Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clueless in K.C.

At a community meeting in southeast Kansas City tonight, dozens of local residents gathered, apparently to vent their frustration with two of the main speakers: Owen Buckley, whose company owns what was once Bannister Mall (now a pile of rubble), and Councilman John Sharp.

Many of the people had come to previous meetings where Mr. Buckley and his attorney had painted a very rosy picture of what a soccer-centric redevelopment plan would look like. Even before the collapse of Wall Street, it was clear to me and my friends that this plan would never happen, and if it did, that it would be a failure of spectacular proportions.

So, we were in the small minority there who weren't upset that there won't be another pro-sports arena in Kansas City. That's probably why I felt so detached from the whole thing. That feeling only got worse as Councilman Sharp convinced some in the crowd that it wasn't enough to have given away the store (in the form of diverting to the developer any taxes on the land or from any economic activity that may happen there). No, we needed to give them even more "economic incentives" with the help of the State of Missouri.

Oy.

The irony of these "economic incentives" now is that -- not having the burden of property taxes -- the owners of the land have no incentive to develop it. There is minimal cost to them as they sit on the property in hopes a better deal will come along sometime ten or twenty years down the road.

Yet there was no suggestion of revoking the tax-exempt status of the land. And there was not one mention of the plan that wouldn't have been a spectacular failure, but which never had much of a chance due to the backward thinking in this town. Read about that in The Pitch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who is our city council really working for?

The other day, I referenced an article on firedoglake in a tweet:

Reason we're screwed #1 Not only does campaign money corrupt Congressmen, the job is just a resume-builder for K-street http://bit.ly/2izO96
This was about the U.S. Congress, but it applies to our own city council as well. Just look at the career of former 3rd district councilman Troy Nash.

Nash sat on the Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee during his two terms on the city council (1999 to 2007 -- a period that witnessed too many sweetheart deals with developers to list, diverting your tax dollars into developers' pockets while putting the city in a precarious debt situation.)

After being term-limited off the city council, Nash became Vice President and Director of Public Sector Consulting for Zimmer Real Estate Services, one of the largest firms in the Kansas City area.

This fits the pattern perfectly: Use one's time in government to service wealthy interest groups, then work directly for them in the private sector, using the connections made while supposedly serving the people's interests to further the interests of their true masters.

Information that indicates who these true masters are is out there, but you don't hear about it much, and doing your own research by looking up campaign contributions at the Missouri Ethics Commission web site is not my idea of a fun leisure time activity.

But, somebody needs to do it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Death to The Star

The Kansas City Star has refused to publish Arnold McMann's "As I See It" submission critical of the Red Bridge Road Alternatives Study.

While one can never expect or demand that one's letter to the editor will be published, the Star's summary dismissal of Arnold's letter seems suspicious in light of the fact that the Star previously published a piece praising the Alternatives Study.

It's even more suspicious because that pro-Study piece was simply a re-editing of the literature being disseminated to promote the project by the public relations firm hired to manage the Study. The supposed author is well-known to many who attend local meetings in south K.C. as a hack for parasitic commercial interests. Some of his neighbors also had pro-Study letters published in the Star even though those neighbors had never previously expressed an interest in the project and in one case at least was not even registered to vote here. Again, those letters appeared to have been ghost written by that same P.R. firm.

There is much going on behind the scenes that The Star has never shown an interest in uncovering for the benefit of open and efficient governance in Kansas City. Perhaps their evident collusion in the local culture of corruption explains all of this.

Guest Comment on Red Bridge Project

South K.C. resident and investor Arnold McMann composed this post regarding the proposed monster bridge in Minor Park:

On December 2nd I attended the unveiling of the proposed Red Bridge Road project that replaces the historic namesake. The plan is a culmination of almost five years of bitter debate pitting neighbor against neighbor to push through the politically volatile project. The plan to make Red Bridge Road the East-West artery designated by the Major Street Plan is very much in evidence. The right-of-way and bridge is designed for conversion to a four lane road at any time without further public comment. A true Trojan Bridge, where the City's four lane design is decorated like a holiday gift and the failed intersection at Holmes Road receives even more traffic. What is the monetary cost? Estimates are five million dollars to create and defend the design and fifteen million dollars in constructions costs. The current bridge could have been rebuilt for far less at a time when the City is running a deficit budget and bonds are too expensive.

