The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.
While we’re glued to the news gushing daily out of Washington — impeachment, immigration, health care — the truth is we should be paying just as close attention to what local governments are up to.
Almost everything the Kansas City Council, the Jackson County Legislature and Clay County Commission, among others, are doing touches our lives. There’s a new mayor in Kansas City, an ongoing reassessment tangle in Jackson County and a fight between the Clay County Commission and Missouri’s state auditor.
KCUR is tracking everything that happens with those topics in the coming year, which will set the tone for the decade itself, as well challenges Johnson County faces in the coming year and how Wyandotte County will continue to support a diverse and growing population.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
It’s hard to overstate the importance of your local elected officials. Besides making sure your trash is picked up on time or deciding how much you owe in property taxes, they’re your neighbors. And if your local government isn’t working properly, that trickles down to everything else.
When Jackson County and Kansas City, Missouri, couldn’t agree on a deal to house city inmates, the temporary fix led to inmate escapes — potentially putting innocent lives at risk. In Clay County, commissioners have stalled a state audit that was requested by citizens who were concerned about how their tax money was being spent.
Meanwhile, Kansas City, Kansas, residents are frustrated by the slow progress of getting municipal IDs, which advocates say could help thousands of residents open bank accounts and enroll their kids in school.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Reducing violent crime is the No. 1 priority for Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas. In addition to lobbying state lawmakers for stricter gun laws and funding more police officers, Lucas has said he wants to review several taxpayer-funded initiatives (such as Kansas City No Violence Alliance) that are committed to targeting and reducing violent crime. Eliminating redundancies will be important to free up needed cash.
- This year will bring an end to the Clay County sheriff’s battle with the Clay County Commission over underfunding jail contracts for food and health care. Attorney Fritz Riesmeyer told KCUR Thursday the Missouri Supreme Court declined to take up the case, which means the county will have to give the sheriff’s office about $1 million to pay vendors for food and health care for inmates. There will also be an election for two commission seats and an effort to change the county's form of government. The two-commissioner coalition of Luann Ridgeway and Gene Owen has been criticized for spending $2 million on land for a new county annex and not fully cooperating with the state audit; if Ridgeway or Owen decide not to run or lose their re-election bid, there’d be a shift in power on the commission.
- New Jackson County Administrator Troy Schulte will have to answer a long list of questions. With his $210,000 salary, will the former Kansas City, Missouri, city manager be able to make county government more efficient? Can he fix an assessment department that’s been lambasted by citizens and the county legislature? More importantly, will he be able to improve the frayed relationship between county legislators and County Executive Frank White? Also, look for progress in moving towards replacing the dilapidated downtown jail.
- Construction is set to begin in the summer on a 1 million-plus-square-foot facility in Kansas City, Kansas, for the American Royal. The organization and its barbecue competition hasn’t had a permanent home since it left Kansas City, Missouri, in 2016. The new facility, located on 550 acres near the Village West Shops, will have year-round programming for agriculture education, livestock shows and, of course, smoking meats.
- About a dozen cities in Johnson County have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Olathe City Council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance last month, and activists hope the momentum from 2019 will add pressures for the state to act.
- Expect to see more action on the local level when it comes to addressing climate change. The Greater Kansas City area is publishing a greenhouse gas inventory next month and a draft action plan over the summer.
BY THE NUMBERS
20,000 — The number of property-tax assessment appeals that the Jackson County Board of Equalization must go through before March 31.
3 — The number of times Clay County citizens have voted against changing the structure of its government since 2002. In April, residents will decide whether the county commission should take steps toward a charter form of government, which could expand the number of commissioners or have more appointed positions.
18,890 — Potholes reported in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2019. Basic street maintenance was one of the city’s biggest challenges last year, and staffing shortages in the public works department, among other things, meant roads on the Missouri side of the metro took longer to clear during winter storms than on the Kansas side.
2,000 — Jobs Kansas City, Kansas, officials estimate will be created after the redesign of highway interchange at Interstate 70 and the Turner Diagonal. The project, which gets underway at the end of of this month, includes constructing a 2.7 million square foot distribution center.
315 — Rides that Wyandotte County provided through Micro Transit, a shared ride-hailing service similar to Uber in its first nine days of service. Micro Transit started this year, and the county estimates the services will cost about $220,000 this year, according to the transportation department director. A pilot program in Johnson County provided more than 33,000 rides since it started last year, according to the county government’s business liaison.
Kansas City, Missouri, City Manager
Kansas City has a council-manager form of government, which means the person making sure the government operates smoothly day-to-day is the city manager, not the mayor. Where can we find money for affordable housing? Ask the city manager. Bad winter for potholes? That’s the city manager’s job, too. Longtime manager Troy Schulte left in December for a job in Jackson County, which opened up an opportunity for the mayor to make a crucial appointment. Lucas has said he would look for someone who shares his priorities, such as affordable housing and public safety.
Jackson County Legislator
Jalen Anderson represents the future of the Democratic Party in Jackson County. The 26-year-old from Blue Springs is the youngest elected official in the county. He took office a year ago, and for eight months or so was mostly silent during meetings. When he did finally speak, he let loose on County Executive Frank White over the reassessment mess. He was also critical of Sheriff Darryl Forte over the “bra-gate” controversy at the county jail and didn’t immediately fall in line to support Troy Schulte being hired as the county administrator. Expect to hear Anderson sound off more and more in 2020.
It’s been more than a year since Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, 37, started her audit of Clay County. Since then, she’s gone to court twice to enforce subpoenas. If her audit is released before the August primary, the findings could influence how voters view Clay County Commissioners Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway, whose terms are both up. The audit is likely to shed light on the county’s financial condition, its use of outside law firms and whether there’s been any mismanagement of taxpayer money. It will also be the culmination of years of effort by Citizens For a Better Clay County, a group that started gathering signatures for the audit in 2017.
Lindsey Constance and Mike Kelly
Shawnee City Councilmember and Roeland Park Mayor
These two have helped lead the local effort to address climate change with Climate Action KC, a group of local elected officials and community leaders working with the Global Covenant of Mayors. They’re due to present a regional climate action plan in September, as well as a greenhouse gas inventory in February, which will detail information about what business sectors in the region contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions. The group’s climate risk and vulnerability assessment also will come out early this year, with community workshops to follow.
Feb. 27: The Unified Government Commission of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, will discuss implementing a municipal identification card.
Week of March 16: The Johnson County Community College will select its new president. This comes as the school board has been criticized for raising tuition and concerns about transparency.
March 31: The Jackson County Board of Equalization plans to be done hearing reassessment appeals.
Mid-year: Travelers who drive to Kansas City International Airport in Platte County need to be on the lookout for changes in traffic patterns. are being built and traffic on Cookingham Drive will be diverted.
Aug. 1: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas marks a full year in office. He came in with an ambitious agenda, including reducing homicides, increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing and encouraging economic development beyond downtown.
Aug. 4: The primary election, in which Clay County Commissioners Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway will face their first hurdle, should either decide to run for re-election. Considering their power on the panel, this will matter in how the commission functions going forward.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson. Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @larodrig. Sam Zeff is KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter: @samzeff.