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KCMO City Council 5th District At-Large candidates: Curls, Kelley weigh in on key issues

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Jun 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 17:26:59-04

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 City Council 5th District At-Large seat, Darrell Curls and Michael Kelley, 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 councilman Lee Barnes Jr. 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?

Curls: Yes, affordable housing needs to be spread across the city and concentrated in one single area. I will continue to support the city’s Housing Trust Fund but, more importantly, continue to work with the real-estate community, neighborhood groups and organizations to redevelop vacant and abandoned properties within our neighborhoods making them affordable to those who wish to rent or buy.

Kelley: Yes, more needs to be done to create affordable housing in Kansas City. If elected, I will focus on two key areas:

  1. Redefining “affordability,” and;
  2. Changing our zoning code.

First, the current definition for affordable housing simply isn't what most people can afford. Our city’s definition classifies an affordable one-bedroom apartment as $1,200 a month. This is because we use a regional definition for affordability, which includes wealthy places such as Johnson County. We need to rework that definition to be more KC-centric.
Second, we need to change our zoning code to move away from an overemphasis on single-family zoning alone. The rules we currently have mean that, more often than not, we’re required to build single-family dwellings alone. Not only does this contribute to sprawl (which drives up cost of living and necessitates creating more infrastructure we can’t maintain), but in doing so it exacerbates some of the main drivers of our carbon emissions (such as transportation).

We should encourage a more varied and nuanced approach. Such a step would allow us to build more of the duplexes, fourplexes, and multifamily dwellings that constitute a “missing middle” of housing which has been slowly disappearing for decades. This will also allow us to increase housing stock, which can lower the demand that is driving up prices as well.

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

Curls: It has an impact on a lot of other issues such as houselessness, indigent care, transportation, and others.

Kelley: I strongly believe that affordable housing — and a lack of affordable housing, in particular — contributes to many of the problems our community faces. In addition to issues of infrastructure and sustainability listed above, I believe an argument can also be made that a lack of affordable housing contributes to negative public health as well.

The National Housing Conference, among other organizations, notes that affordable housing plays a role in public health impacts in a number of ways.

For example, affordable housing can allow families to spend more on healthy foods, improving nutritional outcomes. Additionally, the stability that affordable housing brings can help to lower stress and improve mental wellness. Finally, affordable and reliable housing can help those living with chronic illness by ensuring an efficient platform for health-care delivery.

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?

Curls: Incentives work when they are used properly. A sound financial analysis of each project can help establish whether TIF is needed, and the TIF commission must make sure that the provisions of the statute are followed.

Kelley: While tax incentives can be helpful for spurring development, such development has too often come at the expense of the most vulnerable people and entities.

In south KC, for example, one of my opponents was involved in advancing abatements for the Cerner project. That was the largest TIF incentives in our nation’s history and all our neighborhoods have to show for it are broken sidewalks, littered streets, and run-down developments.

We need a new approach. The City Council should do more to listen to third-party financial analysis of a project and follow their recommendations. This is personal for me: My wife works for Kansas City Public Schools, and our oldest daughter is a student in that system. If we give away too much for a development that doesn’t deliver, that’s money coming out of my wife’s paycheck and books coming off my daughter’s shelf. I’m not going to let that happen.


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

Curls: Yes, I support local control. We are the only city in the country without local control. We control the budget, but not the department. Not a good workable proposition for the city or its residents. The city controls the fire department and has done so pretty well. I believe the city can also control the police department.

Kelley: Control of the KCPD must be returned to the city. There are a plethora of reasons why, but the following reasons rise to the top for me:

Community trust — There simply cannot be real improvement in community trust with the police department, especially within the Black community in Kansas City, without local control.

Whether it be high-profile beatings or killings of unarmed residents or unreported slights, the community simply can’t be convinced that the police department is trustworthy. The current system amounts to Jefferson City saying it knows Kansas City better than the people of Kansas City do; that’s ridiculous.

Lack of data access — Not being able to access data elements, such as traffic tickets, makes it harder for other city staff to stem the concerning increase in car crashes and fatalities, for instance. Part of the reason for this is because of state control of the police department, which often means that the KCPD can ignore or slow-walk requests for information, even if it’s in the public’s best interest.

