Steve Bell

News Reporter

Afternoon reporter Steve Bell brings more than 40 years of news experience to the KCUR newsroom. Fifteen of those years he served as a news or program director. His first newscast was at KANU in 1958. He has hosted news and talk programs on five Kansas city AM-FM stations and two commercial TV stations and was for many years the the signature voice of KCPT-19. Since joining KCUR in 2001, Steve has won two  first place awards from Public Radio News Directors International -- for best newscast and best feature reporting.  He has also received a number of awards from the Missouri Broadcasters Association and the Kansas City Society of Professional Journalists.  Steve  has a Ph.D. in psychology and dabbles in guitar and banjo playing.

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Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte have unveiled their proposal for next year's city budget. 

The mayor and city manager would increase city spending 3.5 percent next year, with the largest area of increase  for the fire department. 

That roughly $10 million is primarily to cover costs of operating the city ambulance system. City communications director Chris Hernandez said more than $700,000 of that is for installing new equipment on fire trucks to create a larger force for medical emergency response. 

The Kansas City, Mo., city council votes Thursday afternoon on on ordinance that would keep a reserve fund for streetcar system expansion planning. 

It is part of plans for spending more than $8 million left over from the $10 million it borrowed to jump-start a streetcar system expansion that voters rejected.

The ordinance would devote most of the unspent bond money to already planned projects including a community center tornado shelter and Bartle Hall roof repairs.

Amayleben / Wikimedia-CC

The matter of digital signs outside of schools and churches in Kansas City, Mo., remains stalled in a Kansas City council committee after a second week of public hearings.

A lot of schools and churches like the idea of digital signs – capable of multiple messages that are easy to change without braving frigid or blistering weather. Some also say they are more effective at communicating with parents and parishioners than the old style letter-board signs.

Kansas City Police Helicopters
City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City, Missouri police helicopters will be able to transmit bird's eye video like media news and traffic copters.

The city has received a nearly $66,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to pay three-fourths of the cost of video capabilities many citizens may have thought the police already had.

Liaison officer Eric Winebrenner explained the downlink system to city council members.

The Kansas City Council has come up with a compromise they hope will satisfy those who wanted the new East Patrol police station named after Leon Jordan, a former police officer and the founder of Freedom, Inc, while also satisfying those who opposed it.

Councilman Jermaine Reed explained the idea: name the campus, not the police station.

A parade of black community leaders and former council members spoke in favor of the naming to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  All cited the historic contributions made by Jordan to the city and to law enforcement.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11:

The Kansas City, Mo., City Council voted Thursday to extend city pension benefits currently offered to couples in conventional marriages to legally-married same-sex couples.

“So this is just one more example of our commitment to being inclusive to all of our citizens in Kansas City,” Councilwoman Jan Marcason said before the unanimous vote.

The original post continues below.

The fate of Kansas City's Kemper Arena is perhaps in more doubt than ever after the American Royal Association board of directors withdrew its proposal that the arena be torn down and replaced with a smaller one.

Kansas City, Mo., city council committee chair Ed Ford received a letter from the Royal's attorneys Monday indicating that the association was scrapping its proposal and had no desire to engage in future discussions with the city.  The reason cited was "negative dialogue ... detrimental to the American Royal and its core mission."

Americasroof / Wikimedia Commons

A special committee of the Kansas City Council held its first hearing Thursday on the American Royal proposal to replace Kemper Arena. The idea of demolishing the old arena and building a smaller one met some determined opposition.

Representatives of the American Royal and Sporting Kansas City said their plan is a boost for a venerable institution, youth sports and the West Bottoms. 

Flickr, Creative Commons

A big surprise in a city council committee meeting Wednesday afternoon:

After weeks of discussions about the future of Kemper Arena and the American Royal Complex, Foutch Brothers Developers sent a statement to the council that, due to circumstances beyond its control, it no longer was able to pursue a plan to convert the aging arena into a youth sports facility.

But it's not an automatic win for an American Royal plan to tear down Kemper and replace it with a new, smaller arena, according to committee chair Ed Ford.

