Summed up, here’s what Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte said when asked at a meeting this week about their leadership and accomplishments for Kansas Citians.
Kansas City is a great place to live and work, where citizens are satisfied with city services and municipal employees are hard-working innovators.
To buttress this viewpoint, the city’s top leaders pointed to parts of the recently released and often upbeat 2015 citizen satisfaction survey. The two men — as well as a few other city officials who also spoke Tuesday — were justifiably proud of accomplishments that included better reading rates for third-graders and lower homicide rates.
However, important facts were left out the presentation at a KCStat meeting.
Normally, the city staff is grilled at these gatherings, as James and others try to determine whether departments are efficiently using public funds on behalf of residents. This time, though, the city brought in a consultant from Bloomberg Associates, whose stated goal on its website is to “help city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens.”
Unfortunately, the consultant’s questions were of the marshmallow variety, and her constant replies of “excellent” to responses by James and Schulte revealed her to be an easy grader.
While the 100-plus page citizen survey contains lots of encouraging information about the rising quality of Kansas City services, it also has discouraging data on how the city compares with others.
Among the most salient points on both sides of the discussion:
▪ Residents generally are more satisfied now than they were 10 years ago as well as in more recent years in crucial categories.
That’s true of residents’ perceptions of Kansas City, which can be a deciding factor in whether people stay in the city or leave for the suburbs. The city had the highest satisfaction rates of any reported survey since 2005 when asked about overall quality of life in the city, overall image of the city and overall feeling of safety in the city.
City services also got higher marks than in the last decade in categories such as parks and recreation programs, quality of the water utility and customer services from city employees.
Under the four years of James’ leadership and Schulte’s top-dog status at City Hall, the trend in citizen satisfaction is absolutely headed in the right direction.
▪ The biggest failure of the nearly three-hour love-fest this week was the ignorance of how Kansas City stacks up when measured against peer Midwestern cities and — even more notably — against its local suburban competitors.
Remember, all of the local communities — like Blue Springs, Independence, Lenexa, Overland Park and Olathe — also are constantly seeking residents and employers. If Kansas City can soar even higher in satisfaction scores, city officials stand a better chance of attracting investment to the heart of the metropolitan area.
In the report, residents of Kansas City area cities were on average more satisfied with their major public services than were the people of Kansas City. That’s even after taking into account the city’s rising scores of recent years.
Local residents outside Kansas City also on average were happier than city residents with public safety, the conditions of streets and sidewalks, animal control services and most solid waste services.
Sure, it’s tough to compete with the suburbs, which often have more affluent residents, newer housing stock and nowhere near the number of challenges faced by a sprawling Kansas City.
It’s also true that James, Schulte and others this week wanted to tout some of Kansas City’s recent achievements.
But keep things in perspective. Kansas City still must do a lot more to boost citizen satisfaction scores when it comes to providing public services and efficiently using tax revenues.