Yael T. Abouhalkah

Final grade for Kansas City Council veterans is a solid B

As mayor pro tem, Kansas City Council member Cindy Circo formed a good team with Mayor Sly James. They are shown here at the unveiling of the new Swope Park Soccer Village in 2013.
As mayor pro tem, Kansas City Council member Cindy Circo formed a good team with Mayor Sly James. They are shown here at the unveiling of the new Swope Park Soccer Village in 2013. skeyser@kcstar.com

Cindy Circo, Melba Curls, Ed Ford, Russ Johnson, Jan Marcason and John Sharp are set to attend their final Kansas City Council meetings on Thursday, term-limited out of office after eight years at City Hall.

Bottom line question: How well did they serve the city’s residents?

Here’s the final grade this often-skeptical, supposedly hard-headed opinion writer would hand out: a solid B.

Part of that grade is affected by the fact the council members spent from 2007 into 2011 dealing with the incompetent mayoral reign of Mark Funkhouser.

Still, good stuff did get done during his term, which ended when Mayor Sly James won the mayoral post in 2011. And the last four years of working with the far better focused — and more dynamic — James made it easier to complete positive tasks.

Here are selected highlights/lowlights over the years:

▪ As James’ mayor pro tem, Circo was a strong ally who helped rally colleagues behind a long line of routine votes as well as special issues. She promoted the city’s strong efforts to woo Google and, later, to reduce the digital divide in the city’s poorer areas. Circo got heavily involved in the discussions that resolved the Uber ride-hailing mess. Circo’s missteps included her over-the-top promotion of the Swope Park soccer facilities at the expense of local taxing districts; a good resolution got the fields built and some tax money flowing to the taxing entities.

▪ Curls was never a political force in any sense. Her best attribute was quietly voting for most of the good projects brought to the council. Her worst was a knack for asking questions that had already been answered or simply were off point.

▪ A summation of Ford: the developers’ friend and the firefighters’ foe on this council. Ford is finishing his second eight-year tenure at City Hall, and his experience helped him greatly because he was never afraid to ask pointed and often appropriate questions that sometimes riled colleagues. Ford properly criticized the notion that bringing the old ambulance service into the Fire Department was magically going to save money and improve response times. Negatively, Ford helped the development community recently kill a good James idea to get tougher on tax incentives.

▪ Russ Johnson’s tenacious support for the downtown streetcar system is his lasting legacy. He became an expert on the issue, which helped Kansas City push the project forward. As part of his duties on the council, he should have more harshly questioned the Aviation Department’s early single-terminal design approach in 2012, which the council ultimately backed away from after a public uproar.

▪ Jan Marcason became the self-proclaimed “sewer queen,” leading crucial city discussions in 2007-09 over how the city would put together a costly plan to prevent overflows into local waters. Marcason was the most valuable council member in keeping the pressure on to reform the city’s pension system, protecting employees’ benefits as well as the interests of taxpayers. While not flashy, Marcason provided thoughtful discussions on many issues.

▪ John Sharp was the needle that punched many a balloon sent aloft by James and some others at City Hall. Sharp succeeded, for instance, in killing a plan to get rid of city workers in favor of a more privatized attempt to collect ambulance bills. Sharp’s style of almost sheepishly asking questions got under the skins of his colleagues but also brought out reasonable points. Alas, as the public safety expert on the council, he never provided the solid leadership that would have provided true local control of the Police Department.

Starting Aug. 1, the new council will inherit extremely important and incomplete projects. They include construction of a new terminal at KCI, extension of the streetcar line and promoting redevelopment on the East Side.

The new members must build upon what the current council has achieved.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.