KCUR News
3:23 am
Tue May 1, 2007

Mayor Mark Funkhouser's Inaugural Address

14 minutes

Kansas City, MO – Listen to the full audio of Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Mark Funkhouser's inaugural address, delivered this morning (May 1, 2007) at City Hall directly following his swearing-in as mayor.

INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF THE HONORABLE MAYOR MARK FUNKHOUSER
Council Chamber
City Hall
Kansas City, Missouri
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

MY FELLOW CITIZENS, PROFESSOR BARNES, MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL, MR. CITY MANAGER, MADAM CLERK, MR. ACTING CITY AUDITOR, DEPARTMENT DIRECTORS, AND CITY STAFF:

Today marks a new day at City Hall.

But first allow me to address what's most important. I want to thank my beautiful wife Gloria Squitiro and our daughter Tara and son Andrew. I am grateful for your support, and I promise that our little family will always come first.

And allow me please a moment to look back with admiration over the last eight years. No one can deny that the city's skyline is more dazzling today than it was in when Mayor Kay Barnes first took oath of office, and when the outgoing City Council of Kansas City began working with her.

The sight of so many cranes in our commercial core should be a welcome one for anyone who truly cares about our city and its future. Within easy walking distance of this chamber at 12th and Oak the evidence of the hard work of Mayor Barnes and her Council is abundant:

--Housing for thousands of new downtown residents
--Beautiful buildings rescued from neglect
--Longstanding eyesores finally demolished
--Ugly parking lots replaced by gleaming new structures, with jobs for our citizens
--Historic hotels rehabilitated and reopened
--The Convention Center and Music Hall refurbished and expanded
--A splendid new library

And, of course, this autumn both the Sprint Arena and the Power & Light District will open officially at which time I will humbly and with honor share the podium with Mayor Barnes, Mayor Pro Tem Brooks and the City Council that made it happen.

But as I said, this is a new day in Kansas City, and I want to extend my praise beyond those who have worked tirelessly at the heart of its governance. I want to thank the regular folks who make this city work.

Cities are a remarkable human invention. They are, I believe, the very essence of humanity. Their survival across the millennia is due as much to the resilience and spirit of their powerless as to the shifting forces of the powerful.

One of my favorite paintings is Norman Rockwell's Spirit of Kansas City. Commissioned after the great flood of 1951 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark, it shows a man rolling up his sleeves, tending to the business of rebuilding a city.

It shows perseverance.

It's an iconic image. Some would say mythic. But to me it conveys something real and abundant. Its theme is the same as virtually every Kansas Citian's life story. Everyday, each one of us rolls up our sleeves in one way or the other, and we get to work. And it's because of our work - from the kindergarten student to all the former mayors - that Kansas City thrives.

So as I turn my attention now to my colleagues on the Council, I remind us that the work that lies ahead of us is not for us alone.

Today we venture together into four years of politics, that basic component of social life. And each day, perhaps even each moment, will present us with a choice. We can engage in good politics - spirited debate and selfless compromise. Or we can play the politics of personal gain - forsaking the public's trust and smiting one another for a petty boost in ego.

And I speak for myself as much as any of you. I'm human too. But when confronted with such choices, I think of all the people I've worked with over the years who have helped me, even when to do so added burden to their lives. For instance, I am indebted to the late Harry Wiggins, who represented Kansas City in the state capital for nearly three decades. Early in my years as the city's auditor, he fought for my office to have access in the police department, which, as a state-controlled agency, had never been audited by the city before. It was a tough political fight. One he didn't need to take on. But one which greatly benefited Kansas City as a whole.

In the coming years, we will need to make these kinds of sacrifices for one another. Because we are not here to serve ourselves. We are here to serve the citizens.

And I have little doubt that we will make the right decisions. With the most recent election, Kansas Citians voted themselves a council that together has decades and decades of solid, honorable community and electoral experience. I was thrilled when I saw those last vote tallies come in, and it occurred to me that I have the humble honor of serving with women and men of such intelligence and passion for serving a greater good.

Then I met face-to-face with each of you, and it quickly dawned on me that my enthusiastic assessment was a gross under estimation. Suffice it to say that I am blown away. And I am very hopeful for Kansas City.

Yes. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

We must push the renaissance of downtown even further--into our neighborhoods, on a smaller, but no less stirring scale. We must reach out to those areas where our residents could use a boost from City Hall to help them help themselves. After all, as President Kennedy reminded us some 46 years ago, If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

With that in mind, the first tax increment financing proposal that reaches my desk had darn well better be on the East Side.

And we will craft a micro-TIF policy that gives small business owners the same financial tools used by the city's bigger companies. Developers and large businesses need not fear me, as long as they help us nurture smaller enterprises throughout the entire City.

