Winners and losers in three key KC issues this week
The Kansas City Star
Everyone looks for winners and losers when it comes to playing hardball politics in Kansas City.
This week — in a bit of fortuitous timing — three different major issues reached crucial tipping points.
- The Raytown School District and other taxing jurisdictions won their battle to stop Kansas City from using some of their tax funds to build a youth soccer complex in Swope Park.
Now the Raytown district can spend most of that money to educate more than 8,000 students.
Congratulations to Raytown Superintendent Allan Markley for leading opposition to the deal. Better than any superintendent I’ve seen in 20 years, he decided to publicly criticize a city over a tax increment financing deal. Just a few weeks ago Markley sent Mayor Sly James a strongly worded and demanding letter that really irritated the mayor — yet still led to a positive resolution for all.
Good job, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, in helping all sides stay focused on brokering an honest arrangement.
Give James credit for realizing the city had to make concessions on this soccer project. It was such a misuse of TIF that economic development lawyers were warning City Hall to settle so state officials would not be tempted to change how the program operates.
On the flip side, City Council member Cindy Circo initially thought the city could steamroll the school district and other taxing jurisdictions to get the fields built with a lot of their money. Fortunately, she was wrong.
- The Police Department and Fraternal Order of Police have a tentative agreement to change the department’s pension policies.
The essential reforms include higher employee contributions, lower cost of living raises and a less generous pension system for new hires.
These moves will strengthen the retirement system for thousands of current and future officers, while also saving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
While the deal is not yet completed — the City Council still has to approve it as do state legislators — this could turn out to be a significant win for FOP President Brad Lemon, police board president Lisa Pelofsky, James, City Council member Jan Marcason, City Manager Troy Schulte and civic leader Herb Kohn.
Lemon and Pelofksy kept the talks going between two sides that haven’t always trusted each other.
James and Marcason have kept the political pressure on the police — and far less successfully, the firefighters — to promote pension reform.
Schulte has tackled an issue previous city managers let slide for too many years.
Kohn led the civic group that came up with many of the general guidelines that will be part of the final reforms. However, that group made its recommendations in late 2011, so it’s taken far too long to get to this point.
On the negative side of pension reform, it’s a shame the fire union and president Michael Cambiano haven’t made enough progress toward a deal that would be good for firefighters and taxpayers.
- The Fraternal Order of Police could join the city’s health insurance plan by May 1.
The decision could pave the way for the city to have a bigger pool of employees when it goes to buy health insurance, keeping taxpayer-financed premiums lower.
Give James and Police Chief Darryl Forté a hand for getting behind this idea last year, when it was foundering after many months of squabbling.
Police board member Pat McInerney kept the discussions going through some rough city-police squabbles.
However, James especially must make sure that — as the mayor and a police board member — he doesn’t let this deal crumble because of last-minute sneak attacks by either city or police officials.
These three positive outcomes could and should have been accomplished more quickly to benefit Kansas Citians and public employees. Still, progress is being made, so let’s celebrate it.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or email email@example.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah