NewsLocal News


KCMO City Council 1st District At-Large candidates: O'Neill, Smith weigh in on key issues

1st DAL.jpg
Posted at 4:13 PM, Jun 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 17:13:37-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, faces many notable challenges and the next City Council will have to weigh in on some critical issues that will shape the city’s next generation.

From affordable housing and violent crime, to the Royals' plan to leave Kauffman Stadium and the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the next four years promise to be transformative in KCMO’s history.

Both candidates for the KCMO City Council 1st District At-Large seat, incumbent Kevin O’Neill and challenger Ronda Smith, responded to KSHB 41’s questionnaire before the April 4 primary.

With the field narrowed to two candidates for the June 20 general election next week, revisit the candidates' responses. Answers have been lightly edited for AP style and grammar.


Q: The city has put a lot of emphasis on this in recent years. Does more need to be done and, if so, what policies would you advocate for on the council?

O’Neill: I’ve been to every corner of this city since taking office and I know that housing issues are complex and vary from district to district. That being said, every Kansas Citian deserves to feel secure in their home, no matter where they live.

We should look at what has worked in other cities and what hasn’t. Cities like Austin and Nashville are decades ahead of us in their housing issues, so there are lessons to be learned there. We should consider freezing property taxes in areas that are seeing rapid growth so that growth doesn’t kick out families who live there.

Additionally, my focus on ensuring every Kansas Citian has a good-paying job is vital when it comes to affordable housing. Put simply, you’re more likely to be able to afford housing if you have a good-paying job.

Smith: This is all the existing council talks about nowadays and I agree that there needs to be affordable housing for all levels of income earners. How can we have affordable housing if our city government keeps putting these ordinances together that state that developers need to pay thousands of dollars to the city for the acres of trees they cut down, or builders need to only have all electric homes with no gas?

Someone has to pay for all of this. I am guessing it will go towards the price of the home. They can’t have it both ways! Where’s common sense in all of this? More added cost to the developer equals more cost to the buyer/renter.

I believe that abandoned/unused property should be given back to the community. This would allow for the community and its nonprofits as a whole to work together to resolve issues surrounding them. There should be codes but not unreasonable nonsense holding the community back from doing what they need to do.

Q: What role, if any, do think affordable housing plays in other issues facing the city?

O’Neill: [no answer provided]

Smith: Affordable housing impacts the livability of our citizens and city revenue. Look at the neighborhoods where we see abandoned homes and buildings, crime and litter, it’s now spreading throughout the city.

The rising cost can be attributed to all the restrictions and costs to developers and businesses. This makes it difficult for the taxpayer to live and businesses to survive. The loss of revenue from this and then having to make a program for those in need and clean up areas just adds more to the loss of revenue and an increase in expenditures.

Removing some restrictions for the possibility of affordable housing, creating jobs and growing an interest to move into our city or start a business can then become a reality.

Q: How do you feel about tax incentives, the city’s historic use of abatements to spur development and how they should be used moving forward?

O’Neill: I know that there are people who love to hate TIF as much as they love BBQ and the Chiefs. However, we must recognize that it takes different tools to develop different parts of the city.

I am not anti-TIF, but I do believe it must be used responsibly. The first step is to help the new leadership at the (Economic Development Corporation) clean up the mess we’ve seen in recent media reports. As long as we have that type of nonsense, no one will have faith in our development processes.

We also need to continue building on the work of the Advance KC process to streamline incentives and provide greater oversight. We lose time and progress when initiatives are abandoned.

Smith: Citizens come first. Neighborhood meetings should be held to discuss their desires. In lower-income areas, utilize what funding TIFS, CIDS, etc., to help bring improvements that don’t increase property taxes.


Q: Should KCPD remain under control of the Board of Police Commissioners? Or should the city resume local control? Please explain your position.

O’Neill: The fact that no other city in the country runs its police department the way

we do should tell us something. If it worked so well, then cities would be clamoring to change their system to ours!

That’s going to be a hard thing to change — it’s a state statute change — so, in the meantime, let’s leverage the opportunity to work with this new police chief who has signaled a willingness to be communicative, efficient, and creative. She deserves the time to orient the department towards her vision.

Until we have state leadership open to local control or a coordinated, concerted effort at the local level demanding it, focusing on local control is more a distraction than a help.

