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

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, 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!”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rage against the PR machine

I submitted the following letter to the editor to several area newspapers. I don’t think it was published by any of them.

It’s easy to make the case for your position when you can manipulate the facts to fit your conclusion, as Tim Henry did in Wednesday, February 6th’s “As I See It” column regarding the city’s ongoing push to put a huge bridge in Minor Park.

If there were truly a consensus, why did so many people withdraw from the “alternatives study” in protest? The answer: It was not a public process, but a charade. As the project manager stated, the participants were there merely to observe. At all times, the consultant controlled everything, including a biased survey that was employed not to inform the project team about the community’s desires for the Red Bridge area, but to lead to the same pre-determined conclusion they come to every time. In fact, the contract drawn up with the consultant demanded that the result be the same big-bridge plan. What kind of alternative is that? Henry also mis-states the facts in regard to the differences between the latest proposal and the previous one. Only by comparing it to the proposal before the proposal before the last proposal can you say that the latest one is any kind of reduction. Even former councilman Chuck Eddy said that 5-year-old plan was “never serious”.

Why is the city so determined to build such a big bridge on such a little road? The answer is obvious to many in south K.C., and it was in fact stated early on in the process by a Public Works official, then never repeated: Red Bridge Road is to be a highway alternate, helping to handle the tens of thousands of trucks that will be servicing the freight and warehouse facilities being constructed at the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force base.