Sly James was one ticked off mayor at the start of our face-to-face meeting Tuesday afternoon.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
Earlier this week I had written on The Stars website about a mailed advertisement supporting the half-cent sales tax increase on the Aug. 7 ballot, then used two words to describe the ad: shameful and deceitful.
Several times it touted that a vote for Question 1 would eliminate taxes by halting collection of some property taxes.
While true, the mailer as well as James personal message in it did not convey another crucial fact: Voting for the sales tax would bring in $34 million in added revenue, resulting in an overall tax increase of more than $23 million a year.
Im disappointed that Mayor Sly James attached his name to this advertisement, I wrote.
At our meeting, the mayor made it clear he was hurt I had questioned his ethics.
He also noted his irritation with my column from last week, in which I had wondered whether Kansas Citians should vote for the sales tax before the James administration and City Hall have accomplished ambitious endeavors needed to control costs.
Among them are pension reform, reduced funding for police health insurance, and reining in the fire unions size and revenue demands.
The mayor said I was acting like he could walk in and wave a wand and change happens. He added later, Dealing with the bureaucracy just drives (me) nuts.
Regarding my printed criticism that he had not agreed to end a tax that helps fuel a bloated firefighting staff as recently recommended by his citizens revenue commission James told me, Dude, no ones talking (yet) about the 2016 fire safety sales tax.
James also asked whether it was shameful and deceitful that my column from last week hadnt mentioned that a recent council vote for the first time in years had slightly cut the Fire Department budget.
I agreed that should have been mentioned.
By then the storm had passed, allowing us to spend the rest of the hour touching on issues crucial to the Aug. 7 election and the citys future.
James said he had made it clear at all of his public appearances that voting for Question 1 next month would result in higher taxes for the average resident.
When I pointed out he also could have said that in the personal message attached to the recent ad, he said, I see your point.
The mayor said the tax is truly needed to help the city repair more of its basic infrastructure. He noted that the city for the first time has agreed to set up a dedicated street maintenance fund if voters approve the sales tax.
And he wants the Parks and Recreation Department to get more funding, especially after the citys $12.50 vehicle license fee expired this year.
That will eliminate more than $3 million annually now used to keep the citys community centers open. Those centers, the mayor said, have given Kansas Citys youth a safe place to be this summer, while a curfew keeps them out of the Plaza and other entertainment areas.
While agreeing with the general need to spend more on infrastructure, I told the mayor I wondered whether this is the best time to ask for a tax increase.
Thats because of my concerns over the pace of reforms at City Hall and over the continued weak state of the local and national economies.
James argued the city wouldnt gain much by waiting. Instead, it would fall further behind in maintaining basic amenities such as community centers and streets.
I would rather take my chances right now, he said.
James also knows that his personal popularity is pretty high early in his first term. Thats especially true after Kansas City enjoyed a mostly positive All-Star Game experience, when the mayor was seen fist-bumping some visitors and others during his many appearances.
At the end of our eventually genial session Tuesday, the mayor said, Its all good.
I agreed, and we shook hands. But I didnt get a fist bump.