KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tackling illegal guns and inadequate schools; those are the top two priorities for Kansas City in 2014, according to Mayor Sly James.
James gave his annual "State of the City" speech Sunday morning at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Walnut Street in Kansas City. James boasted to the crowd of around 50 that the city has come a long way in 2013.
"We're no longer a cow town. We are no longer a flyover destination," he said. " To the contrary, we are the destination."
Among the accomplishments in 2013 that James highlighted include:
- local companies Cerner and Ford both announcing plans to expand and add thousands of employees
- adding a new grocery store at 39th and Prospect
- getting started on the streetcar line which will connect the River Market to Union Station
- the development of the Twin Creeks Residential area in the Northland
- Kansas City being named in the top 20 as a place to raise children, open a business and vacation.
Yet, James admitted, it is hard to overlook the challenges ahead for the city.
"2014 is going to present some unique and interesting challenges to overcome," James said.
Those challenges include reducing a triple digit murder rate and getting thousands of illegal handguns off city streets.
"I'm not talking about those who have handguns and protect themselves and know what they're doing, I'm fine with that", James reassured the crowd, "I'm talking about guns in the hands of idiots who should not have guns that then use them to create havoc in this city and kill people."
In 2013, James said that of the city's 106 homicides. 90 of those were committed with a handgun. He also noted the city removed 1,000 illegal guns from the streets, but many more remain out there.
James also recognized Kansas City Public Schools' ongoing battle with accreditation . He announced his idea to clone successful school programs, like the one at Lincoln Preparatory School, on struggling campuses.
"If I had a machine that was going to print me perfect dollar bills and I had the ability to make more than one machine, I'd have 100 of them," he said. "But when we get the schools that work, we make one, but don't come back and duplicate the other."
As for schools not making the grade, James had this message: "We failed to replicate the successful schools and we've also failed to eliminate those that suck," he said enthusiastically, "If you're not doing your job, you shouldn't be there. I'm sorry. This is a competitive world and a competitive environment."
For Kansas City resident Bill Mullins, it's what he didn't hear from the mayor's speech that irked him.
"Until the city wakes up and says jobs are important, I won't be satisfied. When you say finally after years we have one small grocery store East of Troost, I respond that doesn't sound like a large commitment to having work for the unemployed", he said.
When Mullins posed that question to James, the mayor said, "I'm much more interested in education at this point for the sake of education. I think if our educational achievement is higher, kids will create their own jobs."
James said KCPS should seek talented teachers from across the country to fill open positions and bring their own ideas to revive the struggling district.
James finished his speech with a look at the big decisions and opportunities ahead in 2014. He said those include:
- plans to revamp Kansas City International Airport and possibly turn it into a one-terminal facility
- the opportunity to expand the streetcar line from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Brookside and Waldo
- lure organizers from the Republican National Convention to choose Kansas City as a host site for 2016 .