KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, mayor's first State of the City address since taking office touched on everything from potholes to pot.
Mayor Quinton Lucas began the address Wednesday night by thanking the Kansas City police officers who helped stop a fleeing car along the parade route, before shifting gears to the perils of potholes and how to fix them.
"Colleagues, we can't keep kicking down the potholed road,” said Lucas, who outlined the position of the ‘pothole czar’ and $17 million earmarked for street resurfacing.
Lucas also said he asked Acting City Manager Earnest Rouse to appoint someone to that role, which will work to better prioritize road projects “to address existing infrastructure challenges and to incorporate our complete streets priorities in these projects.”
The infamous ‘Pothole Czar’ position is being outlined by @QuintonLucasKC as the following:
-Prioritize road projects to address existing problems
-Better coordination across city departments
-Better reporting measures for the public to generate a faster response@41actionnews
— Gabriella Pagán (@GabbyPaganTV) February 13, 2020
The position also will ensure that the city has better measures for citizens to report a “failed road” and also see that the city has responded.
Additionally, Lucas said, the czar would report to city council so officials can see how “spending choices may be perpetuating our infrastructure challenges.”
The mayor also focused on the people who make up the city of Kansas City and removing barriers they might face.
"A quarter of all residents reported that they had to take a second job work more hours or accumulate credit card debt to pay their rent or to pay their mortgage,” Lucas said as a woman in the audience yelled out, "That's right!", to which Lucas responded, “That ain't right."
He then related that plight of penny-pinching for necessities to the reason why zero-fare public transportation is set to roll out this year.
"I'm proud that we have our friends from the private sector who have stepped up, who've talked with us and said maybe there's a role we can play," Lucas said.
That role being Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City providing up to $1 million in funding for at least the first year, to the already $4.8 million from the city and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.
"It's shocking to some folks, but people make decisions based on dollar amounts and single dollars... buying prescriptions or food or transportation and now they're not going to have to do that,” said Greg Sweat, chief medical officer of BCBS of KC.
Robbie Makinen, KCATA president and CEO said public transit is the "one thing that touches everything."
The promise of investments did not stop at transit, as Lucas closed out his first address by announcing that, starting next week, his office will begin the process of pardoning municipal violations of marijuana possession and post an application for a Kansas City Marijuana possession pardon for drug paraphernalia convictions.
"Because it only makes sense, this is where I'll actually be honest for everybody and I get in trouble, right,” Lucas said. “Lots of Americans, lots of Missourians, lots of Kansas Citians have admitted to trying marijuana. Lots actually support either decriminalization entirely or certainly medical marijuana here in KC. We had a vote where I believe the outcome was about 75 percent 'yes' for us reducing penalties for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana so my view is frankly, it is past time."
He also said he will continue to focus his attention on addressing the city's gun violence epidemic and consistently high homicide rate in his State of the City.
Speaking at Center High School, Lucas said that in addition to increasing the number of police officers, he also plans to propose investing in permanent social workers for the Kansas City Police Department.
Lucas also said he hopes to increase the number of probation officers for convicted domestic abusers.
Last year, the KCMO City Council approved a measure sponsored by Lucas aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Lucas credited Annie Struby, an employee at the Rose Brooks Center, with bringing the idea to him during Wednesday's speech.
“Since then, our legislation has been introduced or adopted by St. Joseph, St. Louis, city and county, and numerous other Missouri communities,” Lucas said, adding that the new legislation protects “almost two million Missourians from harm" combined.
Lucas also read the names of 16 of the 19 people who have already been killed in Kansas City so far this year, most of them in acts of gun violence.
At this point in 2019 — a year in which 148 people were killed, nearly surpassing a record set in 2017 — 16 people had died, according to KCPD data.
“Almost all died from gunshot wounds; only four had reached middle age,” Lucas said of the 2020 homicide victims. “Several others are unknown. Others were culpable. Dozens more have been shot this year. Each fatal victim, each living victim, has a story, has a family, and has an impact on our community.”
Lucas' full proposed budget for 2020-2021 will be unveiled Thursday to the City Council.