Sunday, April 26, 2015

Red Bridge Shopping Center Redevelopment Pep Rallies for Lane4

Everyone wants Red Bridge Shopping Center to come back to life and there has been a lot of community enthusiasm for how that might look; but let's take a look at the progress so far.

There have been two pep rallies to talk about the redevelopment, March 14th at DeVry and April 20th at St. Catherine's. This is so reminiscent of the process used when the City and politicians wanted to shove a new 4-lane highway bridge down the throats of those neighborhoods surrounding the old red bridge. Meetings are held extolling the great things that will happen if only the community lets them do what they want for their benefit while framing it as our benefit.

Let's look at the cheerleaders for these pep rallies. The head cheerleader at DeVry was none other than Rick Chambers, lead fundraiser for the Center School District Foundation. He is also well connected to Councilman Scott Taylor. At St. Catherine's the head cheerleader was Tim Henry, President of Brichwood Homes Association. Tim Henry is well connected to Councilman Sharp and whenever the councilman needs to orchestrate an event for show Tim Henry is there. They seem to be more concerned about other neighborhoods than their own. How are things at Birchwood Shopping Center? The behind the scenes cheerleader is Larry Marsh, President of Red Bridge Homes Association. Larry Marsh is new to the area and really wants to be part of the in crowd, so he will do anything for their acceptance. Larry Marsh is also the administrator for the Red Bridge NextDoor social media site. That's a good position to have if you want to control any online discussion of the Red Bridge Shopping Center.

Now let's talk about Lane4, the anointed hero. Lane4 previously was involved in the fiasco of Bannister Mall. They followed the same script: having pep rallies or focus groups to let citizens suggest businesses they would like as part of the redevelopment, knowing full well what is economically feasible for that area.

Since the show began at DeVry in March, there has not been any real information given. Lane4 expects to close on this deal by the end of June 2015 and start construction in September 2015. They want no public scrutiny of the welfare they are going to ask for and don't expect to get any. They are betting on the community being blinded by the idea of a revitalized shopping center. They want a 10 to 20 year commitment from the community without any discussion of the impact and may even hint that without it, there will be no redevelopment. That is why their pep rallies have included no information about finances.

Councilman John Sharp sold out the citizens of the Hickman Mills School District when Cerner asked for the 1st Amendment to their original $1 billion TIF. That incentive was meant to be the instrument that would spur economic activity; yet, no construction had begun, in fact, land was still being cleared, when Cerner decided they needed yet more incentive. Councilman Sharp was the most vocal voice in front of the Board of Education insisting Cerner needed more money knowing it would mean even fewer dollars going to the school district. This cannot be allowed to happen to the Center School District.

It is time to stop the pep rallies and have community meetings where some actual details and their impact on the community are presented.

Red Bridge Shopping Center is important but so is the funding of Center School District.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This is John Sharp's Jobs Plan

The "liquor exemption zone" created by John Sharp's recent ordinance was put in place to allow the new Trader Joe's grocery to sell liquor at their store scheduled to open later this year at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center. What escaped the attention of most was that the same ordinance also created a second liquor examption zone around the site of the former Bannister Mall. While the Ward Parkway exemption zone includes only the shopping center, the Bannister Mall zone includes many neighboring areas totaling an area 26 times the size of the zone for Trader Joe's.

Some have wondered why Councilman Sharp made the second zone so large. It happens to extend to the east side of Blue Ridge Boulevard north of Bannister Road, including the gas station that he is so proud of bringing to an intersection already serviced by two other stations. So now with three gas stations at one intersection, one might also wonder if Sharp has ever heard of peak oil, supply and demand, or if he thinks we can go back to the 1960s.

Ten new jobs are supposed to be created by placing another gas station there, and that will allow Mr. Sharp to truthfully state that he has brought jobs to south KC.

The owner of the new station intends to sell liquor at that location, which they can do thanks to Sharp's ordinance passed just two months ago.

And while "synthetic cannabinoids" and "bath salts" are already showing up at gas station convenience stores in the area, the owner of the new Bannister gas station has been found selling crack pipes at their station in the Old Northeast section of KC.

A friend of mine was driving down Blue Ridge Boulevard and saw a Sharp-for-council sign in front of yet another liquor store, and started to wonder what's going on in this area that already has plenty of liquor stores.

