Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Get Involved

  A city like ours is full of many vital components that are necessary to be able to manage and assist all of the areas important to our day to day lives. Many of these are obvious, like the teachers that prepare us for life when we enter the job market or the street crews who maintain our cities thoroughfares to help keep people and products moving into, out of and through our city. Some things are not so obvious, but none the less important.

  There are many people assisting with programs that help the elderly, disabled or those burdened with some other need. Some of these people work in paid positions, but there are just as many or even more that are unpaid, yet just as vital. Many organizations, such as Harvesters, Cross-lines, United Way, and others rely upon volunteer workers to help keep the costs down, which allows them to use a larger percentage of the donations they receive to assist those in need. While I would like to believe that my blog will inspire each and every one of you to run out and get deeply involved in this community, I am not that na├»ve. I simply have to remember back to my youth, and yes I can still vaguely remember that far back, to know that all of the good intentions are sometimes pushed out of the way by life. Don’t worry it happens to most everyone.

  I can remember when I was in high school, and I used to assist my father who was a local pastor, and the chaplain of the WyCo jail. I would frequently spend some of my free time delivering groceries to needy families or assisting with a clothing or coat drive before the onset of the next season. Many times I would find myself doing my homework at my father’s food pantry, so that I could help people carry their bags. At the time I was sure that I would always have time to do this type of good work, but then things changed. I entered the work force, and before long got married and raised a family. I found my free time became less and less, but still managed to help in small ways. I would build floats for the local school or carve pumpkins for a holiday festival. These things felt like a small insignificant part, but I realize now that they made a difference. 

  My father worked for 25 years at a fiberglass plant in Fairfax prior to becoming a minister. I asked him one time what made him change jobs at that time of his life. I will never forget what he told me. He pointed out how when we are young we are constantly using the resources of our community. When we get older is our responsibility to be those resources for the next generation.

  After I thought about this for many years, it made sense. A lot of the reason for this scenario is due to the fact that we are just getting started on our own and often raising a family. Young adults are often juggling a life of work and family obligations. That leaves little time for giving back. I don’t want to give a person a reason to not be involved in any way that they can, I am simply explaining the reality of life. Soon we get older, and things change. Our children are less dependent upon us, and we often find ourselves with more free time than before. It is at that time of our lives that it is imperative that we stay involved with our community. By giving assistance to others we show them that there are others out there who care, and we teach the next generation these same values. Have you ever noticed how many older people are volunteering at school functions? Many I’m sure are parents and grandparents of some of the current students, but there are others there. These people have discovered the true meaning of life, which is giving others the same opportunities that they were given. By giving of their time they allow the younger adults the opportunity to raise their families, while still staying engaged with their community.

  I hope that you understand what I am trying to explain to you today. We all want to make a difference in our community, but often find it difficult to know how. We find that we don’t have all of the free time we want to commit to being involved, but there are always small things that need to be done. Don’t be afraid that by only doing a little that you aren’t doing enough. If we all give a little it will have a huge impact. One of my favorite quotes is “You must get involved to make an impact. No one is impressed with the win-loss record of the referee.”

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Melting Pot in Miniature

  Kansas City, Kansas is a prime example of how America works. Our city has a vast array of ethnic cultures who co-mingle and coexist throughout the individual neighborhoods. We have our areas with higher saturation of a certain ethnic group, but even within those areas you will still find diversity. This is one of the things that makes our city great. A group of people decided that this diversity was a reason to celebrate, and eight years ago began the Ethnic Festival, which is held at the Kansas City Kansas Community College campus. Bettse Folsom, a Co-coordinator of this annual event, is one of many who work tirelessly to make sure this festival continues to build momentum. She stood proudly by as her mother, Helen Walsh Folsom received one of two "Legends of Diversity" awards. The other award was given to Carol Levers, Director of the KCK Public Libraries.

The festival entices people to engage with the demonstrators.

  Each year this event grows larger and draws increased attendance. Walking through the parking lot you are greeted by a tent filled with children engaged in a variety of artistic activities. The founders of this festival understand the premise that our children are a common thread which binds us to our community. Entering the facility the smells of various ethnic foods waft through the air inviting you to sample delicacies from foreign lands. You look into the gymnasium that the festival calls home, and you see the main stage at the far end.

