Monday, January 21, 2019

4th District City Council Candidate Forum Recap

On January 17, 2019, I attended a very informative (paid) luncheon hosted by MainCor which featured all 6 of the 4th District Candidates. I took notes and have translated them below along with some personal reflections noted for anyone to read.

The in-district Candidates are:
Geoffrey Jolley

The At-Large Candidates (that receive city-wide votes) are:
Robert Westfall

The meeting was well-attended, maybe about 50 people, with lunch being served and then about an hour devoted to candidate introductions and questions. The number of candidates and questions meant that each candidate only got about 30 seconds to answer so it wasn’t really possible to get an in-depth response. This actually worked in the sense that it forced them to be concise about their view on the question but they probably would have really liked more time to explain their position.

The first question that came up was about traffic enforcement and transportation. 

Strassle- supports increasing bike lanes and not happy with recent diversion of funds. He is referencing Katheryn Shields diversion of the dockless scooter funds that was supposed to go towards expanding bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly zones in Kansas City (about $300,000) to go towards “affordable housing”, most commonly referred to as the great “Money Grab”, which passed by council vote on November 29, 2018.

Westfall- Something needs to be looked at regarding the debate between cars vs. bikes and he wanted to see a cost analysis regarding both options including costs of treating bike injuries, etc.

Shields- She has a lot of experience and also agrees that a study will offer guidance. She is a proponent of the bus system overall.

Bunch- His expertise revolves around this topic having worked with BikeWalkKC and served on their board and worked with the city, he has knowledge of the arguments for and against. He is aware of regional funding that comes only for these initiatives and believes focusing on investing in more sidewalks will improve our quality of life.

Jolley- As a firefighter, safety is important and he agrees that all options really need to be looked at, especially with regards to strategy and how that to plan for equity.

Campbell- focusing on comprehensive, protective bike lanes as a priority and making sure that enforcement can hold drivers accountable.

Next question involves wide-ranging issues like how to address climate change in Kansas City and how to improve Health Outcomes

Campbell- We have new technologies to use and we need to learn from other Cities who are using them.

Jolley- former aide to Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, he is familiar with Federal and State funding issues. He would want an overflow control plan in place and also to look at other counties with how they are preparing for these wide-ranging issues.

Bunch- biking and walking (improving the quality of life for people and reducing emissions) focus on all of those dimensions.

Shields- has an extensive record regarding environmental issues and health care. She knows that the city has funds to address these issues and experience with how different city funds work together. She said there were already multiple programs available to help businesses with recycling and energy efficiency so nothing new needed to be done except maybe to put pressure on businesses to use those programs.

Westfall- We need to use more oversight and investigative measures to hold City Hall accountable for bad deals and wasteful spending.

Strassle- these issues require a multi-dimensional, holistic approach because they are all connected. He would focus on bringing people together to decide.

The Next question asks if we can demand more affordable housing from new developments. MAC properties was specifically mentioned. 

Strassle- Happens to live in a MAC property and believes that absolutely the City can mandate a specific number of units when they are getting a deal.

Westfall- I would vote against ANY tax deals for the rich.

Shields- "Look at my record, especially how much I argued for affordable housing with Three Light" (I had a lot to say about this in my mind but honestly, if you could just go look up Katheryn’s voting record when it came to TIFs and other deals, you would find that Three Light is probably the first time she had ever spoke up about the unfairness of these deals).

Bunch- His focus would be on rent-stabilization and requiring developers to have more affordable housing and also believes that incentive reform needs to be addressed.

Jolley- many already and the city is considering a 10-15% affordable unit requirement.

Campbell- also supports a % of new development going to affordable housing but questions whether it should be a requirement vs. a carrot.

My own question had many parts: (a) Do you agree with ballot initiative to cap TIF at 50%, (b) Do you agree that the definition of Blight needs to change and (c) How do you feel about Single-Owner CIDs 

Campbell- not in favor of a cap, does agree that we need better define “blight” and not really in favor of single-owner CIDs especially when they are doubled up.

Jolley- Tax incentives impact public services and have become easy to hand out. Believes we need a “holistic” approach. Bunch- he is also challenged to agree to a hard cap on incentives, single owner CIDs do need to change.

Bunch- challenged to agree with a hardline cap on incentives, single-owner CIDs need to change.