Smith: We should leave the police department the way it is, because there is already local control of the department by the governor appointing KCMO residents and the mayor is on that board. Thus local control!

We already see that the mayor and City Council do not adhere to the way our city is set up to be run as a city-management system. Our elected officials have put ordinances together to stop the city manager from actually being able to do his job. Do we want the mayor and council to be over our safety and our city? I say no!

Q: How would you hope to engage new Chief of Police Stacey Graves and what sort of reform or resources do you believe KCPD needs to better serve and protect the city?

O’Neill: Funding is not the problem, we have budgeted for 1,400 officers for the past several years. We currently have about 1,100 officers. While hiring 300 officers would impact the budget, most agree finding the recruits to hire is a difficult task.

I think implementing KC360 and adding components from the KC NoVA program would be important first steps in addressing the crime problem in the short term. I would like to see more interaction by police in the communities as advocated by the KC360 program.

The council has allocated $30 million over the next five years — $6 million per year for next five years — to assist with violence prevention. In addition, the KCPD is looking for another $16 million in this upcoming budget to address their issues. Ninety-three percent of the KCPD budget goes to personnel. Every cut we make affects the safety of our citizens

Smith: We have to get back to community policing and, with the officer shortage we have now, that is going to take some strategic efforts on everyone’s part. Starting with the new police chief all the way down to the rank and file agreeing to take the initiative to actually do police work again.

Long term, we need to hold criminals accountable. Build a jail. We will need time to staff the police department so they can adequately patrol the streets, which will result in a reduction of crime and 911 calls.

Q: How do you believe KCPD is perceived by residents? And what can be done to improve and/or strengthen the department’s relationship with the community?

O’Neill: Above question referenced KC 360 and KC NoVA, both are essential going forward. I have talked to residents who are scared to death in their neighborhoods.

They want a police presence. However, community policing, Community Action Network (CAN) Centers and more interaction with the neighborhood leaders, ministers and activists is key.

Smith: Residents have rated KCPD in the top five of the most-wanted city service as well as satisfaction of service from 2012 to 2021 on the city of Kansas City’s residential survey. See page 5 and 80.

Since 2019, the current term of this administration, satisfaction of the police has dropped under 60% for the first time since the surveys in 2012. However, the police (department) is still in the top five. Our mayor and existing council have caused a division between the residents and City Hall with the stunts they have pulled in the last several years for example:

  • Defunding the police;
  • Sue the police with our tax dollars;
  • Removing laws off the books;
  • Dismissing charges of the people assaulting our officers;
  • Local control.

I believe this has caused a drop in satisfaction of police services due to the actions from this current administration.
First of all, we have to stop taking laws/ordinances off the books preventing officers from doing their jobs. Then, we have to work on some kind of state legislation to force our local prosecutors to actually do their jobs and prosecute.

The criminals know they are not going to be held accountable after committing a crime, so they will keep doing it. We have to get back to community policing to restore the community and law enforcement's trust in our local government. In the short term, let our officers know that they are needed and appreciated in our city. We should be there to back them 100%.


Q: Kansas City has seen record numbers of homicides in recent years. What can the city council do to stem the tide of violence?

O’Neill: Fund programs that address and educate our youth and how they view violence. Also, go back to KC NoVA. In 2014, we had the lowest number of murders, almost half, in many years both before and since.

Smith: Look at current programs that address conflict resolution, mental health and addiction, parenting-respect and responsibilities. We need to support and encourage these programs through community meetings, public schools, churches, etc. These programs need to be challenging and have a significant impact with no more rubber-stamping or a trophy for just attending.

We need to hire more officers and have them patrolling the streets (visibility deters a lot of crime). Encourage neighborhood block watches and gatherings to bring communities back together. Stop taking laws off the books allowing the criminals to have more rights than the citizens.

City Hall needs to stay in its lane and let the police do what they know to do to protect our residents and businesses. City officials should be contacting the state representatives and the governor to fire prosecutors that do not do their jobs and actually prosecute crimes. Build a jail!

Q: What other factors do you think drive the increased violent crime and how can the city council address those?

O’Neill: [No answer provided]

Smith: No consequences, no local jail, the opportunity to commit crime due to the lack of police presence are just a few factors. We need to prosecute, build a jail and hire more police.