It may be of only casual interest that in its infancy the citizens of the area were merely asking for curbs and sidewalks between Holmes Road and Grandview Road. This was documented in the last FOCUS survey the City conducted in 1999 and we still have no plans or budget to build them. The Sixth District City Council members lobbied MoDOT hard to retain a 71 Highway exit to Red Bridge Road, at great additional cost, despite the obvious traffic planning difficulties it presented. It was built to a four lane specification leaving the historic bridge as the last firewall to making Red Bridge Road a highway bypass.

The machinations used to first drive the project included traffic counts inflated by major construction on 71 Highway, threats that any delay meant the loss of federal funding and the last refuge of every politician, public safety. When these and other straw issues were refuted, the City's gargantuan bridge plan was withdrawn. During the public outcry, City staff called individuals who opposed the project in public meetings "crackpots" and NIMBYs while mobilizing some citizens to support the project. Those of you who remember the election that followed know the casualties left in its wake.

Not to be deterred, the next effort was taken out of Public Works and was carefully orchestrated to deliver a "consensus" decision that met every criteria of the original City project. A public relations firm was contracted to conduct the campaign. An advisory committee was invented where city staff, businesses, development representatives and institutional interests were in clear majority. The city design contractor would not let citizens in attendance speak nor did they make any provisions for them to hear the one-way discussions.

Still another contractor was used to put together a "survey" of stakeholders. The survey was created without input from the advisory committee and determined by experts to be a push poll that included selected phone interviews and an arbitrary cutoff. Not surprisingly, the outcome of the survey supported the City agenda. It was the keystone used repeatedly to justify the planned outcome at every venue. The most apparent use of this device was at the Parks and Recreation approval meeting when the board members were also reminded of where their budget was approved.

My neighborhood is not the first and will not be the last to fall victim to the development first, neighborhoods last mentality of Kansas City. This process was instructive in how far our governance has left behind those whom it has sworn to serve in order to perpetuate its own interests.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My perspective on the light rail issue

There are many arguments for and against the latest light rail
proposal, and although I support the concept of using trains
to move people around Kansas City, I'm voting no on
Tuesday's proposal. I'd like to present one of the reasons
for that here -- a reason based in what I learned from the Red
Bridge experience:

About a year ago, The Friends of Red Bridge presented a plan
for Red Bridge Road to the governing board of the K.C. Parks
Department. The FoRB plan would cost a fraction of the City's
plan, and yet improve safety, the local economy, the
environment, and livability by far more. It was completely
disregarded.

The process used to come up with the City's light rail
proposal on Tuesday's ballot was similar in important ways to
the Red Bridge Road study: it seemed the outcome was
predetermined, and innovative ideas that are working elsewhere
were not allowed.

In the light rail discussion, that innovative idea is the
modern street car, a less costly and lighter-weight vehicle
that would also deliver better economic revitalization than
the larger light rail trains.

In an article at kctribune.com, you will learn that a south Kansas City
resident and member of the Citizen's Light Rail Task Force
said that while the Task Force's mission was to conduct an
"alternatives analysis" of all aspects of the rail transit
plan, the consultants never discussed street cars as an
alternative to light rail.

