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It Matters to the Region Who the Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri Is.

In February of this year, Steve Rose wrote a column in The Johnson County Sun entitled “Funkhouser is my mayor too.” Like many of the elite in our area, Rose seems more concerned about the perception of the Kansas City metropolitan area, especially on the national scene, than about the reality. He writes:

While there are economic problems throughout the region, there is little violent crime in the suburban communities, and, by and large, our schools are functioning well. But in Kansas City, Mo., not much is working, and that is why the region gets such low grades. What happens there rubs off on all of us….Our entire self-image as a region is being contaminated.

I’ve got news for Steve, the region’s problems are more than skin deep. In April the Boston Consulting Group provided a report to the Kansas City Economic Development Corporation that showed that from 1995 to 2008 economic activity in our region trailed the national average. In fact, our metropolitan added 70,000 fewer jobs than it would have if employment had merely kept pace with the national average.

A couple of years ago our civic leaders came up with the slogan “One KC” to market the region. The fact is, that’s more than a slogan. On the world economic stage and in the nation’s economy the Kansas City metropolitan area is, indeed, one KC. And problems in any part of the metro affect the whole. What happens in the urban core matters to all of Kansas City, Missouri, and what happens in Kansas City, Missouri, impacts the reality – not just the image – of the whole area.

Jordan Rappaport, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City, demonstrated that fact in an article he published in 2005 in Economic Review. In that piece, entitled “The Shared Fortunes of Cities and Suburbs,” Rappaport wrote:

In fact, the correlation between city and suburban growth was strongly positive….The faster a metro area’s city portion grew, the faster its suburbs tended to grow as well. The faster a metro area’s city portion lost population, the slower its suburbs tended to grow. In other words, cities and their suburbs tended to grow or decline together.

And the economic vitality of the city of Kansas City has been in decline for decades, due in large part to the abandonment of its urban core by the middle class, both black and white. From 1970 to the present, more than 100,000 people left. They left because of substandard services, fear of crime and concerns about schools.

While neighborhoods were neglected, basic services were ignored and schools were treated as beyond redemption, the civic elite in our region, an elite that have a strong influence on how we run our city and are largely centered in Johnson County where Mr. Rose lives, focused on one glitzy project after another. And although the residents of Kansas City, Missouri, earn only about 17 percent of the income in the metropolitan area (down from 40 percent in 1970) the bulk of the funding – and the debt – was assigned to them. For example, an urban core resident of Kansas City pays three times in taxes for the wonderful new renovations to the Truman Sports Complex while a resident of Kansas provides no direct tax support to the stadiums, despite the fact that they are a regional asset enjoyed by all of us.

Steve Rose concludes his column by asking:

So, what do we do about this?

We in Johnson County have nothing to say at the Kansas City ballot box. But we can offer our financial support to elect a mayor who will be a true leader and a spokesman for our entire region.

I am that leader. I am a public administration professional who is well known by the elected officials and appointed staff in the suburban communities. In many cases, we have worked together for years, building a sense of collegiality and mutual respect. Indeed, many of them are former students of mine from graduate courses in public administration that I taught over the past 20 years at Park University, at UMKC, and at both the Edwards and Lawrence campuses of KU. Those relationships were in many cases strengthened after I became Mayor.

Immediately after my election I began to visit city halls and chambers of commerce through out the region, but especially on the Kansas side, to explore ways to work together on the issues facing the region. I was impressed with the Johnson and Wyandotte Council of Mayors, and saw the need for a similar organization on the Missouri side. I worked with my colleagues to create the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, first chaired by Carson Ross, Mayor of Blue Springs and now chaired by Kathy Rose, Mayor of Riverside.

I am committed to regional cooperation because I understand that the region’s problems disproportionately harm the residents of Kansas City, Missouri, and any solution that is effective on a regional scale will disproportionately benefit them.

But the most important thing I can do for the region is to change Kansas City for the better. I have been focused on doing exactly that. I have already laid a very solid foundation from which to move forward: I am changing the culture of government at city hall; we are improving the product Kansas City offers residents and businesses; we are improving the smoothness of our streets; we are improving the safety of our neighborhoods; and we are improving the ease of getting a business license. I am working hard to return people to Kansas City’s urban core, and when I do, I will have returned Kansas City to its rightful place as the metropolitan area’s namesake and most important partner.

In so doing, I will have put our entire metropolitan area back on a successful path of growth.

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