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KCMO City Council 6th District candidates: Duncan, Tarwater weigh in key issues

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Posted at 4:40 PM, Jun 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-15 17:40:27-04

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.

Dan T. Tarwater III and Johnathan Duncan are on the ballot for the City Council 6th District in-district seat. Both 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 Kevin McManus 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?

Duncan: Kansas City is experiencing an affordable-housing crisis. Housing is a human right, and we need to treat it like one.

Right now, developers often say it is “too expensive” to build truly affordable housing. As long as profit is a part of the equation, housing will never be truly affordable. That’s why I will support municipal social housing.

Municipal social housing is housing that is democratically controlled, permanently affordable, and off the private market. It can be achieved by investing in our Housing Trust Fund to build things like cooperative housing, community land trusts, and municipally owned housing.

Tarwater: I want to evaluate the plans that have already been put in place and see where we can improve. We do need to improve and I will have some suggestions.

One will be to take blighted homes and rehab them with people that we get into a training program so that they can learn a skill in all the trades. This will help neighborhoods by removing the blight and teach a valuable skill to new people so they too can find good paying jobs.

We can then give these to families in need. They pay taxes and insurance for five years, they get the home free and clear.

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

Duncan: Affordable housing is one of the most important issues impacting Kansas City right now. Nearly 50% (250,000 people) of the population of Kansas City are tenants and rent is the biggest bill most people pay. Access to safe, accessible, and affordable housing intersects with nearly every other issue.

We can’t expect people to feel safe in their communities, have gainful employment, receive an education, or be active voices in their neighborhoods if they don't have a safe place to live. Lack of affordable housing forces the poor and working class farther to the outskirts of our city, and without a great public-transportation system, it forces people to be car dependent which is an additional cost burden and a key polluter to our environment.

Tarwater: These issues can lead to crime problems, health problems and staffing issues for local small businesses.

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?

Duncan: Any development that receives taxpayer money should provide tangible benefits to our community. When I say tangible, I don’t mean a promise of future economic growth. I mean things like affordable housing, decent transportation systems and infrastructure.

Historically, development incentives in Kansas City have defunded our roads and libraries and short-changed our kids and schools by about $1,700 per student. I don’t think that’s a fair exchange for our tax dollars.

If we were to only give tax incentives to projects that give a tangible community benefit, not just promise of future economic growth, then we will be directly putting those funds back into our community.

Tarwater: We need to make sure that they benefit the community as a whole. We can use them to move a business from one area and blight that area just to move them to a new area.


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

Duncan: Kansas City needs local control over the KCPD now. It is simply unacceptable that we have a police force that is not accountable to the people they police. Lack of accountability in the KCPD is killing our people and costing taxpayers millions in settlements while comprising over 25% of the city’s general fund, which effectively defunds social services and programs that will actually prevent crime.

Additionally, lack of local control means we also do not have control or accountability over the tax dollars we allocate to their department. We must ensure every dollar of our city’s budget is accountable to the residents and taxpayers.

Tarwater: I do like local control with representatives from each district, so that we get a well-rounded perspective. This issue is one that will not be decided by local government because the state controls this decision.

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?

Duncan: While I am encouraged by Chief Graves’ public appearances and community-based approach, we know police reforms will never address the underlying causes of crime.

We need more resources for our communities — including things like truly affordable housing, thriving wages, and child care. I would support reinstituting the residency requirements for KCPD to require that the police officers patrolling our communities with guns are actually part of the communities they police.

Tarwater: We need to help her with staffing issues that the KCPD are facing. Not only is the KCPD facing this but the KCFD is also very short-staffed and this too needs to be addressed.

They do need the city and the county to work together to build the new detention center. I do see that this is now happening and this will do a lot to curb crime.

Right now, the city does not have anywhere to hold someone in “timeout” when they are arrested for most of the crimes other than murder. With the new facility people will be able to get the mental help that so many of them need. They will also have other wrap-around services that will help them on a better path.

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?

Duncan: The residents who I've spoken with are frustrated with the fact that the KCPD receives 30% of our city’s budget while mental-health and social services remain drastically underfunded. We can improve and strengthen the department’s relationship with the community by actually addressing the concerns the community has, returning local control to the people of Kansas City, and requiring that officers live within and are accountable to the communities they police.

Tarwater: I do think overall it is good. Crime is an issue and we need policing to help the neighborhoods. Without people feeling safe, we don’t have community.


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

Duncan: City Council can start by addressing the underlying causes of crime, such as lack of affordable housing, lack of accessible public services (i.e. health and mental-health services), and wealth inequality, if we ever hope to actually address the crime problem rather than simply throwing all of our money and efforts at enforcement.

I also support alternatives to calling the police when someone is in crisis. We shouldn’t respond to every crisis with a gun. We need professionals who are separate from the police department and are trained in de-escalation and mental health to respond to individuals in crisis.

Tarwater: Wrap-around services, including mental health, associated with a detention facility will help. The CIT officers are great and very helpful for the police and we need to fund more officers with this training.

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

Duncan: The root cause of crime is a community that doesn’t have its needs met. As I mentioned above, City Council can address these through things like affordable housing, public services, and transportation.