Lack of transparency — Perhaps most concerning is that we’re required to give 25% of our city’s budget to the KCPD, but we don’t actually know where all of that money is going. The KCPD has the unique ability to reallocate funds already programmed for something else if they choose, and they’re able to do so without telling the mayor or the City Council. Such a lack of transparency bears a striking resemblance to the opaque but corrupt nature of the KCPD of yesteryear when it was controlled by the Pendergast political machine.

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?

Curls: [no answer provided]

Kelley: I would engage with Chief Graves and work to understand her strategies for building trust with the community and working to make the KCPD more accessible to the public. I believe that the City Council should work to scale back enforcement of low-level offenses to enhance the KCPD’s focus on dedicating available resources on stopping violent crime.

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?

Curls: I believe the perception of the police department is poor, in part, due to not having local control. Local control would be a great beginning. After that I believe more community engagement, community policing where the police are in the neighborhoods more, and more involvement in the schools is needed.

Kelley: I believe that the perception of the KCPD is at a low point with residents at the moment, and I firmly believe that the best way to improve that is with a return to local control.


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

Curls: The current council has a couple of programs that should help such as KC Blueprint, and KC 360. The council has to also be working to provide good paying jobs through economic growth, working with our youth and engaging neighborhoods for help.

If people are earning and making a good living, I think that will help reduce crime and violence. We also have to be engaging with our youth, in schools and in the community, by starting with them early and providing them avenues that help keep them from considering a path of violence.

Also by creating strong, vibrant neighborhoods with residents involved by working with each other, working with police and being involved with decisions made to address violence as the two programs mentioned previously will do.

Kelley: I believe that homicides, like much of the violent crime we’ve seen in recent years, can be traced to the fundamental issue of unmet needs. When people don’t have basic needs met (affordable housing, access to economic opportunity, healthy foods, etc.), they are forced to make decisions which may seem drastic to many of us, but emerge from a need for survival.

If we, as a city, don't want people to engage in those unlawful activities, then we need to advance policies, plans, and projects which help to address those needs. I also think we need to support efforts advanced by the current council, most notable among this is the KC 360

plan with $30 million in dedicated funding.

While this is a longer-term strategy, it must be done to ensure that as numbers trend downward, they stay on that trajectory.

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

Curls: Conflict-resolution programs have to be established in order to try and prevent situations from becoming deadly. The city, county, and state should come up with ideas on how to implement a program that includes youth, neighborhoods, churches, businesses, etc., so people have a place to resolve issues under anonymity if possible.

Kelley: I think we, as a city, should do more to understand if there is a connection between gun violence and traffic violence and how to address it for two reasons.

First, Kansas City is hamstrung in much of what we can do to increase gun control by Jefferson City. While we have thankfully been granted some judicial relief regarding extremist legislation like the Second Amendment Preservation Act, many other laws that limit what the City Council can do remain. In short, we aren’t being allowed to do what works, so we have to get creative.

Second, while the connection between gun violence and traffic violence may seem like a stretch on the surface, it appears to be an issue on the rise. Research indicates that road rage shootings are increasing across the country. Given that the city is already working to use data to improve traffic safety (via the Vision Zero Action Plan), we should use this as an opportunity to understand the connection with other forms of violent crime, like gun violence, and work to address it through traffic and infrastructure improvements.


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?

Curls: The city needs to invest more money in infrastructure. More investment in curbs, sidewalks, street repair/repaving, and bridge replacement. We have to use all available resources — state, as well as federal grants — and increase the amount from the general fund for our infrastructure needs.

Kelley: I would focus on two elements of our current efforts to improve the daily lives of residents:

  1. Pursuing more federal funding opportunities, and;
  2. Increasing staff in key departments, particularly Public Works.

First, there are a number of new federal funding opportunities that Kansas City can, and should, take advantage of to bring investment and improvements to the part of our community that need them the most.
For example, one place that desperately needs investment is 75th Street, especially between Troost and Prospect. We can and should pursue funding opportunities like the Active Transportation Infrastructure Investment Program within the December spending reauthorization from Congress as a means to pay for this improvement.

Second, I believe it’s important to invest more in the people we task to carry out these projects. I believe that our Public Works Department needs a dedicated community engagement officer who works to inform and build trust with communities long disinvested and kept out of the loop of key projects.

