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KCMO City Council 1st District candidates: Gahagan, Willett weigh in on key issues

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Posted at 4:31 PM, Jun 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 17:31:27-04

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, Nathan Willett and Chris Gahagan, for the City Council 1st District seat 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 responses. Answers have been lightly edited for AP style and grammar..

Incumbent councilwoman Heather Hall is term-limited and cannot seek reelection.


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?

Gahagan: Yes, more needs to be done to address affordable housing to include creating more opportunities to develop low-income and workforce housing.

Willett: The root of our affordable housing problem is a supply problem. In my district, the newly adopted housing codes will make it ~$30,000 more expensive to build an average size house. We need to work with builders to eliminate barriers, not put in place policies that price people out of the market.

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

Gahagan: The inability of residents to secure affordable housing directly impacts other issues facing our city — including crime, growth, and overall livability in Kansas City.

Willett: Affordable housing is a factor in other problems facing our city. It drives up the student-mobility rate in our schools which, in turn, creates a less stable environment.

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?

Gahagan: I support the use of tax incentives where there is demonstrable need for them. The current system of multiple agencies with overlapping and confusing authority undermines trust in the use of tax incentives that I believe are necessary for continued growth.

Every project should be judged on its own merits, because there is not a cookie-cutter answer; though, I believe developers have a reasonable expectation for consistency in how standards are applied.

The city should study the ability to approve special zones, especially for low-income and workforce housing, that allow for a streamlined process for approval.

Willett: It should be done with all stakeholders at the table and with transparency to the public.


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

Gahagan: The current political climate in Missouri makes any discussion of local control irrelevant. I will focus on working with Chief Graves to recruit and retain sworn officers and civilian employees to address a severe workforce shortage throughout the department. I will bring the same commitment to KCFD, because it is facing the same workforce issues.

Willett: The Northland council members were left out of the divisive May 20th, 2021, “same-day” ordinance that aimed to reallocate $42 million of the KCPD budget. This prevented the four Northland representatives from bringing it to a committee and calling upon their constituents for feedback or questioning the legality, which would have saved the city millions in legal fees. Later, the ordinance was found to violate Missouri State Statutes by a judge and thrown out.

We need to reform City Hall first before we can begin to have that conversation — amend section 502 of our city charter to prevent same day adoptions of public-safety measures without a member of at least five of six council districts’ in support.

There’s a reason why Missouri Amendment 4, increasing the minimum threshold of KCPD spending to 25%, passed in every part of my Council District by a large margin. They don’t trust City Hall. The current question should be how can we restore trust throughout our city in the political process?

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?

Gahagan: Chief Graves was previously the major in charge of North Patrol (Division). In that role, I had an opportunity to engage with her in community forums. She consistently made herself available to address resident concerns.

I believe she is committed to allocating resources to better serve the city. She has already increased the number of patrol officers to provide better coverage and presence in the 1st District.

Willett: I am already engaged with our new Chief. I was proud of her performance during the final round of the search and have been impressed by the leadership she has shown so far. She has already listened to Northland neighbors by making sure there are more patrols in our area.

I hope to work with her as a council person on the recruitment and retention side of KCPD. Our first responders must have a council that points out the good work that they do and has their back when it comes to increasing officer salaries.

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?

Gahagan: After two months of knocking on almost 3,000 doors in the 1st District, my constituents are overwhelmingly supportive of KCPD and are encouraged by the selection of Chief Graves to lead the department.

During her time at North Patrol, she developed strong relationships with Northland community groups, and I will advocate for more opportunities to engage residents to discuss how to make KCPD more effective in the Northland.

Willett: In my district, KCPD is respected and welcomed in our neighborhoods. I realize that isn’t the case in every council district or area of KC. I will work with KCPD and the public on education programs like “know your rights” to build trust.


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

Gahagan: Crime can be addressed partly through policing by having more patrol officers to respond to incidents timely, and sufficient officers to have a reasonable presence to deter crime and resolve crimes that occur.

However, violence is not solely a policing issue. Non-police systems to reduce crime are the key component to crime reduction and must include low- or no-barrier shelters and a coordinated system of mental health and addiction services.

For example, the Kansas City Municipal Court operates nationally recognized restorative justice programs: Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Veterans Court, and Domestic Violence Court. These programs should be maximized for effectiveness along with coordinating efforts with community-based programs to develop an integrated and comprehensive program of services.

I strongly support building, or partnering to build, a city jail.

Willett: To stop homicides, we need to look at evidence-based prevention. It starts by investing in the next generation to prevent violent crimes. As a teacher, I am a firm believer that a quality education can unlock opportunities and eliminate bad cycles.

