Editor’s note: Here is an draft transcript, provided in advance by the mayor’s office, of Sly James’ State of the City speech, which he gave this morning at Bartle Hall:
Good morning. It is my pleasure and honor to fulfill today a duty assigned by the Kansas City Charter, an honor that 53 men and one woman have performed in their role as Mayor of this great city.
During high times and low, wartime and peacetime, boom times and bust, the mayors of Kansas City have taken a moment to talk with our residents about the city we all love.
This morning I would like to welcome each resident of Kansas City, my mayor pro-tem, members of the City Council, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of the courts and the four counties Kansas City calls home.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my longtime friend and college buddy, Father Don Farnan, for joining us today and starting us off right. He and I go back a long ways. Although we’ve added years, and a few extra pounds, to our friendship, I am so glad that our bond remains. Ours is the type of friendship where the two of you may not speak for a few months but when you finally do, it’s like no time has passed at all.
This morning, in particular, I would also like to take a moment to welcome my fellow mayors from across the region. More than ever, our success only happens if we work together. We are connected in both real and emotional ways.
Kansas City’s success relies on our surrounding suburbs, and each of your cities are invested in maintaining the center city. It is my honor to welcome my friends, and mayors of the great cities of Grandview (Mayor Steve Dennis), Raytown (Mayor David Bower), Independence (Mayor Don Reimal), Blue Springs (Mayor Carson Ross). You represent, just by virtue of your attendance here this morning, one of the primary themes of this speech.
Nearly a year ago today, I was elected to your ranks. And since that time I have attempted to build partnerships with each of you — our friends and neighbors. Thank you for honoring Kansas City with your presence here this morning. Thank you for your support of Kansas City, and thank you for your willingness to be our partner in our joint success. My personal thanks to each of you.
And in case you thought I forgot, it is my privilege to welcome my friend, and the only other man who shares the honor of being a mayor of Kansas City. Welcome Mayor Reardon.
In a time when cross-state rivalries grab headlines and dominate the hardwood, there is a larger and more important partnership that we have built together.
Two weeks ago, it was my privilege to attend Mayor Reardon’s State of the Government address, where I heard and confirmed the exceptional oratory skills of my fellow Rockhurst graduate.
Joe and I have spent so much time together in the last year that we are considering a joint booking agent. But the Joe and Sly partnership is real. It is a partnership that we want to expand to include all mayors who wish to be included.
We genuinely enjoy working with each other, and I think the attention we have given to one another and the needs of residents of both communities has been noticed by the broader regional community.
The only border war between Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, is on the basketball court and football fields. We are partners for both practical and personal reasons.
A win for Kansas City is a win for Kansas City. Thank you, Mayor Reardon.
For as long as many can remember, this address has happened in City Hall. Today, we gather outside of the hall, in another civic space another public investment another community asset.
This morning I have asked you to gather in a LEED certified ballroom at the Kansas City Convention Center. One of the largest and most energy-efficient buildings in the nation.
There are many reasons I wanted to host this speech in this space. First and foremost, it is a gorgeous place. Isn’t it?
My thanks to Oscar McGaskey, Harvest Productions and the entire Kansas City team here at the ballroom, you have been amazing to work with, and for anyone looking for a unique space for an event, call Oscar.
This room has a very clear advantage. It overlooks the new and spectacular Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. While the soaring shells of the Safdie design were paid for with private funds, they sit atop a garage — many of us used today — paid for by the people of Kansas City.
The roof of that garage creates a public park on the front lawn of the Kauffman Center. It is also a tribute to our city’s commitment to environmental sustainability because it is the country’s second largest green roof public park, second only to Millennium Park in Chicago.
That is good company to keep.
This location emphasizes the importance of partnerships. The Kauffman Center compliments this space, the city’s Grand Ballroom. Our investment in the Arts District Garage was essential to the success of the project. And now the Convention Center and this room benefit greatly from its proximity to one of the world’s great new architectural and performing arts icons.
Partnerships pay dividends. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
1. Partnering to create a functional and productive council.
From day one, this council and I have worked to create a new tone. A respectful and forward looking attitude, that understands that while we may disagree on issues, we should conduct the people’s business respecting one another.