Shields- Red Bridge Shopping center is a single-owner CID which has recently been revitalized because of that.

NOTE- Red Bridge is also layered on top of another CID). She is also opposed to the cap on TIFs and mentioned that the Lucas ordinance was working just fine and that capped it at 75%. NOTE- when the ordinance was used, I would agree.

Westfall- We definitely need to redefine blight and if the current council was going to do it they would have done it by now. He also agrees with the 50% cap on TIF.

Strassle- Single-owner CIDs need to change, we do need to redefine blight and I am challenged to support a hardline cap on TIFs, we need some flexibility.

Next Question, How do you plan on preparing for a recession? 

Strassle- Research is needed, maybe even an exploratory committee?

Westfall- We need to shore up our budgets and stop giving away incentives for 20 years. We need to be able to claw back when appropriate to give immediate funds to our public services.

Shields- Finances are at a critical state and agreed this needed to be addressed.

Bunch- We need to focus on quality of life in our neighborhoods.

Jolley- We need to look at how the city spends their money. We need the rainy day fund so we anticipate and prepare for a downturn and he has experience with this from working with the congressman.

Campbell- we have a wonderful and reliable finance department (city staff) and I would rely on their expertise. NOTE- for me this personally set alarm bells off in my mind because we need a whole new staff and most importantly we desperately need a new city manager. I’ll write about this more in an upcoming post.

Next Question focuses on the Kansas City Airport and simply asks, “Shouldn’t voters get a voice?” with regards to where this is heading? 

Campbell- Voters did get a voice, they voted for a new airport. Have patience, there’s nothing to worry about.

Jolley- Agrees with the frustration of the situation and also agrees that the voters already got a voice, but not on giving a blank check.

Bunch- he is trusting the process because the airport IS going to be paid for by the airlines when it’s all said and done.

Shields- concerned about the city issuing bonds without an agreement from the airlines.

Westfall- city should know the details and be held accountable. There needs to be more transparency.

Strassle- Agrees with the concept of transparency. No one should “not know” what’s going on with the process.

NOTE- City Hall’s lack of transparency is a direct reflection of where the city staff directs their priorities. They give you just enough, but none of the details. You have to be in the room when a meeting happens to get all of the details because their video system is buggy and minutes are vague.

Now a question about recycling programs and supporting the community. 

Strassle- he would work on green initiatives, putting more requirements in place for businesses.

Westfall- the EPA mandates the adoption of green infrastructure.

Shields- touts 20 years of experience, doing a great job for the environment and renewable energy.

Bunch- ¼ emissions come from cars and single-family homes. We need to encourage more solar panels on homes.

Jolley- has experience with creating the “green impact zones” while working with the congressman, which brought neighborhoods together.

Campbell- the next Mayor and City Council needs more “bite” with ordinances.

This next question was about homelessness & strengthening neighborhoods 

Campbell- believes we need balance, maybe a citizen engagement university.

Jolley- There are already options now such as Center for Neighborhoods (CFN), Mid-America Regional Council, etc. We need to be working with the homeless and not against them and mentions the water-spraying incident earlier in the month where a fireman sprayed a homeless man's tiny camp fire in freezing temperatures, soaking him and all of his belongings.

Bunch- We can start by not criminalizing the homeless and look at success stories around the nation. Albuquerque built homes & offered jobs to the homeless, creating community capacity building.

Shields- most neighborhoods are good and the homeless ARE offered services now. Some of them take those services and those that remain are “burning down our bridges” (ACTUAL QUOTE). She then brought up the same excuse that city hall has used to defend blasting a homeless guy with a full-powered fire hose in order to put out a small campfire.

Westfall- this area needs help.

Strassle- we need a proactive measure to go out into the neighborhoods. Homeless needs capacity building along with housing.

For the final question, our candidates are asked about overall government and civic activities. 

Strassle- his goal would be to change the city council meeting time to evenings so that more people could actually attend and also to provide childcare services.

Westfall- access to political leaders needs to be improved and he would also go out into neighborhoods.

Shields- I have a lot of experiences, and friends and connections in the community especially with minority groups.

Bunch- I would be the most accessible council member with a full day open each week for anyone who wants to come see me (office hours).

Jolley- working with congressman I went out and set up an office to meet people where they are.