She was reminded of the city council redistricting issue where Mr. Sharp was fighting to keep all of his voting base in the sixth district. Gwen Grant, President and CEO of the Urban League, roasted him on Channel 19's "Ruckus" saying that he was all in favor of helping Blacks drink in the Power and Light District, but didn't mind if they couldn't vote.

She might have found an emerging pattern there, and it could lead to harder stuff.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Civility Isn't for Everyone

There were two candidate forums in SKC last week and I attended both. I found it extremely interesting that at both John Sharp complimented the mayoral candidates, saying they’re running a campaign the way a campaign should be run - civilly. Then he turned right around and implied that his opponent wasn’t running a real campaign because he was opposed to the current monster of a bridge and it’s the ‘supposed’ Friends of Red Bridge that are his top advisors.

No matter where you stand on the bridge project, it’s remarkable that Mr. Sharp feels the need to continue marginalizing 500-600 of his constituents. The bridge is being built. The project is moving right along. It should not be brought up as if it’s still a point of contention, and the people who were opposing it shouldn’t be denigrated, even by implication.

Mr. Sharp likes to brag about his years of service and talk about his knowledge and ability to support SKC; but if that were really the case, why can’t he find a more effective and appropriate argument to build his case? Perhaps it’s a guilty conscience. After all, he went to city hall prior to his election and testified that the huge bridge should not be built. He led the Friends of Red Bridge to believe he supported their stance. Then after his election he changed his tune.

Again, it isn’t important which side of the issue a person was on. The issue is that Mr. Sharp apparently can’t be trusted. Maybe that’s why he can’t seem to put it behind him when others have moved on. It would be laughable if it weren’t so scary. If Mr. Sharp couldn’t be trusted over the last four years, what’s he going to be like as a lame duck?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing (Important)

There seems to be a bit of a kurfluffle in the sixth district. Amongst the myriad of screenings and questionnaires that were overly prevalent during the recent primary season, there was one by a group called Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement. It was sent out by Airick Leonard West who is president of the KCMSD school board and from what I’ve been told, all the questions pertained to that school district and what the city could do to help them.

First, I find it a little presumptuous to think the city should help them when they’re not the only school district in the City. The City doesn’t have resources enough to provide basic services, let alone help out even one school district.

Secondly, education is a state function and has delegated many responsibilities to a locally elected school board which is then responsible for the district. If Mr. Leonard can’t figure out how to accomplish what needs to be done without involving the City, maybe he’s the wrong person to be leading the district.

Anyway, this all came to my attention because the incumbent, who is running for yet another term on the city council, mailed out a flyer saying his opponent is against education. I’ve talked to his opponent at some length about this and was very heartened by his response. There are 5 school districts at least partially within the sixth district and it would be Mr. Nash’s intent to treat all equally and fairly while being mindful of who actually has the authority to provide for school districts.

Apparently, according to the flyer, Mr. Nash was given the ‘grade’ of an F. While there is no way to tell exactly what this was based on, it tells me that Mr. West might have been more inclined to give a higher score if Mr. Nash had shown a preference for KCMSD. The flyer also says the incumbent was given the ‘grade’ of A+. I’ve checked the website and cannot find the actual responses, though I did find the rather subjecticive rubric used to grade the candidates; but to receive an A+, it seems the answers provided were exactly what Mr. Leonard was looking for. I have to wonder if the same questions were posed by the other districts in Kansas City, if the incumbent would provide the same answers. That would mean using precious city resources for issues which are beyond the City’s pale. The City may as well get into the business of running school districts (even though it doesn’t always do a good job of running itself). If that is not the incumbent’s intent, the only other conclusion I can draw, is that he has a preference for the KCMSD over the others he purportedly represents.

From the investigating I’ve been able to do, it seems there was not just the questionnaire that was sent out. The candidates were also scheduled for interviews; however, the night for in-district candidates was canceled because of weather and never rescheduled. That means Mr. West provided grades solely on written statements and did not have the benefit of examining or questioning the meaning behind those statements. I have to wonder how upset he would be to know that a teacher in his district provided for written and oral questioning of some of her students and only written questions for others; yet, graded them all the same.

Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Time for a Paradigm Shift

Everybody seems to have a solution or someone to blame for the education problems we face. There’s vouchers. There’s charter schools. There’s school choice. We blame parents. We blame teachers. We blame TV and on and on and on. In all the arguments and all the blame games, when do you ever hear the school board mentioned?

A while back one of the cable channels devoted an entire week to education. They talked to experts. They held panels. Not once did they bring up school boards or talk with a school board member.

