Opinion: UG still working on new public safety building for Argentine area

Window on the West
by Mary Rupert

The Unified Government is trying to work out a plan that will advance the new South Patrol police station project near 21st and Metropolitan Avenue.

The state has decided against putting a parole office there, where it might have leased space from the UG, and so the financing part of the station now will be reworked. The topic was discussed at a UG public works standing committee meeting last week, where commissioners decided to keep working on it, and financing for the project next will be discussed at a UG economic development and finance standing committee meeting Sept. 8.

The new public safety building is on a remediated former Structural Steel site, where a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market will open next week. The state parole office earlier had proposed to move to near 7th and State in downtown Kansas City, Kan., next to a preschool, but that decision was changed after opposition from community residents and legislators.

At the meeting last week, Bob Roddy of the public works department said the state was dissatisfied with the proposed cost of rent at the public safety building in Argentine. At some places, the state receives free rent, he said. It wasn’t that the UG would be charging unreasonable rent, but that the amount wouldn’t work in the state’s budget, he said.

The amount was reportedly $40 per square foot, and then was down to $20. But the most the state pays elsewhere to lease parole offices is about $12 per square foot, according to sources.

While apparently there was no agreement yet for the state to stay at its current location near I-70 and 18th Street, the state was still in negotiations to stay on 18th Street as of last week’s meeting.

Roddy told the UG commissioners that the notice of need for designing the public safety building had already gone out, but now had to be withdrawn, as the UG reevaluates the project, its size and the finances. The UG has received a $400,000 economic development grant from the state for the project, and it will still be in effect, according to UG officials.

UG Administrator Doug Bach told the commission last week that the UG thinks it can build the public safety building, without the parole office. The UG would be looking for $2 million or $2.5 million. There is a tax increment financing district with the project and revenues will flow into the district in six or seven years, based on projections, he said. The general fund obligation would be expected to be less than a million dollars for the project, he said.

There was support at the committee level for moving the project forward, and Commissioner Ann Murguia, who has backed the project from the start, said she thinks there will be enough commission support for it.

She added that she was totally taken off guard and surprised by the state’s backing out of the project.

At least two controversial subjects were addressed at the standing committee meeting last week. One was a rumor that a state legislator from Wyandotte County had encouraged the state to back out of the project.

One of the residents who spoke at the standing committee meeting mentioned Sen. Pat Pettey’s name, and I called Sen. Pettey this week to ask her about it. She said she did not have anything to do with the state backing out of this project. She said she had attended some meetings about the public safety building, and for the most part, residents were in favor of it, with just a few expressing opposition. She said it wasn’t likely that a Democratic senator, in the minority party, could have that much influence with the Republican state government.

The other issue was the idea mentioned by Commissioners Mike Kane and Murguia that a new downtown redevelopment for the old Katz building with $1.5 million in funding will just be a coffee shop on Minnesota Avenue, and so is not as important as the public safety building.

I personally don’t see development projects in an “either-or” framework. Any redevelopment downtown is likely to result in an improvement of the downtown Kansas City, Kan., economy, and likely to spur the location of other businesses there eventually, if not immediately. Anything that helps one area of the community is likely to help the other areas as it will eventually produce more tax dollars for the community. It’s hard to say which one is more important, in the long run. If economic development spurs more jobs, it might result in less crime, also. Asking which one is better, the new police station or the renovated building downtown, seems rather pointless because the needs are all around us in all areas. The UG probably should have been working on all of them already.

However, I do realize that it’s often the commission’s difficult task to rank the projects that will receive the local government’s support, and it’s an important task. At this time, it is apparent that the south part of the community is overdue for a better police station.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.

Opinion: Thanks to Back-to-School Fair volunteers

by Cathi Hahner

Another successful Wyandotte County Back to School Fair was held Aug. 9 at two locations simultaneously; the Kansas City Kansas Community College and the Boys and Girls Club Wyandotte County Unit.

Many thanks to the staff and volunteers at each location who worked to ensure a wonderful event.

The University of Kansas Medical Center recruited physicians, nurses and students to see that sports physicals were offered to families. The medical center along with the Unified Government Public Health Department provided the opportunity to get immunizations for children, a necessity for starting school.

Library books and approximately 5,000 backpacks with basic school supplies were distributed.

This event was made possible through the dedication and hard work of volunteers. Thanks to the volunteers on the planning committee who worked many months and countless hours in planning.

The planning committee has representatives from the community, USD 500, United Health Care, K State Extension, DCF, Health Department, KUMC, the United Way of Wyandotte County, Kansas Gas, Kansas City, Kan., Public Libraries, Widows Sons Lodge No. 17, the Women’s Chamber, BPU, KCKCC and MOCSA.

Thank you to the many volunteers young and old who responded to the plea to fill the backpacks.