Celtic dancing.
Hrvatski Obicaj Croatian Orchestra.
  Local, regional, and even traveling artists perform their native songs and dances for the crowds satisfaction. In a few short hours I was able to witness Celtic dancing, native American flute playing, African drumming, a Croatian band, Israeli folk dancers, and many more cultural demonstrations. There is a continual rotation of entertainment, and many people take a seat for a few minutes to rest and enjoy the shows. All around the room the action continues with roaming participants from the Renaissace Fair interacting with guests.
High stepping to a drum line.

  Sometimes the performances need more room than what the building allows, and the demonstration will move outside. I had the opportunity to witness a local drum line performing to a gathering crowd, the drums beating rhythmically while the children march in unison.   

Francis Mulwa attends to the Kenya booth.
  Back inside the building there is a large number of booths set up displaying cultural items from assorted foreign lands. As you walk through you are welcomed by local ambassadors representing these countries, and their people. They invite you to interact, and gladly answer questions about their native culture. They display artifacts, artwork, literature, and often treats from their native regions.
Representing Guatemala are Michael Nogura and his mother Jeanine.
  The range of booths was not limited to only cultural regions, but also local organizations were represented. I spoke with groups from local gardens, churches, and community resource centers. The KCK Public Library helped gear up children for the upcoming summer break in an effort to keep them reading throughout those months. The Wyandotte County Historical Society is always in full force to remind the citizens of our county of the interesting events that brought us to where we are today. Local firefighters and paramedics taught CPR, while the Sheriff's Department explained the purpose of law enforcement. Most of the demonstrations were presented in a fashion that were informative, and interesting to adults and children alike.  

The Hmong Village shows off items and information.
  These type of programs are the glue that help bind a community together. It gives us all an opportunity to learn about the cultures and heritages of our neighbors, and by doing so, it shows us how we all share common goals. Our diverse range of cultures is what makes our city so strong. We are able to see our problems from the many different views, so when decisions are made they have the greatest chance for success. I hope you have been able to enjoy this annual event, but if not I hope you will put it on your calendar for next year. I'd love to see you there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Storm Warnings

 This winter had all the makings of a quiet, dry, uneventful period. We slowly marched through the days unappreciative of the unusually mild weather we were experiencing. Then along came Groundhogs Day. When the furry rodent predicted an early end to winter many people commented that it had never started. We paused to remember if we had even experienced any winter weather. We were on track to repeat the mild winters of the past couple of years. Suddenly we arrived at the end of February, and all of this changed.

  Winter Storm "Q" hit us with almost a foot of dry powdery snow, and brought the metro crashing to a halt. Schools, businesses, and even city governments called for a day of recovery leaving kids and adults with time to shovel out and play. There was plenty of chatter on social media sites about the "Blizzard of Oz" that encompassed the region, and people posted pictures of the amazing snowfall. It was an inconvenience that brought back remembrance of years gone by where we would have regular winter snowfalls in the Kansas City area. Stories were told of the best places to sled ride, and of long ago snowball fights.

  While the storm had inconvenienced many, it had also brought with it a flood of nostalgia. Fast forward less than a week and we were receiving warnings of a second round of severe weather. Winter Storm "Rocky" did not have the opportunity to catch us off guard, since we were still in the embrace of the last storm. Weather channels blasted alerts and cautions for the impending blizzard that was marching across the country. Schools, businesses and city governments gave notice of pending closures a day in advance of the storm's arrival. When "Toto's Revenge" blew into town, the city was already waiting. The storm lost speed during its approach leading many to wonder if it would fizzle out. Low and behold it finally hit with all of it's expected impact.

  This snow was wet and heavy, unlike the first storm, and reeked havoc for the city's utility companies. Branches laden with fat flakes bowed and broke falling onto power lines. Many residents spent hours in the dark cursing the return of winter weather. The pictures on the social media sites changed from awe and wonder to disgust and dread. Curses rang out throughout the city for the end of this terrible weather. Meanwhile in the distance farmers gave thanks for the life bringing moisture that was brought by the snow. The slow melt will insure that the moisture sinks far into the soil, giving some much needed relief to the drought conditions. While winter will surely end, the memories of these two events will remain with us for many years. Well at least until the next big snow event.      

