4th District City Council Candidate Forum Recap
The following blog post has been re-published with permission from it's original writer, Angie Lile and does not reflect the opinions of the Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform as a whole. We can not endorse one candidate over the other, but wanted to share Mrs. Lile's opinion here because she is an active community leader in the Waldo Neighborhood. She owns a business and advocates regularly for Kansas City Public Schools and economic development reform as a parent in the district. She also has also served on the Waldo Area Business Association board and the Waldo Tower Neighborhood Association board for several years and believes in the work we are doing with economic development reform.
On January 17, 2019, I attended a very informative (paid) luncheon hosted by MainCor which featured all 6 of the 4th District Candidates. I took notes and have translated them below with some personal reflections noted for anyone to read.
The in-district Candidates are:
The At-Large Candidates (that receive city-wide votes) are:
The meeting was well-attended, maybe about 50 people, with lunch being served and then about an hour devoted to candidate introductions and questions. The number of candidates and questions meant that each candidate only got about 30 seconds to answer so it wasn’t really possible to get an in-depth response. This actually worked in the sense that it forced them to be concise about their view on the question but they probably would have really liked more time to explain their position.
The first question that came up was about traffic enforcement and transportation.
Strassle- supports increasing bike lanes and not happy with recent diversion of funds. He is referencing Katheryn Shields diversion of the dockless scooter funds that was supposed to go towards expanding bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly zones in Kansas City (about $300,000) to go towards “affordable housing”, most commonly referred to as the great “Money Grab”, which passed by council vote on November 29, 2018.
Westfall- Something needs to be looked at regarding the debate between cars vs. bikes and he wanted to see a cost analysis regarding both options including costs of treating bike injuries, etc.
Shields- She has a lot of experience and also agrees that a study will offer guidance. She is a proponent of the bus system overall.
Bunch- His expertise revolves around this topic having worked with BikeWalkKC and served on their board and worked with the city, he has knowledge of the arguments for and against. He is aware of regional funding that comes only for these initiatives and believes focusing on investing in more sidewalks will improve our quality of life.
Jolley- As a firefighter, safety is important and he agrees that all options really need to be looked at, especially with regards to strategy and how that to plan for equity.
Campbell- focusing on comprehensive, protective bike lanes as a priority and making sure that enforcement can hold drivers accountable.
Next question involves wide-ranging issues like how to address climate change in Kansas City and how to improve Health Outcomes
Campbell- We have new technologies to use and we need to learn from other Cities who are using them.
Jolley- former aide to Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, he is familiar with Federal and State funding issues. He would want an overflow control plan in place and also to look at other counties with how they are preparing for these wide-ranging issues.
Bunch- biking and walking (improving the quality of life for people and reducing emissions) focus on all of those dimensions.
Shields- has an extensive record regarding environmental issues and health care. She knows that the city has funds to address these issues and experience with how different city funds work together. She said there were already multiple programs available to help businesses with recycling and energy efficiency so nothing new needed to be done except maybe to put pressure on businesses to use those programs.
Westfall- We need to use more oversight and investigative measures to hold City Hall accountable for bad deals and wasteful spending.
Strassle- these issues require a multi-dimensional, holistic approach because they are all connected. He would focus on bringing people together to decide.
The Next question asks if we can demand more affordable housing from new developments. MAC properties was specifically mentioned.
Strassle- Happens to live in a MAC property and believes that absolutely the City can mandate a specific number of units when they are getting a deal.
Westfall- I would vote against ANY tax deals for the rich.
Shields- "Look at my record, especially how much I argued for affordable housing with Three Light" (I had a lot to say about this in my mind but honestly, if you could just go look up Katheryn’s voting record when it came to TIFs and other deals, you would find that Three Light is probably the first time she had ever spoke up about the unfairness of these deals).
Bunch- His focus would be on rent-stabilization and requiring developers to have more affordable housing and also believes that incentive reform needs to be addressed.
Jolley- many already and the city is considering a 10-15% affordable unit requirement.
Campbell- also supports a % of new development going to affordable housing but questions whether it should be a requirement vs. a carrot.
My own question had many parts: (a) Do you agree with ballot initiative to cap TIF at 50%, (b) Do you agree that the definition of Blight needs to change and (c) How do you feel about Single-Owner CIDs
Campbell- not in favor of a cap, does agree that we need better define “blight” and not really in favor of single-owner CIDs especially when they are doubled up.
Jolley- Tax incentives impact public services and have become easy to hand out. Believes we need a “holistic” approach. Bunch- he is also challenged to agree to a hard cap on incentives, single owner CIDs do need to change.
Bunch- challenged to agree with a hardline cap on incentives, single-owner CIDs need to change.
Shields- Red Bridge Shopping center is a single-owner CID which has recently been revitalized because of that.
NOTE- Red Bridge is also layered on top of another CID).