We know that we often represent competing interests, but it is a testament to each council member that most of the legislation we have passed this year has been done with very little dissent.
That does not mean that we always start from the same place, but rather it is a testament to our relationship and commitment that we seek to find common ground, look for shared viewpoints, and most importantly hold the interests of the whole of Kansas City above more narrow competing interests.
I consider each of them my friend and partner. This city’s continued success is largely based on our ability and willingness to work together.
I believe the citizens of Kansas City appreciate this spirit of cooperation. I know I do. Please help me thank each member of your City Council.
As you know, our government is comprised of three distinct, but interdependent, parts: the mayor, the council, and city manager. Only when all three of those parts work collaboratively, in partnership, does our form of government work effectively.
I have already discussed my relationship with the City Council. Now let me address our joint partnership with our city manager. In our government, the Mayor and council set policy. It then becomes the job of our city manager to enact our policies in the day-to-day operations of the city.
I am pleased to report that our city manager, Troy Schulte, has partnered with us since day one. In the coming days, Troy will present to council his pension reform plan. He has committed to the council’s priorities and he worked extremely hard to keep this city financially sound, even while other cities cut 30 pecent of their police force, abandon pension plans, and in some cases, go bankrupt.
We are charting a far more positive path. We are proud to call Troy Schulte our partner.
2. Partnering with the Police Department for crime reduction.
It was my great honor last year to be part of the selection process that elevated Darryl Forte to be Kansas City’s chief of police. The chief and I have breakfast nearly every week. He has become a good friend and he is putting in place an attitude that will lead to less crime in Kansas City. We are fortunate to have his leadership, and I am very honored to call him my friend.
Chief Forte and the brave men and women who daily wear the uniform of our police department are making a difference. Very specifically, in conjunction with our smart and aggressive Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, and a new partnership with residents, our police are arresting criminals quickly, they are being tried, convicted and taken off the street.
It is becoming very clear that in Kansas City if you commit a crime, you will do time.
Together, the Police Department and the city are working to deploy technology to keep citizens, police and visitors safer. We have built a partnership that WILL save and protect lives.
I would also like to take a moment to wish Officer Bradley Bailey a speedy recovery from the injuries he sustained last week when his patrol van was hit so hard that it rolled several times before coming to rest. God was with Officer Bailey that day such that he is now able to be home with his family recovering from what could have been an even more serious event.
3. Partnering with the Fire Department to work on the budget
The proposed Kansas City budget issued a challenge to our Fire Department. It was a challenge that clearly reflected our current budget difficulties, as well as the reality of funding staff positions through a tax that will soon expire.
In a few short years, the public safety sales tax that has allowed the city to construct, renovate, and rehab fire houses and purchase equipment will expire. Currently we are funding salaried positions through that tax. The citizens of Kansas City expect us to align our budget in a way that anticipates the loss of a dedicated tax funding stream.
I have lived in Kansas City long enough to know that we do not often spend much time planning for a tax to expire, but rather we concentrate on planning the campaign to renew the dedicated tax.
I am a Marine, and we used to call that “gunpoint” diplomacy. That philosophy has created a jumbled mess of revenue streams for which we are constantly seeking voter approval for the dedicated purpose.
I understand the appeal in this — as a voter you know what you are getting when you vote “yes.” But as we look to cut the Fire Department’s budget by 1.4 percent year over year, we should also understand the danger in tying people’s jobs directly to taxes with sunsets.
This is the same discussion with which we struggle as we deal with the new provision that requires renewal of the e-tax every five years.
As we study ways to adjust and solidify our diverse revenue streams, we need to learn from some of the mistakes that brought us to this point.
We also need to understand that these dedicated, diverse tax streams have, in effect, left the city, as a whole, with few options with which to address $600 million of deferred maintenance and a 100-year-old water supply system.
It would be intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that the proposed reductions to the department budget are the subject of much discussion and strong sentiment. It is easy, in situations such as this, to stake out positions on a complex issue based not on facts, but rather based on emotion or fear.
The basic facts are that we have had almost no growth at all in our general fund over the past few years, and unfortunately we don’t expect any in the next two.
