Let’s listen in on Mayor Sly James’ ‘real’ State of the City speech

03/12/2014 12:31 PM

03/12/2014 5:55 PM

Kansas City Mayor Sly James is hard at work on his official State of the City speech, which he’ll deliver on March 24 at Park Hill High School.

Prediction: It’s going to be an often upbeat, rah-rah affair — with no chance of last year’s most exciting moment, when a man rushed the stage and briefly took over the mayor’s microphone.

Elected officials around the metropolitan area deliver these types of effusive messages each year to rally residents, civic leaders and others to keep pushing for a better future. Nothing wrong with that.

Still, it’s invigorating when a politician breaks the mold and offers a more balanced, more honest assessment.

James has a habit of sometimes following that path, as he did in a January speech about the city’s prospects at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.

The mayor has plenty to talk about this month, mostly because under his go-go administration Kansas City is pursuing a number of positive projects right now.

Completing them, of course, is the real challenge. That’s where the mayor’s verbal leadership skills could come in handy.

Streetcar expansion

The mayor’s behind it, but already plenty of people in the politically active Brookside area are organizing to protest its potential route, costs and noise level.

James needs to get better at firing off effective counterpoints — perhaps on economic development potential or benefits other cities have seen — or this idea could be toast later this year.

Murder rate and gun violence

James has been appropriately outraged by state laws that prevent Kansas City from passing new restrictions aimed at reducing availability of weapons.

However, James also is the only elected official on the otherwise state-appointed Board of Police Commissioners. With the potential of local control dead for now — thanks to an ineffective citizens commission that James himself appointed in 2013 — the mayor should be held accountable for speaking out even more on the Police Department’s role in reducing homicides.

James does seem ready to embrace that role, a good thing to see given the fact Kansas City’s homicide rate was fifth highest of major U.S. cities in 2012.

Kansas City International Airport upgrades

The mayor has been consistently correct: The current airport needs to be revamped to update its appearance, improve security, add passenger amenities, and otherwise be improved to retain and possibly attract more air service.

So far, that message has been lost on too many Kansas Citians who think their convenience is the only thing that matters at the airport. James needs to be armed with essential facts and figures about how either major renovations or a brand new terminal could still be convenient for local passengers.

Charter revisions

The mayor’s citizens panel on this issue basically did no harm last year, except to recommend an unnecessary revamping of City Council election rules — which the council wisely kept off the April 8 ballot.

Otherwise, James on March 24 should praise the panel for the other major change it suggested: push city elections to April and June to encourage turnout. The mayor ought to urge voters to approve this question next month.

James likely will talk about achievements the city and others are pursuing when it comes to attracting employers, helping schools, spurring downtown development, and repairing water and sewer systems. All are important subjects.

Yet it would be great for him to also talk plainly about the challenges facing the community and his plans to solve them.

Kansas Citians can handle the truth — even when it’s a bit on the ugly side.


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