Dave Helling

KC changes require broad support

Updated: 2013-11-16T03:39:50Z


The Kansas City Star

Supporters of full local control of Kansas City’s police force were aghast this week: by a razor-thin, one-vote margin, Mayor Sly James’ task force said local cops should stay under state control.

Had just one vote flipped, they noted, the recommendation would have been reversed. The push for local control would still be breathing.

Well, maybe.

Privately, even some supporters of local control said flipping one vote would not have been enough. They must convince state lawmakers to ignore police opposition and approve local control, they said, and the only way to do that is: find a compromise cops could support; or find a proposal so popular the opposition would be overwhelmed.

Either way, local control depended on a task force vote closer to 20-5 or 19-6, not 13-12.

There’s an important lesson in that for supporters of other big-ticket plans now on the table, like fixed-rail transit or a new Kansas City International Airport.

In Kansas City, as in most places, big changes need broad support, built over time, not one-vote margins.

That lesson may be especially significant for supporters of a new KCI. A task force is also hammering away at that issue, looking at plans, hearing from experts, drafting recommendations.

It’s possible the group will come up with a way to pay for the project without a vote, but not likely. And as we learned this month with the health research tax, voters are pretty cranky right now.

So they will have to be convinced. Some voters will oppose a new terminal no matter what, of course, and others will only support a new terminal.

But a broad swath of the public — 25 percent, perhaps — might be talked into supporting a new facility.

That discussion, though, will likely take years, not days. The only chance for a new terminal at KCI rests with an enthusiastic, grass-roots consensus on the need for such a project, assembled over many months, not on divided task forces and expensive six-week TV campaigns.

That’s particularly true because Southwest Airlines is deeply worried about their costs for a new terminal, as The Star’s Kevin Collison reported this week.

On Friday, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders talked about a new push for taxpayer-supported, fixed-rail commuter transit. If that ever goes to voters, the same rule will apply: It won’t happen unless public support for the idea is wide, deep and strong.

Neither proposal currently meets those standards. For their supporters, as with supporters of local police control, there is much work to do.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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