Our personnel costs continue to rise while our income remains flat.We have cut services and city staff to the bone. We have budgeted only $8 million for resurfacing 6000 miles of road during the next fiscal year while we continue to pay $408,000 a square mile for fire protection.
No one on this council, in my office, or in the city manager’s office is making the hard budgetary decisions we are compelled to make lightly.
We have not and will not forsake safety, however, we have a great deal of need across our city and little money with which to address those needs.
This is a period in which there must be fair, but shared, sacrifices by all. Together, as partners, the city and Fire Department are looking for a solution that concentrates on saving the jobs of the professionals in the department that put their lives on the line daily.
While recognizing that we can encourage retirements and adjust benefits to work toward the reality of our current budget situation. I appreciate the willingness of Chief Dyer and the firefighters to talk through this difficult situation, and understand that the key to recognizing past mistakes is to not repeat them.
Chief Dyer and the Kansas City Fire Department provide extraordinary service to our community and for their dedication to our city they absolutely deserve our respect and thanks.
4. Partnering with the business community on a renewed positive emphasis on economic development
Early in my term as mayor, we, as a city, declared that Kansas City was “open for business.” Shortly thereafter, we declared that we were “The City of Entrepreneurs.” But we cannot just make declarations without actions.
Councilman Scott Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Circo, Councilman Reed, and Councilman Wagner, of the Special Committee on Small Business, worked with businesses to make 67 specific suggestions to make it easier for small businesses to grow in Kansas City, Missouri.
I am proud of their tremendous effort but am even prouder that many of those 67 suggestions have already been enacted and many others are in process.
This is yet another example where the actions of your city and its leadership have walked the walk and not just talked the talk.
I am proud to work to get companies like Data Systems International to locate downtown. The CEO of DSI told us that the primary reason for relocating downtown is the vibrant atmosphere that the talent they are recruiting demands.
This statement is increasingly common, as witnessed by the great increases in downtown residential living, and suggests that we are seeing a shift in a decades long migration to more suburban settings.
Additionally, the General Services Administration recently announced the relocation of over 1,000 federal workers to downtown, in 2014, where they will lease existing office space, thereby reducing the office vacancy rate.
In the last year we have welcomed the addition of two new corporate headquarters, AND four high tech and energy related companies to the crossroads district, AND we retained two of our largest anchor employers locking them into long term leases.
In the process we have reclaimed and rectified the West Edge and Plaza situation, successfully retaining hundreds of Kansas City employees.
In short, our new approach is paying off, we are seeing results and we are striking a good balance. We can compete if we can partner with businesses. In each of these deals we have insured that the taxpayer is not on the hook for more than the deal is worth to them.
We will continue to listen to and partner with businesses to capitalize on our public investments and focus on a goal of reducing our citywide office vacancy rate by 10 percent within the next three years.
We are very pleased that just last week, after an extensive search, we found our new president and CEO of the Kansas City Economic Development Corporation right here in our own backyard. Pete Fullerton has devoted the last 22 years of his career to economic development in the northern part of our city. We are excited to have him as we develop an aggressive and innovative approach to economic development that focuses not simply on buildings, but on people. Not on one side of the river or one side of Troost, but over the entire city in a way that moves us forward and builds on our prior success.
Welcome to the team, Pete.
5. Partnering with our residents to transform revenue streams and improve services.
In three days, the election that bestowed upon me the tremendous honor and responsibility will be a full year old. To be honest, I am still a bit blown away by the confidence you showed in me by giving me your vote.
I am also extremely gratified that of the 70,382 people who voted in that election, they all say, to a person, they voted for me! Imagine that.
There is a renewed optimism in Kansas City. And I understand I may have been given a longer honeymoon than others, but why end a good thing?
Since taking office last May, I have done over 500 speaking engagements, averaging over two a day. There is a hunger in this city to get moving and to hear from their Mayor that we are headed in the right direction.
What I have noticed with each of those audiences is there is a palpable desire to believe we can be great. There is a eagerness to do something big together. Our residents want straight talk, data-driven decision making and realistic plans.
To that end, as I promised, I have fully implemented KCStat. We have now examined our departments, I have lead questioning of our practices in public, and we are reporting, again, publicly, our progress and set-backs as we seek to improve our services.
