Mayor Mark Holland’s staff was hoping for a vigorous turnout last week at a public hearing to discuss a “healthy campus” in downtown Kansas City, Kan. Maybe a hundred people or so, they speculated.
Attendance turned out to be nearly triple that optimistic expectation. People turned out in droves to talk about Holland’s vision for a complex that he hopes to turn into a national model.
Holland, who is beginning his second year as mayor and chief executive of Wyandotte County’s Unified Government, envisions a campus anchored by a grocery store and a full-service community center.
“I want more for our kids and seniors,” he said. “I want a pool where kids can play. I want a track where seniors can walk.” And services for everyone in between.
To prove the concept is more than just talk, Holland announced a $1 million grant from the Wyandotte Health Foundation. The Unified Government has committed to directing $6 million in casino proceeds toward the project. A grocery store and community center are expected to cost around $30 million.
Holland has been advancing other healthy priorities for Wyandotte County.
After noting the absence of women and African-Americans in a recent graduating class of new firefighters, he enlisted the U.S. Department of Justice’s community relations service to help with a plan for improving the diversity of the fire and police departments.
He’s also pushing ways to reduce overtime and other costs in the public safety departments.
All this is to say that Holland, a pastor by training, is proving to be a savvy mayor and executive with a passion for lifting up people and neighborhoods in the region’s most impoverished county.
He needs and deserves support from the Unified Government commission. Unfortunately, some commissioners are pursuing destructive agendas, like weakening or eliminating the ethics panel and proposing charter changes to dilute the role of the mayor. Some members want the commission, not the mayor, to appoint the county’s chief administrator and set meeting agendas.
Wyandotte County has been fortunate in recent years to have the leadership of strong mayors and a capable administrator in Dennis Hays, who recently retired and is being replaced by Doug Bach. There is no reason to tamper with a winning formula. Commissioners who want to do so appear to more interested in grasping power for themselves than moving the county forward.