Educating our children is a state responsibility but states have delegated much of that responsibility to local school boards. School boards are, therefore, state agencies and the school board members provide local citizen control over education. Their most important job is to employ a superintendent and then hold that person responsible for managing the schools and thus hiring the appropriate personnel.

This is an awesome responsibility; yet, it doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by the general public. On a totem pole of elected officials, school board members rank at the bottom. Most generally, in any gathering where elected officials are recognized there is no mention of a school board member being present. Last week I attended a candidate forum at UMKC. One of the last remarks by one of the moderators was to tell everyone to be sure to vote in the primary in February and then the general in March. Also, don’t forget the e-tax election April 5. Well, no. April 5 is a school board election and the e-tax happens to be on the same ballot.

It seems like a simple solution. Let’s take our school boards seriously. Let’s actually give some thought to the qualifications board member candidates have and their reasons for running in the first place. Sometimes school boards seem to be nothing more than stepping stones for higher office. They’re a way to gain name recognition so when the ‘important’ election comes along there will be a greater chance of winning.

I may be jaded but it seems like it doesn’t much matter who’s in office, you can pretty well expect what will happen. If the Republicans are in charge, things will go one way. If the Democrats are in charge, things will go a different way. Sometimes we simply seem to be spinning our wheels.

It’s time for people to wake up and realize we can no longer spin our wheels with education. Our children are our future. Doesn’t that make the people in charge of their education more important than those running our city? Maybe if we took school boards seriously, the people who run for them would, too. Maybe then we’d be able to elect school board members who actually knew something about what their responsibilites are. Maybe then we’d have school boards that actually took responsibility for the children in their districts and held their superintendents accountable. Maybe then we’d actually begin to see our children being educated the way they should be.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What about the others?

A group calling themselves Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement is hosting candidate forums for council and mayoral candidates. There will be no endorsements but candidates will be graded based on a rubric to be revealed next week. The topic for questions will be education and city government. Airick Leonard West, president of the KCMO School District school board has said, “This is about the next mayor and city council endorsing public education -- and by extension our shared economic future.” A flier about the forums states: Mayoral and city council candidates will show how much consideration they will give education when making citywide decisions.

At first glance this sounds like a very good idea. While government entities should be working together, school districts generally have had to pretty much go it alone. When I first heard about these forums I applauded this group for trying to figure out what could be done to help support education in this city. After all, everyone knows about how ‘it takes a village’. Then I had an opportunity to actually read the questions to be posed to the candidates. They’re not about what KCMO can do to support education, but about what KCMO can do to support KCMSD.

Kansas Citians United includes many city-wide organizations such as CCO, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Freedom, Inc., Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, so I’m not sure why the focus is on only one district when there are 14 partly or entirely within Kansas City.

I thought I’d just list a few of the ideas Mr. West has suggested as possible responses to their questions:

Help fundraise for the KCMSD Education Foundation.

I think almost every school district has an education foundation and would love to have the city help them with fundraising.

Offer bonus RFP points to businesses where 100% of employees have volunteered at a KCMSD school at least 4 hrs per month for more than 12 months.

There was a time when schools had plenty of room mothers and other volunteers, but times and issues change. Now volunteers are needed to be ‘fill-in’ grandparents or to help kids with reading or do other tutoring; and that’s most of the KC school districts not just KCMSD.

Provide internships for KCMSD scholars.

Don’t students from all of our school districts deserve internships?

Allocate parking ticket revenue back to “night hoops” style program with KCMSD.

I can remember several years ago when Hickman Mills opened Ruskin High School for the night hoops program. If they were to do that again, I’m sure they would be greatful for some of the parking ticket revenue.

Provide trash removal services and archiving district documents and artifacts.

This would help the bottom line of all school district budgets; however, not just anyone can archive district documents due to student privacy laws.

Assist with building demolition where necessary.

This is a possible response to “things KCMO can do to assist with KCMSD’s building surplus”. Currently, the city can’t even afford to demolish vacant houses which only serve to drive down neighborhood property values.

Identify functions that both KCMO and KCMSD perform that could benefit from collaborations or placed under consolidated contracts.

Wow. I bet a lot of the districts would like in on this one.

Organize ATA bus lines such that they conveniently serve the before/after school needs of KCMSD high scholars.

This is a real problem for south KC. There have been programs at both schools and the community center, but no way for a lot of the students to get there. There are very few buses that even run out here and the routes are only on a couple of streets.