Our residents deserve a city that makes decisions based on data, best practices and public dialog. But they also want to live in a city that inspires and aspires.
My goal in this first year was to not squander the good will they have extended me. Together we are building a partnership that respects one another.
We are a city that is on the verge, but we need to build trust with our residents that the money they send to City Hall will be spent efficiently and effectively.
Together we must find a way to balance the need to rebuild our infrastructure with the need to limit the tax burden on our residents.
In this endeavor, like everything we who hold office do, I have sought to build a partnership with residents.
As promised, I have reconstituted and appointed members to the Citizens Commission on Municipal Revenue to make recommendations on how best to balance our revenue streams.
I believe that together we can strike a balance that will take our city even higher.
We need partners, because we are a uniquely large city. We cannot do everything alone.
We are a city that relies on the diverse nature of our neighborhoods to attract new residents.We are a city that provides all the amenities of one of the world’s great metropolitan areas with a low cost of living.
Within our city limits you can find a studio apartment with a view of the river, or a home on an acre lot with its own pond.
Our size is one of our most important positive attributes. But it also contributes to the challenges we face as a city.
Kansas City is:
You do the math.
As daunting as some may find it, we must address these citywide issues now or they will simply get worse. We must also address our need to grow our population base.
So how do we grow in a smart way? How do we become a truly smart city?
As a city we need to do two things that businesses understand but we often forget: We need to keep customers happy and attract new residents. If we can fix what we have, and then build our population base, we will lower the tax burden on all residents.
We are a beautiful city, whose backbone is public investments. We have rebuilt our downtown into a city center we can all be proud of, but those improvements are not cheap.
We continue to pay debt service on our investments, but we made a value decision that investing in our center city was important, not just for us but for the surrounding communities whose proximity to our downtown enhance their futures as well.
Seventy-five years ago, civic leaders, holding the same positions we hold now, decided to put people back to work by investing public dollars in public amenities. Amenities we are still using today.
City Hall turns 75 this spring. The Jackson County Courthouse. Municipal Auditorium, attached to this grand space, is a testament to the spirit and craftsmanship of our city. This Convention Center, where we are holding this event. The Sprint Center, host of the Big 12 Tournament for many years to come.The Power & Light District, flamboyant host to many of this weekends’ St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
We owe a great deal to the leadership of Mayor Kay Barnes, who saw what others could not and remade our downtown into a place that draws people in rather than running them away.
In the last decade, we have added well over 10,000 residents to downtown. Taxpayer investments in partnership with private investors are doing exactly what we hoped they would do...making downtown a place businesses and people want to call home again.
We are starting to see interest from businesses that want to connect to the energy of downtown. Public investments are enhancing private gain. Companies that want to recruit young talent from around the country are telling me as they announce their moves to downtown that they are moving to be where the action is because our investments appeal to their young talent.
These businesses are moving into spaces built under the leadership of Mayors Berkley and Cleaver, overlooking a remade downtown spearheaded by Mayor Barnes. We owe each of them our thanks.
But our renaissance is far from complete. After billions in both public and private investments we still need to connect our assets.
One of our city’s great assets is that we are are spread out. But for our downtown, spread out poses too many challenges.
Yesterday, we submitted a complete and comprehensive application to the US Department of Transportation TIGER grant program for a downtown streetcar. We are asking the federal government to be a partner in this endeavor.
Councilman Johnson, with assistance from Councilman Glover and the entire council, has worked his tail off to ensure the studies were completed, the ordinances were passed, the zoning was changed, the “i”s were dotted and “t”s crossed to ensure we made the deadline. Congratulations, councilman.
We are closer than we have ever been to having a modern streetcar in Kansas City. I leave this evening for a meeting in Washington tomorrow with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to press our case face-to-face, joining me in Washington will be Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders.
Together we’ll present a united transit front to our friends in Washington. Government, residents, businesses together will make this a reality. And it will be an investment that will pay dividends for each sector.
Public investments, however, need to support public purposes. We are often asked to support business expansions, abate taxes or provide incentives to grow businesses.
We have done that. With the downtown street car, we are asking the same businesses we have invested in for decades to invest in our project together.We will work to make this a fair deal, but a rising tide, raises all boats.