Q: While there are numerous major projects proposed or in the works (e.g. new KCI terminal, I-670 cap/park, KC Streetcar expansion, Current stadium, Buck O’Neil Bridge), how would you improve the city’s infrastructure to improve the daily lives of residents?

O’Neill: First, we have to determine how to build or incentivize building low-income housing. Finding a sustainable funding mechanism would be an excellent start for the Housing Trust Fund.

As far as the above-mentioned projects, they are all important to the city along with many, many more. However, I do not believe leveraging our low-income housing issues on our development community is the answer. They just won’t build and that means we don’t grow.

We need infrastructure in the Northland. The majority of growth is going to occur north of the river, and we have to be able to allocate resources to continue the unprecedented growth that has taken place there.

Smith: We need to start from the top and work our way down to cut and get rid of what is wasteful and take care of our basic services and make sure capital improvements dollars are in the formula when the budget is made.

Basic services, such as trash collection and snow removal, have improved. More planning and collaboration are needed when working on projects. Water/sewer and utilities should be done before road resurfacing. We have too many unnecessary projects being repeated costing us money.

Work with Public Works and the Water Department to plan a work schedule for each council district and then develop a maintenance plan for future repairs.

Q: How do you envision the city’s mass transit evolving before the World Cup in 2026? How important is it to ensure that changes/improvements benefit the city beyond 2026?

O’Neill: We have to be able to focus on new transit methods throughout the city. I understand some people believe that cars are the problem. Maybe so, but we are a 315-mile, car-centric city and that is not changing any time soon.

Rolling out IRIS in the Northland on March 15 gives us a great opportunity to fix many of the transportation problems those of us from the Northland have been demanding a solution to. This could be it.

Smith: Unless we are getting federal dollars and have a design that can benefit the whole city and not impact our businesses in residential areas, then I might be in favor of more streetcars or a rail system.

I believe financially we should look into better bus service throughout the city and possibly look at more taxis or shuttle services. Any changes or improvements should always benefit the city with an emphasis on basic city services such as sidewalks, curbs, roadways and cleaner communities.

Q: Do you support building a new baseball stadium downtown? Where should it go and how should it be paid for, if so?

O’Neill: I like a stadium downtown, probably in the East Village area. I have no idea at this time what the financial ask from the city will be, so I can’t comment on the cost.

At a projected cost of $2 billion dollars, I am guessing the ask will be substantial, but again I don’t have any idea how this will move forward.

Smith: If the city as a whole wants a baseball stadium downtown then I would be OK with it, but not if it costs money from the city's budget and not by any increased taxes. Honestly, I think the stadiums are in a perfect place and, maybe after the city’s basic service needs are fulfilled, we can look at additional development in the area to attract more businesses and revenue.


Q: What other issues are important to you? And what would your top handful of legislative priorities be if elected?

O’Neill: I want to see more police officers. I want more sidewalks connecting schools to neighborhoods. I would like to see our Planning Department speed up the permitting process as well as getting our HR Department to find faster ways to get employee applications vetted.

Smith: Please provide your answer below:

  1. Build trust with the community and City Hall;
  2. Work on and with two of the most yearly requested services — public safety and infrastructure;
  3. Promote all business — entrepreneur, big and small business;
  4. Accountability: I plan on making sure that all areas of the city are involved in the way we spend our tax dollars, holding our elected officials to a high standard of doing business;
  5. I want outside audits of every department and line by line budgeting displayed on the city website. Full transparency to the people of our city.

Q: What qualifications/experience do you possess that you believe will help you be an effective and successful KCMO council member?

O’Neill: I think having the experience of four years on the council is huge and the fact that I have shown consistently that I am responsive to my constituents and work with all of my colleagues to get things done is important.

I have proven to be both pragmatic and I use common sense to reach conclusions. It doesn’t hurt that I am a hard worker as well.

Smith: I have facilitated meetings from one-on-one to group settings. My work experience has involved leadership, problem-solving, resolutions, communications (listening, writing and speaking) and integrity.

This is a full-time position to me. I will put in as many hours needed in a day to achieve what is needed for that day, even working into the evening. The citizens will be my priority and my door will always be open. I will also attempt to make many community and neighborhood meetings. I will create monthly meetings with my district and attend other council districts’ meetings.

KCMO City Council district map
New Kansas City, Missouri, City Council map (effective Aug. 1, 2023)