We must make our neighborhoods cleaner and safer, with abundant affordable and suitable housing. Landlords simply cannot be allowed to continue to let their rental property to deteriorate and drag down the surrounding neighborhoods.

As such, I will push hard for the adoption and strong enforcement of an ordinance to maintain rental property at code, and to discourage, or punish if need be, those absentee or careless landlords whose negligence gnaws at the very fabric of our community.

The most important basic City service is maintaining our neighborhoods. In fact, when it comes to improving basic City services, I promise a passionate, permanent, relentless focus, the likes of which has not been seen in a very long time. We will plow the snow more quickly; equip and clean our parks to a higher standard; remove rubbish faster; repair those streets under the City's purview; and a personal mission of mine remove from our roadways once and for all those blasted metal plates.

Recent tragic news has reminded us that no neighborhood is safe from crime. Societies and cities will always have those who choose to break the law. But together we can build an environment in which crime can be greatly reduced. Part of this depends on good policing and a solid police department. And I believe our police department is well on the way to achieving this through Chief Corwin's Blue Print.

But crime fighting also depends on increased interaction between all the parts of our government that impact our quality of life. That's why I've created a new council committee called Public Safety and Neighborhoods - with the goal of building synergy between City Hall and the police department, to find solutions that cut across the silos of bureaucracy.

Next, one of our thornier issues: light rail. Without ignoring the citywide vote of last November or the law, we need to rethink the light rail initiative. We must reach out to our own and surrounding communities for advice and direction. And we must turn to other levels of government for financial assistance. I know we can craft an efficient, affordable system that will complement our existing bus service and relieve congestion on our streets and highways.

I figure that if I mess up too badly, and eventually get run out of town on a rail, at least let it be a light rail.

Finally, our biggest budget and engineering challenge. Indeed, the billion-dollar question: How to repair and replace aging water and sewer lines in the oldest parts of our City, and to eliminate combined sewer overflow? I don't pretend to know yet, but the search for an answer will require help from all and from the State and Federal governments.

As ever, none of this will be easy in light of the current financial situation. I'm bothered by the city's debt and am keeping a watchful eye on our revenue base. Fortunately, to be smart with the money, we have a lot of in-house help.

The employees of this City are the finest, hardest-working, most committed public servants that I have ever seen in my long career in government.

All too often the blame for poor City service unjustly falls on their broad shoulders. In fact, the fault usually lies with the underlying systems, policies and procedures that have been foisted upon them.

That will change dramatically. The City Council and I will take care of the policies; I have challenged the City Manager to improve our systems and procedures, beginning with those impacting small businesses in Kansas City.

Speaking of our employees, I wish to say a word about organized labor. Disraeli warned, A man who is not a liberal at 16 has no heart, but a man who is not a conservative at 60 has no head.

Disraeli would be unhappy with me. As I get older I find myself increasingly sympathetic with many of the day-to-day concerns of labor unions and the working families who rely on them.

This administration will pay close attention to the views of all our employees and their representatives. That is not a blank check for wage negotiations, but a reminder that while we may not always achieve consensus, we always do consent to an open mind and an open door.

All these are not idle pledges--issued today, only to be forgotten tomorrow. As you know, for many years I measured the City's performance in the eyes of our residents by surveying their opinions.

Those citizen satisfaction scores will be a built-in grade card of my performance. If those scores don't improve significantly, you won't see me making this speech in 2011.

Accountability is the key to improvement. It is no coincidence that the City services our residents most admire police, fire and emergency response are provided by departments that do the best job of statistically measuring performance, and acting on the results.

Hence, another challenge to the City Manager: To pick up the pace in devising, tracking and responding to credible measures of performance for other basic City services--indeed, for the entire organization.

The faith and trust that Kansas City voters placed in me 5-1/2 weeks ago is both gratifying and humbling. I will not fail them. I promise not to cover up mistakes, but to learn from them, and keep moving forward.

Within just a year, the voters' faith and trust will be tested yet again, when we return to ask for a lengthy extension of Kansas City's one-cent sales tax for capital improvements. With the affirmation of a successful campaign, we can rebuild and maintain a physical infrastructure for basic City services in which this and future generations will be confident and proud.

In the meantime, I and the members of my administration will be out in all parts of our great community: asking questions, soliciting feedback, sharing the hopes and dreams of regular folks, and responding as best we can.

I pledge to do this, and I implore you to take a similar pledge, because as one of this nation's earliest settlers, John Winthrop, once declared: we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.

Today, the eyes of the people are indeed upon us.

Expectations are high. But I am certain we can meet those expectations.

Together.

Thank you.