Campbell- I would go out, be proactive and focus on more diversity (points around the room and mentions who there is no diversity) and I would invite them to attend.

As for who I want to vote for (I can only vote for the At-Large candidates), I think I’m leaning towards voting for Austin Strassle but I really love Westfall’s point-blank, “Call a Thing a Thing” attitude and I feel he would definitely slow down Tax Incentives and fight for more funding for our public services which a 20 year history with Katheryn Shields has not done.

I would urge everyone to stay the heck away from Jared Campbell only because of his obvious reliance on city staff and I feel that city staff is one of the reasons why we get in to so many messes with these giveaways. I also think Geoff Jolley will give you a lot of experience and Eric Bunch will give you a lot of bike lanes and sidewalks but both are looking pretty good as far as being open to economic development reform. Time will tell.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

When City Council fails to listen to their constituents.

Today I'm sharing the statement from the petitioners who were trying to repeal a new Community Improvement District (CID) because I think it's important to know what happens when City Council fails to listen to their constituents.

I have outlined in two different blog posts an experience I had with my City Council Representatives, Councilman Scott Taylor (6th District At-Large) and Kevin McManus (6th District) as the leader of a prominent neighborhood with over 3,300 homes, easily one of the largest associations in the entire City. We are organized and passionate about our community, yet these two councilmen completely failed to work with us on this situation.

Part 1-

Part 2- 

Now for the continuation of the story (below) which is what happened with the petition (not successful) and why it is so important to have a city council who listens to us and actually wants to work with us before passing an ordinance even when we are trying to get them to slow down.

Once an ordinance is in place, it takes many people working together night and day to get 3,417 signatures minimum to repeal it.

Compare that to the fact that all Councilman Taylor needed to do was to hold this off of the meeting agenda when we asked him to in order to have a community meeting.

And because he didn't, several petitioners spent days over the course of the holiday season when they would rather be home and cozy spending time with loved ones.

This is completely un-called for and I for one will NOT be voting for him for Mayor because it is clear to me that he has no intention of ever listening to me or anyone else unless they have deep pockets and carry the title of "Developer".

Following is the statement from petitioners:

A new Community Improvement District (also known as a CID) was passed by Kansas City Council with 10 votes in favor and will increase sales tax by 1% for 20 years (to be automatically renewed for 20 years for a total of 40 years) to pay for improvements to the area.

While most residents in Waldo want to see the property improve, many take strong objection to being asked to foot the bill and a petition initiative was launched to try and repeal ordinance 180916 (also known as the Wornall Village CID).

The Wornall Village CID Petitioners spent many days working to collect signatures for our referendum petition.  Our efforts were primarily to bring more transparency to the new taxing district, which is layered on top of another CID, without the knowledge or vote of the people who shop there.  

Unfortunately, due to cold weather conditions and the holidays, there were simply not enough signatures to meet the threshold by the required deadline (January 13, 2019) to repeal the ordinance and put it to a vote.

Even though we were disappointed in the overall outcome, we believe that there was enough interest generated to move forward with an effort to try to reform the way CIDs are created throughout the whole city and would urge our City Council to take action to create a new ordinance to address these glaring issues:
  1. There currently is no limit to how many CIDs can be installed in one area.
  2. There is no minimum requirement for how many property owners should be in charge of a CID.
  3. There is no accountability for property owners who allow their property to become blighted in order to qualify for a CID.
  4. Since this is a sales tax, there should also be a public notice placed outside the area for a minimum of 30 days to allow for people to learn about the tax.
  5. There should also be at least one public meeting that is hosted by the council person who is sponsoring the ordinance with plenty of notice for all people who live around the proposed district to plan to attend.
  6. There should be a vote by the property owners who surround the proposed district, similar to what has to be done with a transportation district.
We are currently researching which CIDs currently are not reporting their annual financial budget as required by the State of Missouri, and will be reporting those to the appropriate people and asking our City Council to hold these CIDs accountable for their lack of communication.

The bottom line is that we will not turn a blind eye to future CIDs and will do everything in our power to make sure more restrictions are put in place to protect the voters.

Please make sure you remember these CIDs when deciding whether to vote for the Mayor’s new sales tax this April.

We would like to thank everyone who signed and would like to invite you to pay attention to the efforts put forth by the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform and the work that they are doing which is in alignment to this issue.