Yael T. Abouhalkah

All eyes are on Sly James as big KC issues loom in 2014

Updated: 2014-01-01T23:35:33Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City stands poised on what could be a historic year of success when it comes to pushing forward crucial issues and projects in 2014.

Or ... progress could stall, badly.

So who’s going to make sure it’s the former and not the latter? Mayor Sly James is in the best position to provide focused leadership on important initiatives.

That’s positive news for Kansas Citians, mostly because the active and upbeat mayor has had a generally strong record of accomplishments since his 2011 election. As an added political bonus for James, if he can add to his resume in 2014, his re-election in 2015 should be a breeze.

But to achieve noteworthy success, James probably is going to have to be even more vocal in public about what he wants to see happen — and definitely get tougher behind the scenes than he has in the past.

He also must get more young people energized about making a difference in all of the city and not just downtown, while continuing to work well with City Council members and business leaders who still have the clout and money to make a difference in the city’s quality of life.

Among the priorities:

• James must become a more decisive and controlling member of the police board.

James unfortunately didn’t get what he wanted in 2013 from a citizens panel — a recommendation to move away from state control of the Police Department toward local accountability by elected officials and residents.

It’s time for James, as the one person on the five-member board not appointed by Missouri’s governor, to assert himself. He did that, to a degree, in rejecting what other board members wanted to do in expanding the East Side crime lab.

James needs to speak up more at police board meetings and work with Chief Darryl Forté and his staff to prod the department into becoming more efficient. That especially means working on consolidation of city and police services, a move that could lead to savings for taxpayers.

• The mayor will have to make sure that — when a decision is reached by the Kansas City International Airport citizens group — he and the council push for a more modern facility. The status quo won’t do.

If the panel recommends a single terminal costing in the neighborhood of $1 billion, James will have the opportunity to lead in that direction. He will need to think more about serving the Kansas Citians of tomorrow rather than placating the leave-things-alone crowd of today. That can be a tough task in politics.

• James will have the opportunity to push for — or throw cold water on — elections that could result in large increases in taxes and property assessments to finance streetcar line extensions.

The under-construction downtown line already is spurring economic development, and that’s positive. But getting the next 10 or so miles of expansion could be tougher, especially given the number of people who would have to support the public payments locally to get that done.

• The mayor will have a big say in how far voters can go in changing city government.

A citizens panel recommended getting rid of at-large City Council seats and adopting all in-district seats. Most current members properly oppose that idea; the six in-district, six at-large model has served Kansas Citians well. But will James push for that to be on a 2014 ballot? And will the mayor get a little more power for his post, something the citizens group also backed?

Other issues will crop up, too, and the mayor will have to devote time and energy to them. Priorities could get reshuffled at any moment.

James so far hasn’t been afraid to take on tough local issues. That trait could serve him — and Kansas City — well in 2014.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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