Well done, Kansas City. The just-ended campaigns for mayor and City Council were thoughtful, fact-based and mostly civil.
Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas, who notched a decisive double-digit victory over Jolie Justus Tuesday, and the members of the council are to be congratulated on their election wins. They should take the next few days to relax and to reflect on what they’ve learned over the past weeks.
They’ll need to be ready. Hard decisions are just ahead.
▪ Violent crime: Kansas City’s horrific murder rate was top of mind for voters this year. The mayor and council must make reducing violent crime an urgent priority.
Kansas City does not fully control its police department. While that’s a problem, it’s also unlikely to change soon. The new mayor and council should not use the lack of local control as an excuse for inaction. Instead, the City Council can use its budget power to help shape department policy.
Many of this year’s candidates said the city needs more police officers on the street. The mayor and council should find the funds to deliver on that pledge, while encouraging the department to spend its money more wisely.
Mayor-elect Lucas and his colleagues must also quickly confront the municipal jail issue. Working with Jackson County to include municipal jail beds in a new combined facility appears to make sense if the county gets its act together.
But it will be years before those beds are available. A short-term solution, including renting jail space closer to the city, will be needed.
Kansas City should also reexamine its population at the city jail with an eye on reducing the number of inmates in custody.
▪ Basic services: Trash collected. Potholes filled. Snow removed. Vacant lots mowed. Voters told candidates this year that they want the city to deliver services in a timely and cost-efficient manner. The new council must ensure the city does better.
Council members will have to decide if City Manager Troy Schulte should be retained, or convince him to stay. On balance, Schulte has done an effective job as city manager. Losing him now might make the transition to a new council more difficult.
▪ Incentive reform: The failure of Question 1 doesn’t put this issue to rest. The fact remains that Kansas City hands out the wrong incentives to the wrong projects. The new mayor and council must focus relentlessly on incentive reform that helps poor neighborhoods, not wealthy developers downtown.
▪ Housing: Both mayoral candidates endorsed a tenant bill of rights, including protections against unfair evictions. There is talk of providing legal help to every tenant who needs representation, a promising idea worth exploring.
The new mayor and council should find ways to fully fund the $75 million housing trust fund. Incentive reform is one place to look. Property tax caps in distressed neighborhoods also deserve consideration.
Rent controls are not likely. But Kansas City must ensure affordable, quality housing is available in all parts of the community.
▪Transportation and the airport: The mayor and council must keep a close eye on progress at the new Kansas City International Airport terminal to make sure that promises for hiring and training are kept — and that the project remains on time and on budget.
The council can then turn its attention to a broader transportation policy that addresses bicyclists, pedestrians, commuters and others. Spending $400 million for bike trails and lanes is a nonstarter. But a more modest, focused plan to protect two-wheeled transportation would be welcome.
There are other issues looming for Mayor-elect Lucas and his colleagues. They will have to draw new council districts after the 2020 census, for example. There may be changes proposed to the city’s charter. Pension reform will be on the agenda at City Hall.
Enthusiasm for tax increases has waned dramatically in Kansas City. Absent a change in state law, the 1% earnings tax will be on the ballot in 2021 — the new mayor and council will have to make a strong case for its renewal.
The new council takes office August 1. Outgoing Mayor Sly James and the current council no doubt will work hard to ensure a smooth transition.
Mayor-elect Lucas and the new City Council have much to do in the days ahead. We hope they can bring the same sense of thoughtfulness and engagement to those discussions as they did to the campaign.