I also believe we should increase the number of staff within our Office of Environmental Quality to better support the implementation elements of our Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan related to infrastructure and other goals.

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?

Curls: I will work with the KCATA to see what plans they have for accompanying the arrival of the World Cup. We have to have a workable plan for this event, which should include plans that benefit the city beyond 2026.

That would include expanding bus routes (express and local) throughout the city, looking at expanding the street car, and other innovative solutions — like the IRIS program that’s being launched in the Northland this month.

Kelley: The primary goal of evolving our mass-transit system should be to ensure it benefits Kansas City beyond 2026. With that in mind, I believe the focus should be on the following three elements to help it evolve for 2026 and beyond:

  1. Expanding available routes — First, we need to expand available routes in Kansas City. That should include working to expand transit options up to the new airport as well as following the recommendations of the East/West Transit study currently being conducted. The latter will help chart a new route along one of the key corridors that leads out to the stadium;
  2. Improving bus stops and reliability — We must also work to make the process of using transit an easier experience, especially for those who don’t have access to a car and rely on this mode to access the necessary elements for a good quality of life. We should invest more in benches and covered bus stops (without hostile design) as well as universally accessible public restrooms. We also need to work to attract more drivers to the profession to fill the ranks emptied by the COVID-19 pandemic;
  3. Better alignment with first-/last-mile mobility options — Finally, we need to make transit better align with first-/last-mile mobility options. Transit takes you a long way, but you still have to walk, roll, or bike to get to the front door of your destination. With that in mind, we need to concentrate investments in sidewalks, trails, and other multimodal infrastructure so that it aligns with existing bus stops and connects to key community assets, such as schools, job centers, and grocery stores.

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

Curls: Not at this time.

Kelley: As it currently stands, I do not support a new baseball stadium downtown for the following reasons:

  1. Lack of community engagement — First and foremost, there has been a serious lack of true community engagement. Three hastily scheduled meetings with lack of accessibility or child care immediately shuts out a sizable portion of our community. We can’t reasonably conclude the community supports this if we haven’t done more to hear feedback from the community;
  2. Scrutiny compared to pressing issues — Additionally, there have been far too many times when we have said “no” to good projects (especially with regards to housing and transportation) because “we can’t afford it.” The proposed stadium downtown needs to be able to hold up under similar scrutiny;
  3. Alignment with city goals — Finally, I haven’t seen any details about how this project will align with the city’s stated goals, particularly around infrastructure and sustainability, and good union jobs. Such a massive project can’t be shoehorned into our community; it has to be crafted to align with the Kansas City we want it to be.


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

Curls: More attention to basic services, economic growth, more attention to small business, programs for youth.

Kelley: I am running on four key issues, and my legislative priorities can more or less be understood underneath each of those planks:

  1. Public health — Helping us recover from the COVID-19 pandemic while also addressing long-standing issues such as mental illness;
  2. Infrastructure — Working to improve our basic city services, our roads, and our sidewalks while also asking the question: “Who are we building all of this for?”;
  3. Neighborhoods — Taking steps to improve quality of life while also addressing challenges related to affordable housing and houselessness;
  4. Sustainability — Making Kansas City a leader in the fight against climate change.

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

Curls: I have been involved with and still serve on elected and volunteer boards and commissions that help benefit Kansas Citians. I currently serve as president of Kirkside Homes Association (22 years), current Jackson County Democratic Committeeman (23 years, past chair), Community Assistance Council, former Hickman Mills school board member (nine years, past vice president, president), Jackson County Combat Commission (six years, vice chair and chair), UAW #249 shop steward (six years), Public Improvements Advisory Committee (eight years), South Kansas City Alliance, North Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few.

Kelley: I believe I am the most qualified candidate for the 5th District At-Large because I am someone who can coalesce seven votes. Nothing happens on the City Council unless you’re able to count to seven votes and, on multiple issues related to the key planks of my platform, I have been able to go to City Hall and get policies adopted, plans developed, and projects moving forward.

For far too long, south KC has been neglected by establishment leaders, and I’ll bring a fresh perspective to lift up all of Kansas City. While my opponents may talk about experience in county government or their various community roles, I am the only candidate in this race with actual experience moving legislation through the legislative body in which we all hope to serve.

If the people of Kansas City want someone with the ability to get things going on day one, I am that candidate.

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