Volunteers helped collect school supplies at the local Walmart, giving up part of their weekend to help. Kids and grandkids worked side by side with parents and grandparents. Corporate volunteers, RSVP members, church groups, families and individuals all worked together over three days to make the event happen.

The day of the event, volunteers helped register each family, distribute backpacks and library books, made sure those waiting had water to drink and served lunch to all visitors. Of course, volunteers helped set-up for the event, keep the venue trash free and helped take down after the event.

More than 550 volunteer hours were contributed on Saturday alone and another 280 contributed the week of the event. With the value of one volunteer hour equaling $22.14 that means the financial effect of the volunteers helping with the BTSF was more than $18,300.00.

Thank you, to all those who helped with the Wyandotte County Back To School Fair. Without your hard work and support this event would not be possible.

Planning for 2015 Back to School Fair has already started. Please consider serving on the planning committee, making a donation or volunteering the week of the event.

For more information on how you can give, advocate and volunteer, contact me at 913-371-3674 or chahner@unitedway-wyco.org. You can find volunteer opportunities by checking out the website, www.unitedway-wyco.org and click on Volunteer.

Cathi Hahner is the director of volunteer services at the United Way of Wyandotte County.

Opinion: Becoming a more equitable community will take time and dialogue

Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

What can Kansas City, Kan., do to become a more equitable community?

That was the question I posed this week to Alvin Sykes, a Kansas City, Kan., human rights activist. The topic of equitableness and diversity has been discussed at the national level since recent events involving the shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

“We must have more dialogue between people, because as we do, particularly all races and genders, we will learn more about each other and more about our capacity to come together and be a better city,” Sykes said. “Then we have to develop more of a belief in principles.”

That will make Kansas City, Kan., more of a community of character, he said.

Sykes was one of a group of about 20 community leaders who met with Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Ellen Hanson recently to enhance communications. He also was part of another meeting of community members with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At the meetings, various topics were discussed, such as the details of using deadly force in arrests, and the racial makeup of the law enforcement force.

Currently, efforts are underway for a task force to address issues such as more diversity in the police and fire departments. Mayor Mark Holland is scheduled to speak about the topic, with new plans to be presented, at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at the fifth floor meeting room at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St. The city has been meeting with the Justice Department and local community members for several months.

“The mayor needs to be really commended for reaching out to the Justice Department,” Sykes said. “That’s a good step about showing he had some genuine sensitivity to the issue.”

Sykes said he believed that more interaction and outreach between public safety officers and the community would be beneficial. More interaction would lead to a greater sense of humaneness and more sensitivity on both sides, he said.

“If we develop a justice-seeking atmosphere in the community, those goals will be perceived as a matter of course,” he said.

There are some factors that make it more difficult to be hired or an unattractive job for minorities, he believes, such as the rules governing who may be hired, including rules written into contracts; the relatively low pay for officers; and the image of the officers in the community.

Last Nov. 21, it was obvious that blacks were not well-represented in the class of firefighter recruits who graduated at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. The group included mostly white males, and some of them graduated from schools outside of Wyandotte County. Not long after that, the topic of including more minorities, and more residents, in the ranks of the police and firefighters was discussed by commissioners at the UG’s budget meetings.

Currently, Kansas City, Kan., has a 26.8 percent black population, and a 27.8 percent Hispanic population, according to UG figures derived from the census. The police department is 11.6 percent black and 10.7 percent Hispanic, according to UG figures.

Sykes noted that was very much different from Ferguson, where 57 percent of the population was black and there were three black officers out of 53.

“We have a lot more to work with,” Sykes said. “We’re not as bad as some other places; we do have the tools to make it better. We have a good police department; our challenge is to make it a great one, so we need to get to the best practice levels of doing things.”

As an example of an issue where there needs to be better community communication and more dialogue, Sykes cited his effort to get the UG Commission to fill a vacant seat, the 1st District at large position, after a tie vote left it vacant in 2013. A resident has taken the UG to court in an effort to fill the vacant seat. The UG’s charter did not spell out what steps could be taken in the event of a tie.

“The majority of the black residents in the city live in the 1st District at large, the least amount live in the 2nd District at large,” Sykes said. “So there’s an underlying feeling in the black community that if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the blacks live in the 1st District at large, they would have filled the seat a long time ago.”

A lot of the office holders who are white did not see the issue in these terms, he added.

“We need to learn more about what other people think and what makes them feel better about this community and this world, just as we look at what it takes for us to do so,” Sykes said. “We need to address some of those concerns and have sensitivity to other communities.”

Kansas City, Kan., he said, is big enough to be able to have the ability to make some big changes within the boundaries of the community, but it’s small enough to be able to see the results if they occur, or to see that they haven’t been met. The goals are not out of reach, he said.

The city has the capacity and resources to make changes, it just has to be able to have the courage and willingness, with the sensitivity, to do so, he said.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.