In the communities that experience the highest amount of violent crime, they also experience the highest rate of teacher turnover. I support eliminating the 1% earnings tax to educators who work in Title I schools.

We also need to prosecute the offenders to keep the small number of people who are responsible for the large number of violent crimes off the street.

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

Gahagan: See above.

Willett: Instability and lack of opportunities. Partner with our educational institutions and other nonprofits that connect Kansas Citians to workforce opportunities.


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?

Gahagan: My primary focus will be on basic infrastructure improvements to our streets, sidewalks, sewer/water lines and bridges. Next, I will focus on infrastructure improvements in the Northland that will provide opportunity for continued growth in the Northland.

Willett: The Northland is 40% of the city yet only received 8% of the GO bonds for our infrastructure needs. I will fight for Northland’s share of tax dollars to make neighborhood improvements in our older/aging roads and neighborhoods.

In my own neighborhood, I put in a request that was successfully filled that made the sidewalks in my neighborhood ADA compliant and safe for kids to get to school. I will champion neighborhood improvements for the Northland.

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

Gahagan: The incredibly exciting opportunity to serve as a World Cup host city presents unique transportation problems that are not likely to be replicated.

As for mass transit generally, I can speak from a Northland perspective. Traditional public transit will not work in the Northland. The city’s recent creation of a ride-share option at a low, fixed price that takes smaller vehicles from points close to residents’ homes to points close to workplaces and transit hubs seems a viable first step to address transit needs in the Northland.

I support streetcar expansion if it is economically feasible. As much as I would love to see a streetcar line in the Northland, the economics don’t support it. Like traditional bus service, I do not believe there is sufficient density to put a streetcar system in the Northland. I believe the city needs to consider a rail system from the airport to a transportation hub downtown.

Willett: While the World Cup is exciting and will benefit Kansas City economically, we need to be careful in expecting that the temporary traffic of the event should dictate the prioritization of transit in our region.

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

Gahagan: I want the Royals to remain in Kansas City, Missouri. I support building a new stadium so long as it is not burdensome on taxpayers. It is also important to ensure that a new entertainment district does not cannibalize existing entertainment areas in the city.

Without access to the discussions that are currently ongoing, it is difficult to respond to specific aspects of any proposal. I will focus on keeping the Royals in our city and making sure that any stadium proposal is designed to spur additional opportunities to grow local businesses and to attract new opportunities without creating a subsidy so large that we cannot improve basic city services and improvements to infrastructure.

Willett: If the ownership group finds a site and wants to spend their money to build it, I am OK with that. I oppose putting the taxpayers on the hook for projects that billionaires can pay for. I am proud to be the only candidate in my race to not accept campaign donations from the Royals organization. I will not be bought on this issue.


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

Gahagan: Please provide your answer below:

  • Improve and enhance basic city services;
  • Infrastructure improvements and upgrades in the Northland to support future growth and development as well as infrastructure maintenance throughout the city;
  • Development of a comprehensive plan for economic growth to attract new businesses and grow existing businesses to create jobs, which includes reducing the difficulty of navigating the confusing and seemingly arbitrary red tape at City Hall that serves as a disincentive for development and job creation;
  • Development of a plan for low-income and workforce housing that maintains the dignity of residents and enhances the viability of the city.

Willett: Keep local government focused on local issues — stay out of culture wars:

  • Support the recruitment and retention efforts for our first responders. We are 400 police officers short of what we need to service Kansas City;
  • I would like to put in a new community center in my council district. There are currently 10 community centers in the six council districts. There are no community centers in the new First District;
  • Amend City charter to strengthen the political process; 
  • Make neighborhood improvements in the aging areas.

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

Gahagan: I have been a lawyer in private practice in Kansas City for almost 34 years. I built a successful practice based on building relationships and consensus wherever possible. I also developed strong advocacy skills when consensus was unattainable.

In my law practice, I divided my time between representing a public school district in south Kansas City and general civil litigation. Working with school boards for 28 years, I learned how to listen to community voices and to build consensus. In my work as a litigator, I learned how to effectively advocate for my clients’ interests while maintaining professionalism and ethics.

In 2020, I served on the Clay County Constitutional Charter Commission. This bipartisan commission drafted a constitution for Clay County that had the consensus of its 14 members and the charter we drafted was approved by more than 80% of voters in November 2020.

My long-standing relationships with community leaders throughout the city and reputation for ethics and hard work will enable me to better benefit the residents of my district and the entire city.

Willett: In order to change City Hall, we need to change the type of people that we send there. It is time for a teacher!

  • Teach for America KC Alum
  • 3rd Generation Northland, I know my neighborhoods.
  • Successfully managed an improvement project for my own neighborhood and the Platte County School District.
  • Endorsed by Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police

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