by Mary Rupert
The gloves have come off in the mayoral campaign.
Five candidates for mayor and CEO of the Unified Government came together at a forum Tuesday nightJuly 18, at Kansas City Kansas Community College, 7250 State Ave., but only two of them will advance past the primary Aug. 1.
Three of the candidates, David Haley, Janice Witt and Keith Jordan, are taking a somewhat populist approach to the campaign, while trying to label incumbent Mayor Mark Holland and challenger David Alvey as local government insiders – Holland at the Unified Government and Alvey at the Board of Public Utilities.
Holland is running on his record, while Alvey challenged some of Holland’s decisions on Tuesday night.
Holland, a minister, was the only one who didn’t make any negative comments about other candidates Tuesday. Of the four challengers, Haley was the most polished speaker.
The local campaign started on a fractious note, with some local candidates echoing negative campaigning that was so pervasive in last fall’s national election.
Witt: ‘Voice of the people’
Asked to tell the audience how they are different from the other candidates on the issues, challenger Janice Witt said “I care. I am different. I am the voice of the people.”
Witt, a Washington High School graduate who has degrees from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, talked about her work in providing groceries and assistance to the community for 23 years.
“We all are paying too many taxes,” she said. “People are having to choose between their basic needs and paying their taxes, basic needs and paying their BPU.”
She called for a decrease in taxes, positive social engagement and respect, more police in the northeast area, as well as a grocery store in the northeast area. “Basic food and clean water is a great place to start for any district in Wyandotte County,” she said.
She said she wants to ensure people’s voices are heard.
Jordan: ‘We’ve forgotten the people’
Jordan said he has driven every street in the county with a trailer with his name on it, stopping, shaking hands and talking to people.
He said he didn’t have allegiance to anyone except the voters.
Jordan said he wanted to take the city back for the community. He added the county has become a business.
From the Turner area, Jordan said, “We’ve forgotten the people.”
“The next phase is the people. We need to take care of our citizens. We need to build the things they’re asking for,” he said.
If the local government wants people to stay, the community must make sure they feel safe, have a nice place to live, grocery stores and retail, and a clean place.
“I am tired of basically, the little guy being forgotten about, the everyday citizen basically ignored,” Jordan said. “It’s time for someone who’s not a professional politician to take the reins back and run the city in a way the people want the city run.”
Holland: A ‘responsible’ plan to lower taxes
Holland said there needs to be a responsible plan for lowering taxes. The first part was taking STAR (sales tax revenue) bond revenue and shifting the tax burden from property to sales tax. About $4 million of that burden was shifted to sales taxes.
“What you’re not going to see is irresponsible tax cuts at the state, where they just slashed taxes and panicked and the whole budget was upside down,” he said. ”I’m going to make a thorough commitment to ongoing tax relief.”
In the past two decades, since consolidation was approved, the UG has lowered the property tax rate by 19 percent, he said.
He also said it was necessary to grow the economy, which would raise the tax base. There has been $5 billion of private investment in economic development here in the past two decades, and in the past four years there has been $2.8 billion investment, he said. More than 11,000 jobs were created here in the past four years, and the jobs were 16 percent above the state average, he said. He supported continuing economic development in all areas of the community.
The third area is addressing blight, he said. There are 4,500 abandoned houses and 6,000 vacant lots, he said. The UG’s SOAR program is now addressing blight in the community, he added. A 7 percent delinquency two years ago has been reduced to 5 percent, he said.
He also said the UG needs to control costs. Investing money carefully and strategically is important, he said. Holland cited studies done on the public safety agencies, and also said all patrol cars have been replaced within the past four years.
Haley: ‘Tale of two cities’
David Haley, a state senator from Kansas City, Kansas, who is an attorney, said he emerges as the candidate of change. This election is almost between those who have established a name in getting things done, he added. He said he works together with people to find compromise and has had bills passed in the Legislature working with people of other parties as well as his own.
Stating he voted for both Holland and Alvey previously, Haley said Alvey pledged many things that after he was elected went unrealized.
“We’re a tale of two cities,” Haley said. How many people are sitting in the suites at the T-Bones or soccer stadiums with security sitting around them, enjoying the largesse of the city, while at home residents can’t pay their utility bill because of the city’s added charge on the bill, with the UG pretending to lower the property tax, he asked. He said the situation was disingenuous, and beyond that, irritating.
