Mayor plugs away in state of the city speech


Forget those cowtown and flyover area tags.

Kansas City is a high point in the American renaissance and on its way higher, Mayor Sly James said yesterday at his fourth State of the City address.

He spoke of progress made in a wide range of areas and more work to do in others.

His outline was the “four e’s” – efficiency, employment, education and enforcement.

Citizens are more engaged than ever because of better technology and more access to a government driven by data, he said.

Citizen satisfaction levels overall have gone up by 20 percent in four years, he said. The mayor, manager and city staffers monitor levels to target improvements.

“It doesn’t cost a dime to be a good listener and it also happens to be the right thing to do,” he said.

Among his other comments:

New programs underway include those for women empowerment, youth employment and reading efforts for children.

But the city is working with the Kansas City Library and others to spread wider computer access.

“We must close the digital divide,” he said.

The city must also continue to build on development east of Troost, like the new police station, Beacon Hill renovation and the new Aldi grocery store.

The new Downtown streetcar system, expected to start next year, has already prompted $1 billion in development, including 45 projects underway.

The jobs outlook is good but the state should raise the minimum wage.

“Our nation has created a growing class of service workers and laborers who are not paid enough to support a family,” he said.

Education in Kansas City has improved and is getting better. The national Citizens of the World group in conjunction with the Midtown Community School Initiative plan to open two charter schools in Midtown in 2016.

James also asked education leaders to “open their minds, open their hearts” to collaborations between the school district and charter schools.

He praised Police Chief Darryl Forte and the Kansas City No Violence Alliance for communications with citizens and successful anti-crime efforts.

“KC NoVA is getting attention across the state and the nation,” he said, after it helped reduce homicides last year to the lowest level since 1972.

NoVA uses a mixture of arrest sweeps and of providing social services to help those at risk for violent crime.

Another program called Teens in Transition provided teens work and activities in a pilot program last summer.

Twenty of 24 teens in the nine-week program completed it, and James said his office is providing $60,000 to expand it this year.

Felons’ easy access to guns remains a problem, he said, but he hopes state lawmakers will approve creation of an armed offender court docket to handle many Jackson County gun crimes.

He noted that several children have been killed recently and one crippled by gun violence.

“We no longer have idiots just shooting other idiots – they’re killing our kids and destroying our families,” he said.

As for other challenges, the city spends about $77 million annually on all infrastructure services and needs to spend three times that, he said.

But much is coming together, as demonstrated by new directors of efforts for the arts and for attracting the film industry to the city.

“You can stand up now,” James told the crowd, “and be proud because Kansas City has arrived – we aren’t going anywhere but further to the top.”

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