Short-term solutions involve addressing the immediate and dire need of beds for our houseless population that also provide wrap-around services for our houseless folks. Long-term solutions look like an intentional focus on incentivising affordable housing, economic development for jobs that provide thriving wages, and expanding access to health and mental-health care services.

Tarwater: The pandemic was very hard on a lot of people and we need to get people back to work. We need to help small businesses. They are the lifeblood of our economy, so they can get going and hire more people. I am sure that the lack of affordable housing plays a part in the crime that we are seeing also.


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?

Duncan: We need to ask ourselves a question: Do any of these projects tangibly benefit the people of Kansas City? If you ask the people of Kansas City what infrastructure improvements we need, they will tell you sidewalks, repaved roads, and increased public transportation.

While many of these projects are beautiful and exciting, the people of Kansas City didn’t ask for a new airport, an I-670 cap, or a new stadium. They are asking for basic city services. The first thing I will do to improve the daily lives of residents is to ask them what they need, and craft policy based on that.

Tarwater: Back to the basics. We need to improve our curbs, sidewalks and streets in all the neighborhoods — not just a few. We should have “hot shot” crews that just react on a daily basis for calls about potholes. You call it in and a few hours later it is fixed. This will save some roads from getting too bad to fix. We need to address safety concerns. Panhandling and the homeless issues must be addressed also, and we can’t keep kicking it down the road.

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?

Duncan: We need to stop framing our infrastructure improvements around big events and tourists, and start building for the people who already live here. If we invest in a mass-transit system that works for the residents of Kansas City, we won’t be scrambling to figure out how to accommodate tourists.

Tarwater: Any improvement we do should not just benefit one event and I don’t see that happening. I would love to see the route extended to the new airport, out south and also to the stadiums.

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

Duncan: I don’t think taxpayers should subsidize a downtown stadium for the Royals. The people of Kansas City shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billionaires.

Any development that receives taxpayer money should provide tangible benefits to our community. When I say tangible, I don’t mean a promise of future economic growth. I mean things like affordable housing, decent transportation systems, and infrastructure.

If the Royals want city funds for a stadium, they should contribute part of their revenues into things that benefit our communities and sign community-benefits agreements to protect our workers and residents, especially residents surrounding the project.

Tarwater: Most likely this will be decided by the Jackson County Legislature since they own the stadiums. I would think a better spot for the stadium would be downtown by the old KC Star building.

By putting it here you help the Power and Light District and the Crossroads District. If you put it in East Village, you kill these areas and right now the Power and Light is being subsidized by our tax dollars to the tune of about $20 million a year. With the decking project over 670, this would work.

With all this said, I am not sure if and or when this could happen. The Royals and the Chiefs are tied together on a lease that doesn’t expire until 2031 and they also have three five-year renewable options that kick in.

The sales tax would have to be renewed and the Chiefs get half, so I am not sure how this will get it paid for. If they are wanting to do it themselves, then that changes things.


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

Duncan: Please provide your answer below:

  1. Affordable housing— The City’s definition of affordable housing is $1,200 for a one-bedroom. Affordable for whom? Truly affordable for the people who live here is closer to $500 for a one-bedroom. I will support the creation of truly affordable housing through municipal social housing — housing that is democratically controlled, permanently affordable, and off the private market. It can be achieved by taxing those who seek to profit from housing and using those funds to build things like cooperative housing, community land trusts, and municipally owned housing;
  2. Development that is equitable, intentional and provides a tangible community benefit to those who live here. Historically, development incentives have defunded our roads and libraries and short-changed our kids and schools;
  3. Climate — The climate is in crisis and Kansas City must act immediately. We must implement the Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan, eliminate emissions, and achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

Tarwater: I want to help get more police on our streets so that we can not only crack down on the murder problem but stop some of these property crimes. The citizens of Kansas City and business are tired of not feeling safe. This has to change.

Our wonderful city was built on friendly people that feel safe coming together for this great community. I will work on solutions to curb panhandling and the homelessness encampments that we see across the city. I will also work on the affordable housing issue that we have.

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

Duncan: As a combat veteran with PTSD, I know the cost when our public services fail those who need them most.

As a director at the VFW National Headquarters, I know how to work with people I don’t agree with to achieve common goals. As director of administrative operations for the National Headquarters for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I administer key committees on issues of strategic planning, structure and governance of the organization as well as discipline and internal accountability.

The nature of my position requires me to work with widely divergent points of views on issues that are critical to the operations and future of the organization. I successfully administered a committee that was charged with creating contingency plans to conduct the business of the organization without a National Convention as required by our bylaws for the first time in our 123-year history.

Over the last three years, I’ve organized with my neighbors as a leader with KC Tenants, the citywide tenant union, spending early mornings and late nights learning how city government works. I believe every policy should be crafted alongside the people who are most impacted to create solutions that work, and I have experience doing just that.

Tarwater: I will be successful because I not only know how to listen to the people of the 6th District, but I have the experience to get things done for the 6th District. I do not like meetings about having meetings; I like action.

With over 28 years of experience in government, I can work to get things done. I know when to compromise and when to fight. I have always been the consensus builder for solutions, while always being a watchdog for our public dollars.

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