Guest Commentary

You cannot operate a major U.S. city in a vacuum. Results matter

Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed
Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed

A recent news story and an editorial in The Kansas City Star asked whether travel outside our city is worth it for elected officials. In today’s interconnected world, I believe it is essential to look beyond city limits to champion our city and make connections with businesses and other elected leaders. You cannot operate a major U.S. city in a vacuum.

As such, I believe my travel for the purpose of advocacy and my involvement in the National League of Cities has been important to the growth of our city.

If you know me, you know that I have no shortage of passion and dedication, and they drive me daily to find the best solutions for the constituents I serve. Those solutions have included, but are not limited to, traveling to Washington D.C. on multiple occasions to secure $30 million for rapid transit that funded the Prospect Max project.

I know what it means to utilize the city bus to get to work every day, drop kids off to school and to go grocery shopping. I lead the necessary advocacy efforts to ensure my neighbors, family and community has access to adequate transportation options. However, none of this could have been accomplished without the ability to advocate in person and champion our city’s cause.

As a member of the National League of Cities, I had the opportunity to testify before Congress to advocate on behalf of one of the most pressing issues in Kansas City: unfunded federal mandates. These mandates allow the federal government to impose burdens on our communities without providing funding. As these federal mandates increase, we are forced to choose among raising taxes, cutting services or delaying needed infrastructure projects.

To meet the obligations created by federal mandates, the residents of Kansas City approved an $800 million general obligation bond to support critical deferred infrastructure maintenance, including flood control improvements as well as building renovations and upgrades to satisfy requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Moreover, it will cost between $4.5-5 billion to meet our requirement under the Clean Water Act. As a result, wastewater rates have risen significantly and customers are facing significantly higher bills.

Traveling affords members of the City Council the ability to advocate on behalf of the citizens that we represent. We have to be the voice. If you do not have a seat at the table, you might be on the menu. I have consistently shown up to be at the table to stand up and speak up for issues to keep Kansas City rising.

Travel with specific purpose and goals ensures that our work has significant impact. For example, this year, I traveled with Denise DeJulio of Visit KC to present to the National Leagues of Cities to secure a convention for Kansas City. Subsequently, the National League of Cities’ board voted to bring the organization’s annual conference, City Summit, to our city in 2022. An estimated 4,000 city leaders and local government experts will come to Kansas City, booking 15,500 hotel rooms and generating $6 million in revenue for local hotels and businesses. That’s a big deal for our local economy, and a direct result of advocating for our city on a national stage.

Not all travel is a waste of taxpayer resources when there are clear and convincing benefits to the city. When measured success can bring educational opportunities or economic impact, the ends justify the means.

Jermaine Reed represents Kansas City’s Third District on the City Council.