Citizens Association explores tough city issues

Dan Cofran, a former city councilman, hopes to expand the mission and membership of the Citizens Association.

The Citizens Association helped dispose of Tom Pendergast’s machine and has long promoted reform non-partisan city government, but its muscle has faded.

The group founded in 1934 was down to 100 paying members when Dan Cofran took over as chairman last summer, he said.

“We’d been resting on our laurels far too long,” he said, but now they are expanding their mission to stir interest in issues and attract members.

They may also create a separate non-profit arm for education that would allow donations to be tax deductible, Cofran said.

The group has gone into partnership with the Kansas City Library to do four educational forums there this year.

They do research before the events and post it online but take no position on critical city issues

The first forum in January noted the city’s lack of long-term strategic financial planning, although city spending has increased by 42 percent since 2003 while its population increased 4.2 percent.

Tax supported debt in 2003 was $517 million, $1,156 per resident and by 2012 it had more than tripled, to $1.6 billion or $3,523 per resident.

A recent forum looked at whether the city should end state control of its police department. Kansas City will soon be the only city with a state appointed board of police commissioners.

Voters statewide last year overwhelmingly approved returning the St. Louis police to city control and that goes into effect this summer.

A July forum will be on the contentious issue of replacing KCI with a one-terminal airport, and an October forum will look at the Missouri-Kansas development and tax wars.

“I see us developing into a source of information,”Cofran said. “Local journalism is a shadow of what it used to be” as newspapers and broadcasters cut staff and coverage.

For too many decades, he said, the association was mainly just active at times of city elections, when it screened candidates, chose a slate and backed them.

Reporters and photographers used to flock to announcements at which candidates got backing of groups like the association and Freedom Inc., he said, but no more.

“All the clubs, we’re not what we used to be,” Cofran said.

The association has to be active in off-election years to attract paying members and to engage citizens in the issues, Cofran said.

There is also the problem of how to attract younger people, he said. The median age for members now is probably about 50, he said, and people tell him that young people aren’t joiners.

“We’re still working on that,” he said.

Meanwhile membership (with $50 yearly dues) is up to 150. He is shooting for 200 by year’s end and 400 or more by the next mayoral and city council election in 2015.

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