"Garbage in, garbage out" as they say. Should we validate a
flawed process that is biased toward a system that is so
expensive, yet promises diminished benefits?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Funkhouser gets the citizen treatment

Last month during the city budget debate, Mayor Funkhouser wrote a letter to the K.C. Chamber of Commerce criticizing them for not giving due consideration to his learned opinion on the matter:
“I am outraged that my input was not sought in the development of the chamber’s recent resolution on the city’s budget. I saw it for the first time when it was introduced at the board meeting. I raised concerns about the resolution. You and your board members listened politely and then called for questions and further discussion. There was none, and the motion to adopt the resolution was summarily approved.”
While Funk fan Yael Abouhalkah wrote “good for the mayor,” The K.C. Blue Blog emphasized the arrogant tone of a letter “full of nothing but sentences bragging about his education level.”

Now, I would like to put my spin on it that has nothing to do with either the budget or the Mayor’s lack of savoir-faire, but with something that might be even more important: governance in Kansas City.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of one “ram through” after another (most recently by the Parks Board and City Council), Funkhouser’s complaint sounds very familiar. It’s business as usual in this town. Let’s turn it into an English lesson. Just fill in the blanks...

“My input was not sought in the development of _________.”

Of course not. Your input doesn’t count. The decision was made before the facade of public debate began.

“I saw the ________ for the first time when it was introduced at the meeting.”

Because they don’t care what you think about it.

“There were no questions and there was no discussion, and a motion to adopt it was summarily approved.”

Because we have a democracy in form, but not in substance; that’s the bottom line, and there is no prospect for changing that on our flat Midwestern horizon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Council Representation Fantasy

I wasn’t able to attend or watch the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting today, but I imagined what a half-way-decent council person would have said:

Council person (to consultant): “This doesn’t look like a consensus to me. There are still a lot of people upset about your plan.”

Consultant: “Seventy one per...”

Council person: “71% isn’t a consensus. A consensus is something everyone agrees upon, and with the failure to get any approval from the very group that stopped the plan before and is just as opposed to your plan now, I don’t think you have any kind of agreement at all, let alone a ‘consensus’”.

Consultant: “It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Nobody ever gets everything they want.”

Council person: “Looks like the supporters of the big-bridge plan got everything they want, but that’s not the point. Sharron and Teresa here represent a group of people who set this whole process in motion. They are not entitled to a particular outcome, but they are entitled to a process that empowers them and addresses their concerns. What you did would be like reaching a labor agreement by using management and shareholders as the interlocutors while the workers just stood by and watched.”

Consultant: “I don’t think we could reach a 100% consensus.”

Council person: “OK. Let’s try. Teresa, do you agree that we need a bridge over the Blue River?

Teresa: “Yes."

Council person: “Tim, do you agree that we need a bridge over the Blue River?”

Tim: “Yes, and the railroad."

Council person: “Sorry, not asking about the railroad. We have a consensus for building a bridge over the river. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Consultant: “I don’t think the Citizens for New Red Bridge would call that a consensus.”

Council person: “Why not? I’m sure a survey will get a 100% affirmative response to that question. That’s what democracy is all about, isn’t it: surveys?”

Consultant: “Using those standards, Mr./Ms. council person, I don’t think any infrastructure project would ever happen. There’s always someone opposed to it.”

Council person: “We have a sordid history of infrastructure projects being put in place over large-scale community opposition: The famous Robert Moses expressway through the heart of the Bronx utterly devastated that whole area and it still hasn’t recovered. Here we have the Watkins Expressway. The lesson I draw from these projects is simple: building without reference to a neighborhood’s character is destructive. This Red Bridge thing looks a lot like that. Basically, we have a proposal to change the status quo, so I agree that we need a consensus, or an agreement from the parties involved in order to carry out the plan. If you lack that agreement, the status quo should remain until such time as an agreement is reached. I think that principle is especially applicable when the course of action being suggested is irrevocable. Building a smaller bridge leaves the big-bridge option on the table. But once the big bridge is built, it cannot be removed. So, you’d better be damned sure that you are doing the right thing before you proceed. In this case, I don’t see how we can be sure of that at all.”

Consultant: “But the federal funds expire in 2009.”

Council person (sarcastically): “Oh, well why didn’t you say so!? Bring on the freaking bulldozers!”