By Mary WilsonKansas City Mayor Sly James delivered his State of the City address to a packed house at Starlight Theater on Tuesday, March 31. According to James, Starlight Theater embodies what is great about Kansas City: parks, arts, partnerships and the assets of the city.
Mayor James began his address thanking those whom he has served alongside for the past year, including sixth district councilman John Sharp, who termed out of office this week.
“Being mayor is undoubtedly the best job in politics, and there is one group that I’m compelled and honored to serve with,” said James. “The members of the council terming out of office deserve our thanks for their outstanding and committed service to Kansas City.”
He also honored the loss of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich. “I do hope that we can learn something from that tragic circumstance. For instance, that leadership is preferable to politics,” said James. “It is my hope that over the course of the next few months, we’ll have more leaders emerge than politicians.”
According to James, more than ever, Kansas Citians are engaged, thanks to social media and technology. Technology, innovation and planning contribute to the success of the agenda James has followed since taking office in 2012. His focus has been on efficiency, employment, education and enforcement.
“Through focus on these, we strive to make all that we do in Kansas City the best today, tomorrow, and for the generation to come,” said James.
The technology foundation, according to James, continues to pay dividends in improved efficiency in Kansas City. Recently, Kansas City launched its first-ever digital roadmap, setting goals to secure its place as a leading digital city. It also supports Kansas City’s future workforce by addressing digital inclusion and creating a pipeline of home-grown talent.
“It makes Kansas City a smart city,” said James. “We are using that technology to find better efficiencies in the delivery of city services.”
A smart city is a technological framework that could bring things such as interactive kiosks, mobile applications, sensory technology and smart street lighting.
“Kansas City is once again the envy of our peers because we do things like this, drawing deeply from our entrepreneurial spirit and from our technological assets,” said James.
As a result of an open-data ordinance passed last June, data about Kansas City is more readily available to the public than at any time during the history of Kansas City. Information searches that used to mean a trip to city hall are now available online, from anywhere in the world, instantaneously, according to James.
“I believe that open, transparent government is fundamental to an efficient and effective democracy,” said James. “The open-data portal allows for that.”
James added that the opinions of citizens drive cultural shifts that include data-driven performance enhancements to improve city departments. The tool for that is the annual citizen’s satisfaction survey, with the most recent survey results showing significant improvements in sixty-one separate categories.
“City satisfaction with its citizens is at the highest level since the city began its survey in 2005,” said James. “Not many cities can say that. People are noticing the way that we do business in Kansas City.”
The mayor stated that maintaining the city’s streets, bridges, roads and other city infrastructure remains a priority for him. Currently, the city funds nearly $77 million per year for infrastructure services, such as street overlays, snow plowing, striping, signage, maintaining bridges and more.
“I refuse to kick that can down the road and leave our aging infrastructure problems for the next generation,” said James. “We have a backlog of deferred maintenance and my priority is to deal with it.”
According to James, the industry benchmark to fund the improvements Kansas City’s infrastructure needs would cost nearly three-times the allotted annual budget.
“Kansas Citians expect better and we need to do better,” said James.
In June of 2016, Kansas City voters will be asked to renew the Kansas City Earnings Tax. James said that the city has been good stewards of this critical resource by making changes like improved budgeting and fiscal management systems since the last vote.
“We are making budget decisions more closely aligned with citizen input,” said James.
Last February, Mayor James was invited to the White House for the unveiling of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, which addresses strategies to align opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color.
“As I learned about each of the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, I was struck by the fact that Kansas City is a leader in many of those areas,” said James. “One of the President’s goals, in particular, is close to my heart: reading at grade-level by third grade.”
Turn the Page KC, the mayor’s early childhood reading program, is just one of many of the mayor’s programs focusing on youth in Kansas City. Turn the Page KC was recently recognized by KCPT for the program’s focus on all children reading at grade-level, and the White House invited the program directors to be on a panel to discuss local efforts and strategies to bridge the word gap.
Combined last year, Kansas City Mayor’s Nights served nearly 6,000 basketball, volleyball and soccer athletes ages 10-25. Last summer, Club KC served more than 10,000 Kansas City 12- to 18-year-olds, and youth crime dropped 18% while Club KC was in session.
Another focus of Mayor James has been to narrow the digital divide in Kansas City, and take full advantage of bigger digital pipelines of which Kansas City is becoming known nationally and internationally.
“We must make computers, the internet, and digital literacy training accessible to all,” said James.
James ended his address by stating that gun control regulation needs to be addressed, and that the senseless killing of children in Kansas City simply cannot continue.
“I want to thank Kansas City for giving me what I consider to be an amazing opportunity to serve as your mayor for the past four years,” said James. “I know that I have the best job in politics, and I hope you know that I’ve given you my best each and every day.”
Mayor James said he is proud to be mayor of a city that is reinventing itself.
“Flyover country no more, Kansas City is the center of the American renaissance,” said James. “We are the city that other cities look to for ideas. The state of our city is full of opportunity, and I assure you I’ll continue to seize each and every one with your help and support.”