There have been no ads promoting the taxes and no campaign opposing them, but there are two questions going before Kansas City, Missouri, voters on Nov. 4.

So why are they on the ballot? Questions 1 and 2 are the legacy of a transit activist and a 3-year court battle. The 1/4-cent and 1/8-cent sales taxes are the ruins of Clay Chastain's successful 2011 light rail initiative petition drive.

Kansas City is offering some assurances to a developer who filed a complaint with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Eagle Point Development is charging the city with attempting to force low-income African-American tenants out of their apartments on East Armour Boulevard.

The City Council has made no public comment.  But the full body and the Housing Committee spent several hours in closed session this week, presumably discussing the legal issues. 

CC: SA2.5

A consultant hired by the Kansas City council to analyze whether a plan to convert Kemper arena into a youth sports and fitness complex has told a council committee the plan has great opportunities for exciting success, but Dale Neuberger of TSE Consulting also added a caveat.

"The plan is sound – albeit one that you take a ... a big gulp when you think about the monthly revenue and the monthly members. It's a lot of people and it's a lot of money. And that's somewhat the reality of doing business in this field,” Newberger said.

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The city council found out Friday that they were wrong in their assumption that Cerner Founder Neal Patterson's offer to pay the costs of razing Kemper Arena to make way for a smaller facility would knock down their asking price. 

Attorney Chase Simmons told the council that despite Patterson's remark to a civic group, the American Royal Board has not reduced the amount of incentives it is asking for to $25 million.

Two Kansas City council committees are facing difficulties coming up with hard numbers as they delve into the mayor's request for a more consistent process in determining how large incentives for property developers.

Some school and library districts and many taxpayers complain that the city gives up tax revenues that could be put to good use. Some contend that for-profit businesses should pay their own way, without any tax abatement.

A Kansas City council committee began debate this week on Mayor Sly James's proposal to reduce tax abatement for developers. The ordinance he proposed would reduce the maximum for developers from 100 percent to 50 percent.

Concerns were immediately raised by some business and economic development leaders and several council members that cutting back on tax breaks would cast a pall over development, and businesses would build in competing communities.

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council modified the city's ban on open carry of firearms Thursday to bring it into compliance with a new state law. That law was passed by the Legislature over the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon.

Presenting the changes for a final vote, Councilman John Sharp explained that to continue to prohibit open carry for most people, the city now must exempt some persons.

City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Baltimore Avenue in Kansas City has a new name ... for now.

Mayor Sly James explained the temporary blue and white street signs to his fellow council members during Thursday's business session.

As his colleagues chuckled, James declared, “There are a number of people who live on Baltimore Avenue that do not want to live on Baltimore during the playoffs and they have asked that we try to rename it – so we will be introducing a resolution temporarily renaming Baltimore Avenue to "Royals Avenue.”

City of Kansas City, Mo.

A Kansas City Council Committee continues to debate the future of Kemper Arena. And this week's developments included a staff report, a consultant's opinion and a letter with a lot of signatures.

A consulting firm hired by the city filed a report saying a Foutch Brothers proposal to convert Kemper to a youth sports facility was dynamic and achievable, though challenging in part.

From those who side with the American Royal Association and would tear down the arena came a letter of endorsement signed by 75 business and civic leaders.

The bills are totaled up on what the city of Kansas City, Mo., spent on the voter-rejected Phase 2 of the downtown streetcar system. 

The city council approved contracts with two engineering firms, HDR and Burns and McDonnell, for route planning, studies of construction obstacles and communication with the public.

In total, the two contracts came to about $8.1 million.

Streetcar Project Director Ralph Davis says spending stopped with the defeat of the streetcar expansion at the polls.

A Kansas City City Council committee has finalized an ordinance making it illegal to intimidate walkers and bike riders on Kansas City, Mo., streets.

Maggie Priesmeyer, who volunteers for an organization that helps provide bikes to needy people, was among those who shared stories about rude, intimidating and inconsiderate motorists.