Layering investments in strategic ways is the only way to maximize our investments. Scattered approaches to reinvestment are not effective. Rebuilding our core cannot come at the expense of maintaining our suburbs. We need growth in both places to increase our municipal momentum.
But understand, property taxes are higher in the surrounding areas because of the depressed home values of our hollowed out core. If we cannot repopulate our inner city, a disproportionate tax burden will continue to be placed on our growing suburbs.
Across the city, we need to invest in repairing our cities aging infrastructure:
Dollar for dollar, our public investments are leveraging private investments. For every dollar invested in infrastructure, the multiplied economic impact in the jobs that are created is substantial.We need both the improvements and the JOBS created by those improvements.
We are building partnerships and they are paying off. A month ago, I joined with Congressman Cleaver and neighborhood leaders to announce a groundbreaking partnership with Make It Right. Together, nonprofit and private investors will leverage the infrastructure improvements we have made in the Green Impact Zone to take an abandoned, deteriorating school building and turn it into a jewel of the inner city.
Bancroft School will live again, and will be a LEED sustainable asset to the community.
You know what happens when people begin to believe in their neighborhoods again? In the neighborhoods surrounding the new Bancroft School project, crime is down 23 percent over the last two years. That is progress. And that is why we are seeing private investment.
But we can go further and be smarter while we build these solid partnerships with neighborhoods throughout our city. If we layer investments strategically, we increase their impact. It is far more effective and less expensive to only tear up a street once.
I would like to take a moment to highlight the producers of the technology you are watching. It is a story I want to duplicate over and over again. Screampoint just opened an office and will soon begin hiring here in Kansas City. They come to us from Silicon Valley, and represent some of the best and brightest, who have decided to make a bet on Kansas City. They are MIT, Stanford, Harvard graduates with new and innovative products that combine geo-coding, data management and video gaming resolution.
We are exploring a partnership with them and their technology that will both help our city use data more efficiently and plan our infrastructure projects in a better way, but will also serve up apps that we can sell to other cities.
We are a proving ground, and our partnership may well produce revenue. They are entrepreneurs that have opened up shop in the City of Entrepreneurs. What we are certain our partnership will do is save us dollars in efficiencies built on connected data, and making smart decisions.
Thank you to Paul Doherty, CEO of Screampoint, who returned from Shanghai where he has been doing work for Disney theme parks, to be here today.
It is perhaps fitting that the city where Mickey Mouse was born now will be home to a company charged with making Disney theme parks safe and even more attractive to visitors.
The great mouse may have been born here, but we are not a Mickey Mouse town. We are moving into the big leagues, and I think people are starting to see a very bright future for our city.
I certainly see one and it is based on:
Partnerships. I truly hope the partnerships we are building will be the vital and enduring legacy of this administration.
As I think about the Bancroft School project in the Manheim Park Neighborhood I am reminded that our goal of revitalizing our core city neighborhoods six square blocks at a time depends on our most important partnership the partnership between a city and its residents.
The State of our City is getting stronger because of the efforts of Kansas Citians who believe again in their city. In reality, though, we still suffer from too many who, when confronted by change or a new idea, respond with, “We can’t do that because ” rather than, “What if ?”
Yet the upswing in confidence, despite our difficulties and insecurities, is noticeable.
I grew up not far from Bancroft School. As I got out of the car after we pulled up to make that project announcement, two things struck me standing on 43rd at Tracy.
First, congressman Cleaver was already up and out of his car, standing on the porch across the street from the school. And women were fixing their hair, handing him their toddlers and calling their family to tell them who was on their porch. His is a legacy of connection and compassion, and one I admire and aspire to.
But I will say I had one thing on the congressman. We made that announcement together on President’s Day, and so there were kids playing in the street. When my truck rolled up they gathered thinking someone important would be getting out when the doors with tinted windows opened. If they were disappointed, they were very kind to hide it.
It was what one of the boys said that struck me that morning. He looked at me and said, “Mayor James you grew up in a neighborhood just like ours didn’t you?”
I was happy to say, “Yes I did.”
Now, I don’t have much power, except for that which is given in part by shear will of personality.
