Op Ed
September 28, 2007

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A comment on Yael Abouhalkah’s Star editorial about KC leaders
by Wayne Flaherty

In a Sept. 20 Kansas City Star editorial, Yael talks of regional responsibilities of Johnson County — but never mentions other counties. He, like so many local Missouri politicos, means Johnson County when he utters the word regional. To them, the suburbs consist only of the 19 cities in Johnson County. Four times Yael mentions regional transit — completely oblivious to the fact that Johnson County carries only 2% of regional transit riders. Wyandotte County is never mentioned while it carries 3-1/2 times (7%) as many riders as the Johnson County. Johnson County is the target, not because of an imagined pivotal role in a regional transit system but for its money.

Yael chastises suburban mayors (meaning Johnson County mayors) with a question: “When will suburban mayors realize their job isn’t solely to preside over a nice place for people to live and shop, but to help support a thriving metropolitan area?”

Sorry Yael, but presiding over a nice place for people to live and shop is exactly what our mayors should be doing. As a matter of fact, it is what the KCMO mayor and the Jackson County executive should be doing — but are not.

Kansas City, MO spends its time arguing over a $2 billion light rail plan while facing a $7 billion sewer repair bill. They just voted to give the Chiefs and Royals a $2 million yearly subsidy while their $300 million Sprint Arena is still without a permanent tenant. Jackson County gives the Chiefs and Royals $3.5 million per year while having just laid off 150 county employees and borrowing money to make it through 2007. They have the worst school system in the region even though it spends more money per pupil than any other area system. Since when is it the job of governments — who tend to their business — to support their profligate neighbors?

Johnson County is successful because it has found the correct way to govern — have many small governments that are close to, and responsive to, their citizens. Instead of emulating the success of Johnson County, our neighbors choose to seek ways to tap into our tax revenues using the thinly disguised mantra of regionalism. If there is any mending to be done, let them mend their ways and stop trying to convince us we owe them something. The only regional thing these neighbors provide is a bad example of how to manage the citizens’ business. Go into the halls of government in Johnson County and you will see the people. Go into the halls of government in KCMO and you will see an army of influence peddlers, special interest representatives and groups bellied up to the public trough.

I am old enough to remember Kansas City, MO when it had a vibrant downtown, alive with activity. If you wanted to shop, go to the movies or eat at a nice restaurant, you went downtown. I also watched those same stores, movies and restaurants that were the lifeblood of downtown, leave for greener pastures — the suburbs. They went there to better serve their customers by providing benefits they could not provide in the downtown environment — free parking, the convenience of proximity and covered malls to name a few.

The reasons for the migration from downtown are as valid today as they were when the migration began. Whatever I need, the free market has brought to my doorstep and will not likely take it away again. I have prudent, responsive governments looking after the common interests of my fellow citizens and myself. There is no reason for me to ever go downtown again, an attitude that is shared by many suburban dwellers. Neither Johnson County, nor any other suburban county, has committed any act that obligates them to fund some self-anointed metropolitan center that has decayed into little more than a profligate dinosaur that has lost touch with its citizens.

I urge all Johnson County mayors to stay the course and continue to maintain the infrastructure, provide a safe living environment and promote a free market business environment. To keep its citizens entertained is not the job of government, private enterprise will do that. There is no higher calling for government than to provide an environment where its citizens can live, work and play in safety. In their search for funding, our neighbors have conveniently forgotten that fact. Pray that our mayors do not forget it.

Wayne Flaherty lives in Johnson County. He can be contacted at waynef@kcnet.com.


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