She told the Public Safety Committee the story of a homeless, jobless veteran named Joe who came in for for help with bike repairs wearing a sling and brace of the type used to support a broken collarbone.

Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt made Kansas City his first stop in a statewide series of "listening sessions" with law enforcement officials on Monday. Blunt is co-chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Committee.

The Senator said the first conference included county and suburban Missouri law enforcement leaders as well as those from Kansas City. The discussion, he said, centered on what the federal government could do to help local enforcers in emergency and homeland security crisis situations.

Kansas City, Mo., toughened its protections against domestic violence Thursday, giving city prosecutors the power to take violators of ex parte orders of protection to court.

The ordinance was back on the floor after a revision to address Councilman Ed Ford's insistence that it be modified to make it clear that persons could only be prosecutors if they had received notice of the protection order. He still objected that the revised ordinance could make it difficult for estranged couples to communicate about children or other important matters.

A biotech research park in south Kansas City and 25-year property tax abatement to support it gets the go-ahead from the Kansas City council.

The idea of the research park and rezoning to allow it sailed through on Thursday. But the council wrangled over the tax abatement for Oxford on the Blue for about an hour and a half.

Councilman Russ Johnson tried to convince the group it was time to stop - as he put it "giving away the farm."

Tax abatement for a 344-acre biotech office park south of the Cerner Three Trails Campus has cleared committee and advances to the city council floor.

The Plans Zoning and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday agreed with PIEA development authorities that Oxford on the Blue merits 26-year property tax abatement.

The proposal calls for 100 percent abatement for 10 years and 50 percent for an additional 15 year, but Councilman Ed Ford explained that not every part of the project is expected to get the full 25-year break.

Updated Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Kansas City City Council is seeking to further curb domestic violence by letting the municipal courts enforce orders made by judges without all parties present, also known as ex parte orders.

The ordinance the public safety committee approved Wednesday makes violating any ex-parte order a municipal offense.

Wikimedia Commons -- CC

A Wednesday shake-up in Kansas politics even has seasoned pundits amazed. 

Chad Taylor, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, has withdrawn from the race, leaving Kansas Republican Pat Roberts facing his toughest political test in decades.

Steve Kraske, host of Up To Date on KCUR and Kansas City Star political commentator, says the change spells bad news for the incumbent.

"Pat Roberts is suddenly in very deep trouble in Kansas," Kraske says. "His polling numbers have not been good. He was ahead only because he was in a three-way contest."

Faced with a successful referendum drive that could force the repeal of plans to outsource Kansas City ambulance service billing, the city council has repealed the plan.

The issue was contentious from the start. City Manager Troy Schulte proposed having a private company manage the billing because, he said, it would increase revenues from insurance collections while saving money. 

Legal maneuvering continued Thursday over a court order to put a Clay Chastain light rail proposal on the Kansas City ballot. The city still appeared to stay a step ahead of the perennial activist.

After the Kansas City Council voted to put the two sales taxes Clay Chastain proposed to pay for his light rail initiative on the ballot with no mention of the plan or light rail, Chastain threatened to sue charging that the council failed to give the public the required 24 hours notice of their final vote.

Stephen Rees/Flickr-CC

The Kansas City city council is considering making group public transit benefit plans a requirement for companies to get economic development incentives. 

"UMKC —All the students have through their student ID a bus pass. That actually where this idea started," says transit chair Russ Johnson.

Johnson says companies with more than 100 employees would have to provide employee bus passes to get the incentives. The cost would be up to 0.1 percent of company payroll.

The plan, he says, would help support public transit, thereby boosting economic development.

The American Royal is sticking to its guns, insisting that Kemper Arena be torn down to make way for a new, smaller arena.

A council committee was looking favorably at a Foutch Brothers Developers' plan for a youth sports facility would save Kemper Arena. But the American Royal's plan now includes a youth sports aspect backed by Sporting Kansas City. And given that, plus disruption to the parking area and the annual barbecue contest, American Royal chairman Mariner Kemper says the old arena has to go.

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