What I do have, is the ability to tell that young man, in the middle of 43rd Street — just prior to the announcement that will transform his neighborhood — that, yes I did in fact grow up in a neighborhood not far from his.
I knew his street. I had ridden bikes in front of Bancroft as a kid. Some of my friends had gone to elementary school there.
This job is often distant and impersonal but in that moment, standing in Manheim Park, a young 8-year old boy, eager to be part of the action, was able to name the books he had read recently.
It was as if he knew how I felt about getting our children to read at grade level.
Sometimes this job can be very personal. Sometimes this job needs to be personal.
Turn the Page initiative
My mother is here this morning. And my wife, Licia, and our children. My daughter-in-law and my only grandchild is here as well.
Looking at them from this podium, during a day in which I am honored to deliver the State of the City, I am reminded of all the hours spent by mothers everywhere teaching children the fundamentals of being good people, f our fundamental belief that we can see better days ahead in the eyes of our children.
Over the last year, I have, perhaps unwisely waded into the issues facing the Kansas City School District. Trust me: I did not do it for my own good. But there are 17,000 kids who we all are responsible for in that school district alone. Their futures and this city’s health are intertwined.Regardless of where you live, regardless of what side of the state line, regardless of if you have children or not, our future is tied to the abilities of our children. While the state of Missouri continues to wrestle with the future of the Kansas City School District, you may have believed we have gone silent.
You would be wrong.
Last fall, I asked Judy Heeter to convene a committee of civic and community leaders across the city to develop a proposal to ensure that every child in Kansas City reads at a third grade level by third grade.
This is my most important economic development initiative.
Last Monday, we submitted Kansas City’s application to the National League of Cities’ All-American City program, who have partnered with the Annie E Casey Foundation to promote grade level reading.
We intend on not only being the first city to have won the All-American City’s competition six times, more importantly, we intend on building a program that is the envy of the nation.
I may not be in charge of much as mayor, but I absolutely can rally the community around this singular goal.
It is time to Turn the Page, Kansas City.
In the coming months, I want everyone in our community, both sides of the state line, both sides of the river and both sides of Troost to commit to this essential program. Already more than 50 of our city’s leading organizations have lent their support, and more residents every day are signing up to lend a hand.
Over the next three years of the project, we have committed to 750,000 volunteer hours to accomplish our goal of preparing every child to read by third grade. Three-quarters of a million volunteer hours in pursuit of our most important community and economic development goal.
If you cannot read you cannot succeed. Children in Kansas City will read, and read well.
More than a city of fountains, or entrepreneurs, I want Kansas City to be known as a city of readers because that is how we will find success in the future.
So what have you been up to this year?
We have been focused on making Kansas City part of the national conversation again. Our people are amazing, talented and committed. Our city is beautiful.
As an added bonus of my election, just as a perk to Kansas Citians, I have managed to keep it from snowing all winter. (Let’s face it...I would have gotten blamed if we were buried under snow --- I might as well take credit for the weather if I’m going to be blamed for it.)
A year ago, I told the people of Kansas City I would focus on enforcement, employment, efficiency and education. We have focused on each of these. We have kept our promise.
We still have a long way to go. But, even the most skeptical resident can feel a shift in approach, attitude and atmosphere.
Frommers has named Kansas City one of its top destinations of 2012. We are the only American City on that list. Forbes has named our downtown as one of the top 10 in the nation.
We have been named one of America’s best places to start a business. The Wall Street Journal has named us as one of 7 American Innovation Centers.
The New York Times writes so appropriately about our new Performing Arts Center. The Times writer said, “I’ve never seen a performing-arts space that seems to relish its location so much, to be so proud of the city it shows off.”
Indeed it does.
Oh, and did I mention we are hosting the All-Star Game this summer?
Ladies and Gentlemen, Kansas City is a city on the rise.
I ask of each of you — as we begin year two — that you join me. We can disagree about policies and positions, but we are all tied together to the success of Kansas City. Even the most cynical among us wants to see their neighbors’ children succeed. We are a city, finding our voice again and together we are calling for a new day.
My friends, it is my honor to be your partner. It is my honor to be your mayor. Thank you for your support and dedication to this city we all love.
Welcome to the new Kansas City. Thank you.