By Jill Draper
Like any good politician, Mayor Quinton Lucas complimented south Kansas City, yet expressed concern for its future in a talk with The Telegraph.
“You’ve got great neighborhoods, good council members, and for the most part are a safe and stable part of Kansas City,” he said. But he described the area’s slow growth rate compared to the Northland and downtown as “a huge concern.” He also called it problematic that redistricting maps show the Sixth District possibly extending to include Westport.
“That may be the reality, but it’s less than ideal,” he said.
Lucas noted that south KC needs major water, sewer and street repairs, perhaps more so than anywhere else. Too often, because it’s “not the squeaky wheel,” such repairs are not given the highest priority. He mentioned Wornall, Holmes and Bannister roads as places with longstanding infrastructure demands, and said the fate of Blue River Road, which has been closed for years due to destabilization, should be the subject of a community discussion with city leaders and representatives.
According to Lucas, KC Water Services could have fixed the road last year as a water infrastructure repair, but it was not assessed that way. “We have a lot of infrastructure to fix, and I think we should be as creative as possible,” he said. The City Council will consider funding the repair next year with GO bonds.
Lucas also talked about his concerns with the Kansas City Police Department, and said he did not regret an attempt to reallocate $42.3 million in their budget for community services and prevention. That attempt was shot down by a Jackson County judge.
According to Lucas, he had no specific plans in mind for the funds. “It would be ridiculous to say ‘hey, take all my ideas’…but someone needed to feel some sense of urgency. There are too many cities in America that would not accept the level of violence we have. This is not normal. This is such a problem that it calls for drastic measures.”
Lucas said he held a town hall with police officers in south KC last summer, and agreed with everything they said, especially about wanting more officers. “My biggest investment will always be in people,” he emphasized, criticizing the Police Department’s proposed new budget that includes increases for command staff, legal settlements and a spare helicopter engine. He contends the current budget has $17 million in unspent funds that could be used to hire more patrol officers.
“There is something going on in the budget that I don’t understand. It’s unfair to our rank and file police officers and to the public when we have money available to fund academy classes and provide raises, Lucas said. “I have grave, grave qualms about that, and I do not think it’s right.”
While violence and crime are headline-grabbing problems, one issue that doesn’t get enough attention is the need to create more walkable neighborhoods, Lucas said. Good sidewalks and more shopping centers near neighborhoods, libraries, parks and other cultural amenities are important for people of all ages, but especially older citizens, he noted.
“South Kansas City taught me how neighborhoods could work at their best,” said Lucas, who lived in the inner city but attended Barstow School as a child. “I want to make sure that exists for future generations.”
Lucas and his wife had a baby last spring and recently moved from the 18th and Vine District to a house in Midtown. “My wife and I got into an argument. I wanted to move to south Kansas City, but I’m a new father and I lost,” he said. “Our new house is nice, but I really would have liked to be near Barstow.”
Lucas wants to see more single-family housing units rehabilitated in parts of south KC, and suggested the various-priced homes in Lee’s Summit around Longview Lake might be a good model.
The role of a mayor, he said, is not to see where the crowd is going and run out in front of it. Rather, a good mayor sometimes has to tell the crowd—maybe we’re going in the wrong direction, and things can be better.
“Better” includes plans to improve snow removal this winter, and the city has quadrupled the street resurfacing budget. Soon there will be a discussion led by Fifth District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw on “a few different ideas” to address the homeless problem.
“We’ll be all right,” he said.