Sunday, January 13, 2008

live blog:mayor funkhouser's state of the city address

another first for warrior ant press. live blogging of mayor mark funkhouser's state of the city address from all souls unitarian church in kansas city, mo. we are using a olpc (one laptop per child) computer (more on that later) which has a tiny keyboard and we have sticky fingers, so caps are off and misspellings may be frequent. get used to it, just as you may have to get used to the mayor's parsed approach. or least what we thought would be a parsed approach when he was elected. also, our editor is off today, so your hearing it straight from one of the worker ants, live and unedited.

Well, not exactly.

We'd hoped to bring you a live blog from Mayor Mark Funkhouser's State of the City address but technical problems prevented that from happening. We were there, live-blogging the Mayor's speech, but the tool, and our use of it, didn't quite perform to the expectations needed to pull it off.

This was our first attempt at mobile blogging, a miserable failure by any stretch of the imagination. Good thing we didn't send out a press release! We did learn some things, we just need to learn more things before we can confidently do it. And we will. This is the tool that we hope to take to the Democratic National Convention and use for mobile blogging. We've got months to work out the kinks before that happens. A good thing.

So the the speech. One of the problems that we had today, besides with the wireless signal, was retrieving our blog notes after we made them. If and when, we recover them, we'll share them with you, because there were a number of telling quotes from the Mayor today, but as it is, we're going on our memory, which isn't perfect so bear with me. Some corrections may be forthcoming.

In short, the Mayor gave the kind of speech that got him elected in the first place. First, he told the brutal truth about the city, then he offered some suggestions about how to fix the problems, both from the Mayor's perspective as well as the city's.

There are 4 major problems facing the city.

I. The city has been, and continues to be on an unsustainable path of operation and growth. Why?
a) The city spends more money than it has and doesn't fix the problems that need fixing. We build many grand things, i.e. stadiums, frequently at the expense of putting off until tomorrow, things that should be done today. This raises the cost of doing them. The city has 6 billion dollars worth of needed infrastructure improvements. It has an additional 2-3 billion dollars worth of sewer repairs needed. The costs of neglect are reaching uncontrolled proportions. The debt load right now alone is huge (40 million a year), and service on the debt has to be paid before streets, bridges, sidewalks, and roads can be fixed. Unless we check spending, this will get worse.

The budget for FY09 was initially projected to be 45 million dollars short. Because it has to be balanced, the money has to come from somewhere and the pattern has been to put off today, what you won't do tomorrow. "Folks, that has to stop."

b) This year the city took in $9 million less than expected and spent $9 million more. Again, that pattern has to stop.

c) The city isn't growing, the tax base is shrinking, and the needs are escalating. We need 20,000 more people downtown to make it a viable venture. The city is hung-out-to dry in the Power and Light deal. Typically, the margin of revenue-to-debt on a project should be 1.3, no less than 1.2 for those who aren't risk adverse. The revenue to debt ratio for the power and Light district is 1.02. If it looses, then Kansas City and the taxpayers will have to pay the debt load.

II. Citizens are unsatisfied. Of 45 categories of services that citizens were asked about, Kansas City ranks below the suburban average on every single one. This level of satisfaction will not allow the city to grow and has to be improved drastically or people will continue to leave and the city will continue to lose taxpayers.

III. For many, many years unemployment rates in Kansas City were at, and frequently below the national average. Beginning in 2001, the rates began to climb. Today they are at 7.5 percent and for African-American males, the rates are 45 percent. This is untenable and poses a huge threat to city. Light rail can help alleviate some of this by providing jobs and development in economically underprivileged areas of the city.

IV. The level of discourse has to change. People in power resist change at every turn. They circumvent those who advocate change by almost every means possible and that includes diminishing their opponents via trivialization, petty bickering, and talking about things about which they have no business to talk about, for example Christmas letters. We have to communicate better and here the Mayor included himself.

He ended his speech with a quote from Michelle Obama when she asked about why would you want to be in politics given how difficult it is and how vindictive and mean-spirited people can be.

"We’re not going to keep running and running and running, because at some point you do get the life beaten out of you. It hasn’t been beaten out of us yet. We need to be in there now, while we’re still fresh and open and fearless and bold. You lose some of that over time. Barack is not cautious yet; he’s ready to change the world, and we need that. So if we’re going to be cautious, I’d rather let somebody else do it, because that’s a big investment of time, just to do it the same way. There’s an inconvenience factor there, and if we’re going to uproot our lives, then let’s hopefully make a real big dent in what it means to be president of the United States.”
Michelle Obama to Lelsie Bennets, Vanity Fair, Dec.27th, 2007

The Mayor then took questions from the audience for 30 minutes and dealt with light-rail funding issues (needs to be regional), 3 am bar closing downtowns (not going to change until the citizens ask for it to change), and how the Bannister Mall project was changed to make it a better deal for the city.

re: the mayor's parsed approach. He did not parse words today. You would have never a speech like that from a feel-gooder like Mayor Kay Barnes, or from most members of the past, or even current city council. Now the question is, are citizens ready to change?

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