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A New Type of Race

                              *Warning: Personal opinion is contained in this post*
  While I am not the longest tenure person in politics, I am certainly not the least either. I often hear people expound on the lack of moral character or unwillingness to cooperate from our political representatives. These are points that I cannot refute, since you can open your paper,  literally or electronically, and read many articles about corruption and partisanship. Perhaps we set ourselves up for this in some ways.
  I am not saying that the public demands this behavior from our public servants, but maybe some of our election time movements help foster this attitude. Let's be clear that I don't think any of us ask our representatives to have shady dealings or to hurt the ones that trusted them. I am only wondering if we sometimes allow activities during a campaign that can be misconstrued as permission to act the same way in office.
  I have seen, on more than one instance, the call from a political party to vote only by party line during an election cycle. Now I certainly believe that there can be some merit to being affiliated with a specific party, but I do not understand the concept of undying commitment to party line voting. I cannot believe that on any given year all of the best candidates have been gathered under one political party only. If a person follows only the suggestions of the party leadership, and doesn't take the time to determine which candidates best represent their own values, then we stand the chance to let the best person for the job get passed over. I also feel this mentality helps foster the partisanship politics that have become ever present in the last few decades.
  It also appears that in almost every election period at least one race will get "dirty". There will be mud-slinging, and rumor mills creating a long lasting negative impact on the community as a whole. It will limit the public ability to find out what a candidate's true intentions are if elected, because they are spending so much energy staving off and rebutting these attacks. After a while, the race will be about who can manage to retain the majority of their reputation instead of focusing on the true issues. Not only does this serve the interests of no one, it also fosters an atmosphere of hesitation in potential candidates. Who would want to put themselves through this sort of pain and suffering?
  I would hope that we can start to turn the tide in our expectations of political races. Let's focus on the issues that we all face and expect our leaders to help solve. Let's help our candidates understand what we expect from them if they are elected. Let's spend the time to determine who we feel would best represent us in each of the contested positions, and then vote accordingly. Let's hold our representatives accountable to work together across party lines to find workable solutions to the problems that face each and every one of us. Let's find ourselves waking up the day after the election with respect for those who ran the race and lost, as much as for those who won. We have to set the bar a little higher for all of us. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

PILOT: A Good Idea with a Bad Reputation

  In the past I have avoided posting about potentially volatile issues. I have done this mostly because this blog is more of an informational post on good things about our city. As I stated earlier this year, I have decided to take this blog in a new direction. I will at times give my point of view on things that affect the majority of us citizens, and yes even though I am in an elected office, I am still allowed all of the rights, privileges, and bills that come along with being a Dotte. Today I have decided to post about a very controversial issue, the P.I.L.O.T. fee.

  If you ask a variety of citizens their opinion on most issues you will get a wide smattering of perspectives. This is not the case with the PILOT fee which appears on KCK residents utility bill. The Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) fee is not a new or unique idea. It is despised, misunderstood, and for lack of a better term, HATED. Is it really the PILOT that people hate or possibly the implementation of this fee? Most people do not remember the date that it was implemented or the reason for it. I am often told how it was "not taken to a public vote", and that "it was just shoved down our throat". These type of reactions come from an uninformed public. Perhaps it is time to begin changing that by shedding a little light about why a PILOT fee can work to the residents advantage.

  The PILOT idea is not unique to Kansas City, Kansas. It is a mechanism used by most cities, that own a municipal utility, as a form of revenue collection. While I am unsure of the perception of this idea from residents of other cities, I am sure that this type of program has been implemented with a varying amount of public education. Educating the public on the available options for revenue streams is paramount to a cities creation of proper communication with the public. All cities need revenue to be able to supply the needs of the community. We all want decent, well lit streets with sidewalks, fire hydrants, good schools, traffic signals, parks, and the list of requested amenities goes on and on. All of these items come with a price tag to implement, and and annual maintenance fee. That is simply a fact of life, and there is nothing wrong with expecting those to be available in a well devised city.

  How do we get the monies to pay for all of these items and programs? Well there are a variety of revenue streams available to cities, but ultimately they will have to levee some form of taxes upon the residents. There is nothing wrong with this, as everyone should expect to help pay their fair share. So within the avenue of taxes there are many available versions, as well. I want to focus on property taxes versus PILOT fee. We all know that property taxes are expected to be paid by every property owner in the city, but the fact is that there are certain businesses and developments that receive deferments on their tax bills for varying length of times. This is done for a variety of reasons, but this post is not about that issue, so let's just face the facts that not every property will pay the same portion of their property tax bill.

