Op-Ed: KC Council excluded the Northland from a critical decision on police funding a year ago. Here’s how to avoid that in the future

This week marks the one-year anniversary of one of the most divisive pieces of legislation in recent memory to go through the Kansas City Council – and without a single committee hearing.

On May 20, 2021, the mayor and eight members of the city council – all of the members south of the river – passed a pair of “same-day” ordinances that reallocated $42 million of the Kansas City Police Department budget.

The abrupt vote prevented the four Northland representatives from bringing it to a committee and asking their constituents for feedback.

It also prevented the Northland council members from questioning the legality of the measure. And that could have saved the city millions in attorney fees, as the ordinances were later found by a judge to violate Missouri law and were thrown out.

Amending section 502 of the Kansas City Charter would prevent such mistakes, and would help foster a better political relationship between the Northland and south of the river.

The charter should be amended to require that same-day adoption of ordinances have support of a councilperson in at least five of the six council districts. That would require at least one of the two Northland council members to be knowledgeable about a proposed ordinance, instead of developing policy without the Northland’s awareness whatsoever – as happened a year ago.

The original FY 21-22 KCPD budget had actually been approved by the same council two months prior to the May vote last year, through the normal budget process of constituent and key stakeholder input. So why did the mayor and eight council members decide to wait until May 20 to try to claw back 20% of the police budget? Well, interestingly enough, it happened after Kansas Citians had already voted to reinstate the 1% earnings tax and the state legislature was out of session.

Proponents on the council said the May 20 ordinances would lead toward local control of the police department, which begs the question: Is this the kind of local control we would want as a city?

Do we really think the Northland – 37% of the city’s population, and growing – would have been included in how the $42 million would’ve been spent, when the area was shut out of the fund’s formation?

Absolutely not. Based on the past behavior of the council, if the original ordinances would have been deemed legal the council would have then passed a series of spending ordinances developed without constituent input from all parts of our city.

Amend section 502 to require that at least one member in five of the six council districts approve same-day ordinance adoptions. It’s not too much to ask that at least one member from the two Northland districts be knowledgeable about what they’re voting on – or to let all areas of the city have input on public safety measures.

This amendment would be good for all districts in the city for other policy areas as well, ensuring no one can be railroaded the way the Northland was on this issue.

Amend Section 502 of City Code to, “Ordinances shall not be passed until they shall have been read on three separate days at regular or special meetings of the Council unless the requirement of reading on three separate days is dispensed with by the affirmative vote of nine members of the Council from at least 5 different council districts.” This would protect against a regionalistic approach to governing. https://www.nathanforthenorthland.com/about

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