“Too many people we vote for, that we count on to do the right thing, when they get to the BPU, to do the right thing when they get to City Hall, forget that they promised to do it,” Haley said. The big difference is Haley delivers when he is elected, he said. “I hear and remember how I got there.”
Haley said he had the leadership to bring the UG Commission together, as he has done in his legislative career. He discussed more economic development in all areas of the county.
“I’m committed with a strong passion to ensure that there’s equity throughout our county, that voices will be heard,” he said. “We are on the verge of living out our true greatness, as we stop being placeholders, and take those BPU and city fees and take those Wyandotte County taxes and spread them in growth and equity throughout.”
Alvey: ‘One of the first responsibilities is not to waste money’
Alvey, a BPU board member who is an assistant principal at Rockhurst High School, said he wanted to defend his record at the BPU.
“I take exception to the fact that someone can insinuate that I make promises to be a certain kind of leader on the Board of Public Utilities, and I did not fulfill that,” Alvey said. “I challenge Sen. Haley to identify specifically those things and ways in which I have failed the public, and if you cannot do that, you should not make those insinuations. It frankly is unfair and I don’t accept it.”
Alvey said it is necessary to improve services and reduce taxes. The fundamental promise of government is to provide good quality services at the least burden to the people, he said. Communities will not grow because outside development is brought in, although it is helpful, he said. But the fundamental promise is to improve promises, and one of the first responsibilities is not to waste money, he said.
“Burying infrastructure along Leavenworth Road, which imposed an additional $5 million cost on BPU ratepayers and UG taxpayers, is not a priority,” Alvey said. People could probably name a hundred projects in the county that need $5 million worth of attention and should have been spent there, he said.
He added people could identify a hundred other projects where $250,000 could be spent, instead of for a security detail for the mayor and other local officials.
“You and I could probably identify a hundred projects around the county that probably deserve much more attention than bailing out the T-Bones,” Alvey said.
He said what separates him from other candidates is he likes to cut through the nonsense, identify the real problems and be committed to them. Plus, he said he wants to affirm the good will present in all those who serve in the public and draw it forth to identify and work together to solve problems.
Alvey also cited the mayor’s statement that the UG is not going to drastically cut taxes like the state did and then find itself in a position of not having enough money. Alvey said two weeks ago, UG department heads received an email telling them to cut their budgets 2.5 percent in 21 hours. The department heads had submitted their budgets in April.
“That says to me, dysfunction, that says to me, ‘We don’t really know what we’re doing, we’re going to grab this extra money so now we can promise mill reduction,’” he said. The 2.5 percent budget cut should have been requested when budgets were first being drawn up, he believes.
At the end of his remarks, Alvey also apologized for “emotions got the best of us” at the forum. He said he would continue to address issues with others to try to solve problems.
Candidates also weighed in on current UG efforts to diversify Fire Department personnel and public safety personnel.
Most of the candidates supported the current effort to add more diversity. Jordan said he supported merit-based selection, with the highest-scoring candidates receiving the job.
Holland said after seeing a fire graduation class’s lack of diversity one year, he decided to have the Department of Justice come in and investigate. A study was done and a plan was implemented.
Alvey said he supports more diversity, and efforts should continue, but the mayor calling in the Department of Justice for an investigation was the wrong way to go. He said the mayor should just call the police and fire chief, say there is a problem, and have them come back with a plan to address it in six months.
“It casts a shadow over the very people we are entrusting to protect us,” Alvey said. “I don’t think that’s a good way to go.”
He said it causes division and alienation. Also, he said the problem wasn’t hiring practices, it was recruitment, and the UG had a cadet program that addressed the problem. The UG had earlier voted to defund the cadet program, causing the problem, he said.
Other topics also were discussed at the forum. Also on Tuesday night, candidates for Wyandotte County Sheriff participated in a forum at KCKCC.
The candidate forum is being shown on the KCKCC cable channel, channel 17 on Spectrum and channel 146 on Google TV. This forum was sponsored by Business West, KCKCC, the Central Avenue Betterment Association and the Historic Northeast-Midtown Association.
This candidate forum is also available for viewing on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7uiEQrFI4I.