The current Kansas City Council has been in office for just over 11 months. So how’s everything going? It’s been ... interesting.
The nine new council members as a group — Teresa Loar, Heather Hall, Jolie Justus, Alissia Canady, Lee Barnes Jr., Dan Fowler, Quinton Lucas, Kevin McManus and Katheryn Shields — are not deferential followers of Mayor Sly James.
And the new members — who came in generally preaching more transparency and openness — have discovered that’s easier to talk about than do.
The bottom line: The elected officials have had some positively vigorous discussions, have not done anything too stupid since taking office on Aug. 1, 2015, but also haven’t set the world on fire.
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Take a look at a few hot-button issues.
▪ A proposed major change to the city’s liquor ordinances was rushed through the City Council by Justus and others, but opponents used a petition to stop it from being put in place.
Now the council could decide to place the matter on the November ballot. Preferably, they could repeal it and take the needed time to improve liquor laws.
The changes were major enough that they should have been more fully discussed by council members and affected residents, especially in the Crossroads Arts District.
For a council that can hold less-crucial ordinances for weeks or months, ramming through the liquor change was an abuse of the process.
▪ The questionable idea of spending $27 million to help revive the 18th and Vine area is being pushed by Lucas as well as Jermaine Reed.
Reed hopes to force a full council vote on the proposal as soon as this week.
However, even after a multi-hour council committee meeting and a recent public gathering, solid plans on how to use the $27 million remain in flux.
It’s tough to make the case that the public sector should put up all this money without at least some assurances that the private sector is going to come through with the cash needed to make the proposed improvements possible.
Plus, these funds could be used in other ways to help depressed East Side neighborhoods — improving sidewalks, helping with home repairs and reusing abandoned properties.
▪ The plan to build a single terminal at Kansas City International Airport was led by James and Justus. But it ended up being killed for the foreseeable future because of opposition, primarily from Loar but also a few other newer members.
And yes, a public opinion poll showed a great number of Kansas Citians opposed the single terminal.
James and top city officials damaged public optics by refusing to fully vet an alternative plan pushed by Loar and a local architectural group. That plan had flaws, perhaps fatal ones. But without a big public meeting on it, the detractors of a single terminal were able to cry foul and get away with it.
▪ Lucas is promoting a reduction in public subsidies for redevelopment. He’s absolutely right to do so, because the current system has its faults.
However, a long-promised evaluation of tax breaks and how they have been used in Kansas City still isn’t under way, many months after James and others at City Hall unveiled it.
Critics of Lucas’ plan will push the narrative that developers will go someplace else if they think the rules might be changed for the incentive game.
Oh, really? That would run counter to James’ own compelling narrative that downtown, the Crossroads and midtown are “hot” commodities right now.
Will James and the council hold public hearings, listen to the testimony and make needed changes in tax-break policies?
Kansas Citians should find that out by this council’s two-year anniversary in August 2017.