayor appears ready to embrace local control of the Police Department…But if the panel (a commission he has appointed) balks at local control — or the (Missouri) legislature gives James the cold shoulder next year — the mayor could lose out on a key issue of how taxpayers finance public safety.”

Me: Again, I don’t think this is a big deal either way as far as the mayor’s chances of getting re-elected. (Can we just acknowledge that he’s going to serve six more years?)

But, just as with the single terminal at KCI, local control is an issue whose time has come. In fact, it came about 15 years ago, but the police bureaucracy has such a stranglehold on operations and on the Board of Police Commissioners that it’s been difficult for the advocates of progress to get any traction. James has wedged a foot in the door with the appointment of the panel to review the idea, but my guess is that the police hierarchy (along with just about every brain-washed, puffed-up police board member who has served during the last 30 years) will stamp their feet and holler so long and loud that the change agents will back off for another decade.

Sly James just might end up leading the local-control retreat, too…If he does, it will be another missed opportunity to be remembered as a gutsy, decisive mayor whose first interest was the taxpayers, not police commanders or the fat-cat commissioners appointed by Missouri governors.

Pension reform

Yael: “He (James) is still working to reform the unsustainable pensions for firefighters, police officers and other city employees — almost 18 months after a citizens commission delivered a how-to report on the issue in late 2011. The cost to taxpayers for retirement benefits has reached $60 million annually, up from $54 million two years ago.”

Me: Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Turn on the laugh tracks…Pension reform involving the firefighters? After James rode high and tall in a fire truck at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade a week before the 2011 election? And after he donned a bright red KCFD jacket after the JJ’s tragedy and said, famously, “Fire (department) doesn’t do gas.” ????


Mayor Sly James and Fire Chief Paul Berardi after the JJ’s explosion

The chances of meaningful pension reform involving the fire department during the next six years are slim and none.

The next mayor, though? The unfortunate, winning candidate who succeeds James?

Well, the pension situation will be at crisis point by then; the new mayor and City Council will have to do some incredible belt-tightening and make some mighty unpopular moves; and they’ll all serve one term and be thrown out of office.

Thanks in advance, Sly.


Editor’s note: You’ll recall that I wrote about the steps taken by the North Kansas City Mayor and City Council to put in motion a possible sale of North Kansas City Hospital. Well, last night KCPT ran a nine-minute piece, reported by special correspondent Sam Zeff. It featured, among other things, an interview with me, as well as video of Patty’s clothing manufacturing business on Swift Avenue. Here’s the link. If you watch it, I think you’ll find it interesting.

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