Count on Mayor Sly James to offer plenty of positive news about Kansas City at his State of the City speech next Tuesday.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
Thats what these occasions are for, of course, and James certainly has some victories to celebrate.
A voter-approved sales tax increase in 2012 and more high-tech jobs coming to the urban core head the list.
But Kansas Citians still face myriad challenges that deserve more of James attention in the future.
Here are five a combination of fiscal and social issues that James knows he will confront in the months ahead.
Get tough on pensions.
After more than a year of private negotiations, James and other city officials still havent reformed pension systems for thousands of firefighters and blue collar workers. The only changes that are far along, for police officers and police civilian employees, are embroiled in a legislative mess in Jefferson City.
James and City Manager Troy Schulte keep assuring the public these matters will be worked out, and millions of tax dollars that would have to go for future retirement contributions could be used for other city priorities. But thats becoming a tiresome and frustrating mantra.
• Pull back on the economic Border War.
James says Kansas City cant unilaterally disarm in the fight with Kansas to woo jobs with public incentives.
Yet he and other rationale people know this approach is creating almost no new jobs for the region even while it robs cities and states of revenue for basic services. James must keep cajoling other mayors including on the Kansas side to push a plan that would eliminate incentives for businesses that just move across the state line.
• Invest water and sewer money effectively.
The city has all kinds of plans for using tens of millions of dollars to repair water pipes and upgrade the sewer system.
But James can boost public confidence in this approach by doing more to get the word out to the public about exactly what their money is buying. Right now, theres plenty of confusion, even distrust, of City Hall on this topic. The Water Services Department needs to get a few high-profile projects well under way this year, so James and others can trumpet real progress.
On to the social issues, which are much squishier for James to deal with effectively.
• Find more activities for youth.
The mayor was properly outspoken a few days ago as well as last year in criticizing parents who let their children party late at night/early in the morning with little or no supervision. The mayor also has led in providing more city-sponsored youth activities.
However, the city also ought to do more to make sure the businessmen and women who own the private party places where youth gather are following city regulations, such as getting permits and hiring security guards. That wasnt true for the place of business where last weekends multiple shootings occurred. James can make sure the city comes down hard on adults who didnt follow the rules in these cases.
• Improve Kansas Citys schools.
The mayors Turn the Page initiative is an important tool in building better readers.
But the latest bids to change the governance of the Kansas City Public Schools are being dictated by state lawmakers. James knows how crucial it is to have a decent urban core school district. So he has to keep playing a role to make sure whatever the lawmakers come up with will really make a positive difference for the districts students.
None of these challenges can be worked out through a big bond or tax election, something James already is good at providing leadership on.
Still, if James could help resolve some of these financial and social troubles in the next year, he would have an even more upbeat State of the City speech to deliver in 2014.