  The PILOT fee (or as some will say a tax) is calculated as an up charge on the dollar amount of the utilities consumed by each ratepayer during every month. This fee is collected by the Board of Public Utilities, and given to the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas. Those residents and businesses that have arrangements for deferment on their property taxes are still required to pay the PILOT fee each and every month. So in effect every meter user pays the PILOT, even those that don't pay property tax.

 I'm sorry it has taken so long to get to the final point, but thanks for hanging in there with me. It has been suggested to me that we should eliminate the PILOT fee, but I say that there is a better solution to tax reduction. If we eliminate the PILOT it will require those tax funds to probably be collected through property tax. which means that this larger amount will now be collected from only those property owners who do not have tax deferment. If we instead work on reducing the property tax rate it will give a reduction only to those that pay that tax. The city will still be collecting the PILOT fee from the whole of the city, including those that don't pay full property tax rates.

  This of course is just my view, and as with any perspective, it is not a perfect solution. I do not offer it as the best end game, but only as a way to start the conversation about tax revenue for our city. It is only through honest, open communication and discussion that our city will be able to come to the correct solutions. I ask you only to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Eagle Day 2013


  It was a crisp, sunny morning at Wyandotte County Lake. Geese and ducks stood at the ice's edge honking and quacking randomly. The freezing temperatures were giving way to a day of warming, which brought with it increased activity. A stream of vehicles flowed toward the F.L. Schlagle Nature Library searching for a parking spot. The crowds were there for the 12th Annual Eagle Day.

  Inside the library volunteers welcomed the visitors and directed them to various activities. Children enjoyed crafts and coloring, while parents took in the vast assortment of educational displays. Eventually everyone worked their way downstairs to the main attraction. Here they found Bill Wehrley, from Operation Wildlife, teaching the public about the raptors in the Midwest. The main star is Moose, a rescued bald eagle who sat proudly on his stand. He watched the crowd intently, sizing up and seemingly approving the situation.

Bill educated the crowd on numerous facts about bald eagles, as well as the other birds of prey. This was just the first of many demonstrations he would perform this day. His stars are all rescued birds that are unable to be released back into the wild. While it is sad to know that these beautiful creatures are unable to live the life they were purposed for, it was reassuring to know that they were being cared for and living comfortable lives. They were being used to teach thousands of children and adults about the important role that raptors play in the food chain, as well as the many dangers that these birds of prey face.

 Across the lake at the James P. Davis Hall, another demonstration was going on. A variety of hawks and owls were on display, and the crowds were just as eager to learn about them. All of the birds are amazing to observe in such close quarters. At the other end of the hall guests gathered around the fireplace sharing stories of the wildlife they have witnessed throughout the park.
 We enjoy the best of both worlds having the amenities of a large city, while still enjoying the nature that ties us to the planet. It is another of the attributes that make our region such a great place to reside.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Preparing for the Future

  While Kansas City, Kansas has seen explosive growth in many fields over the past 15 years, there has been one area that has remained stagnant. Housing starts are a leading indicator of population growth, and it has been slow in our city until now. In 2012 KCK had 94 new home permits requested, which dwarfs the 4 requested in 2011. Even more exciting is the recent activity focusing on multifamily apartment complexes. In the fall of 2012, we had a groundbreaking at The Heights at Delaware Ridge located at 130th & State Avenue. This will be a 228 unit, $25 million project, which was the first new apartment start in over 25 years.


  On January 18, 2013 the groundbreaking ceremony was held for Village West Luxury Apartments at 110th Street between State Avenue And Parallel Parkway. This complex will bring something to KCK that I believe shows a new direction in our ability to draw young, middle class residents to our city. With the addition of luxury housing, set in close proximity to our most popular attractions, we stand the greatest chance of retaining the new employees that are flocking to our area. There has already been a third multifamily complex approved, and discussion on more are in the works. These works are signs of a growing community, and with that growth comes opportunity.

  As we move our city forward it will be imperative to  continue to find ways to bring these changes to our eastern urban core. Some have already or are currently in the works, but we must remain diligent to recognize opportunity when it arises. The recent opening of a new hotel on Rainbow near KU Medical Center was a victory for the Rosedale community much as the new library is for Argentine. In both cases it has increased traffic in the areas which brings with it the potential for other economic improvements. Each dawn brings an opportunity to further our city, and we are fortunate to have engaged, caring people dwelling right here at home.