Organize twice per year gatherings between KCMO city councilpersons and KCMSD board members.

Let’s see. There are 14 school districts. That would be 28 (or almost a month’s worth) of additional meetings for the councilpersons. Even if the meetings only entailed each councilperson to meet with school board members in their respective district that would be an additional 8 meetings for the sixth district alone.

Send school info home via utility bills.

This could be helpful from several standpoints but I’m not sure how practical it would be with so many school districts, some of which are in other towns.

Many of these, as well as others, are good suggestions and would help any school district. They’re just impractical for a city like Kansas City. KCMSD certainly gets the most attention but that doesn’t mean it’s the only district that needs help. It would be unfair to provide many of these services for one district and leave the rest to struggle on their own.

One suggestion offered by Mr. West was especially good for all. That was for the city to pass a truancy ordinance. Right now everyone’s hands are tied. I know several police officers who would love to help when they see kids out and about during school hours, but legally there’s nothing they can do.

Another suggestion I didn’t see would be to change the representation on the TIF commission. I know the current council fooled around with that but that’s all they did. The majority representation should be by the majority affected and that’s the school districts.

All of the school districts partly or entirely within Kansas City have needs that should or could be helped by the city. Those who live outside of the KCMSD are still a part of KCMO and they pay their taxes. It would be unjust to use those tax dollars for only one school district. It is also not feasible for the city to undertake so many of these suggestions for all the school districts.

The premiss of these forums is good. The city should pay more attention to and be more supportive of its school districts, but everyone needs to remember that there is more to KCMO than just KCMSD.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's Going On Here?

There are some interesting happenings in the Ruskin Heights neighborhood, though many who live there aren’t sure exactly what’s going on. It seems that recently the board asked those attending a monthly Home Owners meeting to approve a special assessment raising home owners' dues by $4.00. While this passed, there is some doubt as to whether the number of members required in the by-laws
for this action was actually present.

When this incident was brought to my attention I decided to peruse the association’s bylaws. Accordingly, the assessed amount can be raised if “the owners of two-thirds of the lots herein specified consent in writing by an instrument to be recorded in the office of the Recorder of Deeds, Jackson County, Missouri, to an annual rate in excess of that herein specified.” It’s been reported that there were only about 20 members at the meeting and it is unclear whether both husband and wife votes were counted or if it was one vote per household. Either way, given that Ruskin Heights is comprised of 1875 lots, it doesn’t seem like that was a legal vote.

An article in the Jackson County Advocate said the special assessment of $4.00 would be used for legal fees to fight the vacant house problem, but that’s a city responsibility, not the homes association's.

In perusing the by-laws I noticed another interesting fact. The stated officers are the usual: president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer; however, the association does not have a secretary. The person everyone seems to assume is the secretary is actually an office manager. There’s probably a good reason for the distinction. The by-laws state that “no officer shall receive any compensation for his services”, but as office manager this restriction does not apply. The current office manager not only receives a salary but is also paid mileage for attending such events as ribbon cuttings, chamber of commerce luncheons and events, city hall meetings, including a redistricting meeting where John Sharp accused the city of splitting the Ruskin Heights neighborhood (which in fact was not the case). It seems strange to me that an office manager would be representing a homes association in this way, but then this office manager is married to the president of the association. He lives in Ruskin Village which is considered part of the association, but she lives in Ruskin Hills which is not. I guess that’s another reason she’s the office manager rather than association secretary.

The homes association used to hire a security company so they could have roving security throughout the area but that has been discontinued. While no one is exactly sure why, there are those that say it was soon after that the office manager began receiving mileage compensation. Also discontinued was the extra weekly trash pickup that was paid for out of association dues. Now Ruskin Heights is just like other areas that don’t have official associations. They have no extra security and only the city-paid trash pickup. About the only thing they get for their dues now is a weekly subscription to the Jackson County Advocate.

It’s been rumored that Bonnaye Mims, President of the Hickman Mills School Board, spends a lot of time in the association’s office. No one knows exactly what she does or whether she’s being paid, though she and the office manager, who is also on the School Board, are very good friends, so at least it’s a friendly work environment. It may be that someone was needed in the office while the office manager is out ‘representing’ the association.

It would seem that this homes association is no more than a microcosm of the larger political world. Whatever the little guy doesn’t know won’t hurt him and those in charge can bend the rules to suit whatever enterprise they wish.