Shields is also opposed to the cap on TIFs and mentioned that the Lucas ordinance was working just fine and that capped TIFs at 75%.
NOTE- when the ordinance was used, I would agree, but it's not always used which is why petitioners moved forward with a ballot initiative.
Westfall- We definitely need to redefine blight and if the current council was going to do it they would have done it by now. He also agrees with the 50% cap on TIF.
Strassle- Single-owner CIDs need to change, we do need to redefine blight and I am challenged to support a hardline cap on TIFs, we need some flexibility.
Next Question, How do you plan on preparing for a recession?
Strassle- Research is needed, maybe even an exploratory committee?
Westfall- We need to shore up our budgets and stop giving away incentives for 20 years. We need to be able to claw back when appropriate to give immediate funds to our public services.
Shields- Finances are at a critical state and agreed this needed to be addressed.
Bunch- We need to focus on quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Jolley- We need to look at how the city spends their money. We need the rainy day fund so we anticipate and prepare for a downturn and he has experience with this from working with the congressman.
Campbell- we have a wonderful and reliable finance department (city staff) and I would rely on their expertise.
NOTE- for me this personally set alarm bells off in my mind because we need a whole new staff and most importantly we desperately need a new city manager. I’ll write about this more in an upcoming post.
Next Question focuses on the Kansas City Airport and simply asks, “Shouldn’t voters get a voice?” with regards to where this is heading?
Campbell- Voters did get a voice, they voted for a new airport. Have patience, there’s nothing to worry about.
Jolley- Agrees with the frustration of the situation and also agrees that the voters already got a voice, but not on giving a blank check.
Bunch- he is trusting the process because the airport IS going to be paid for by the airlines when it’s all said and done.
Shields- concerned about the city issuing bonds without an agreement from the airlines.
Westfall- city should know the details and be held accountable. There needs to be more transparency.
Strassle- Agrees with the concept of transparency. No one should “not know” what’s going on with the process.
NOTE- City Hall’s lack of transparency is a direct reflection of where the city staff directs their priorities. They give you just enough, but none of the details. You have to be in the room when a meeting happens to get all of the details because their video system is buggy and minutes are vague.
Now a question about recycling programs and supporting the community.
Strassle- he would work on green initiatives, putting more requirements in place for businesses.
Westfall- the EPA mandates the adoption of green infrastructure.
Shields- touts 20 years of experience, doing a great job for the environment and renewable energy.
Bunch- ¼ emissions come from cars and single-family homes. We need to encourage more solar panels on homes.
Jolley- has experience with creating the “green impact zones” while working with the congressman, which brought neighborhoods together.
Campbell- the next Mayor and City Council needs more “bite” with ordinances.
This next question was about homelessness & strengthening neighborhoods
Campbell- believes we need balance, maybe a citizen engagement university.
Jolley- There are already options now such as Center for Neighborhoods (CFN), Mid-America Regional Council, etc. We need to be working with the homeless and not against them and mentions the water-spraying incident earlier in the month where a fireman sprayed a homeless man's tiny camp fire in freezing temperatures, soaking him and all of his belongings.
Bunch- We can start by not criminalizing the homeless and look at success stories around the nation. Albuquerque built homes & offered jobs to the homeless, creating community capacity building.
Shields- most neighborhoods are good and the homeless ARE offered services now. Some of them take those services and those that remain are “burning down our bridges” (ACTUAL QUOTE). She then brought up the same excuse that city hall has used to defend blasting a homeless guy with a full-powered fire hose in order to put out a small campfire.
Westfall- this area needs help.
Strassle- we need a proactive measure to go out into the neighborhoods. Homeless needs capacity building along with housing.
For the final question, our candidates are asked about overall government and civic activities.
Strassle- his goal would be to change the city council meeting time to evenings so that more people could actually attend and also to provide childcare services.
Westfall- access to political leaders needs to be improved and he would also go out into neighborhoods.
Shields- I have a lot of experiences, and friends and connections in the community especially with minority groups.
Bunch- I would be the most accessible council member with a full day open each week for anyone who wants to come see me (office hours).
Jolley- working with congressman I went out and set up an office to meet people where they are.
Campbell- I would go out, be proactive and focus on more diversity (points around the room and mentions who there is no diversity) and I would invite them to attend.
As for who I want to vote for (I can only vote for the At-Large candidates), I think I’m leaning towards voting for Austin Strassle but I really love Westfall’s point-blank, “Call a Thing a Thing” attitude and I feel he would definitely slow down Tax Incentives and fight for more funding for our public services which a 20 year history with Katheryn Shields has not done.
I would urge everyone to stay the heck away from Jared Campbell only because of his obvious reliance on city staff and I feel that city staff is one of the reasons why we get in to so many messes with these giveaways. I also think Geoff Jolley will give you a lot of experience and Eric Bunch will give you a lot of bike lanes and sidewalks but both are looking pretty good as far as being open to economic development reform. Time will tell.