Friday, January 23, 2015

UG Board of Commissioners approve changes to casino grant process

Kansas City Kansan Publisher

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- Starting this year, the Unified Government Board of Commissioners will have the final say on where funding from the Unified Government-Hollywood Casino Grant Fund will go.

All commissioners, along with Unified Government Mayor/CEO Mark Holland, will also be allowed to allocate a share of the fund. This year, it would total $44,990 worth of funds.

All but one commissioner - Commissioner Jane-Winkler Philbrook - voted in favor of the changes.

Full changes from the UG agenda:
"• The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation will review all grant applications for eligibility and will submit the list of eligible applications to the Board of Commissioners. 
• The Board of Commissioners will serve as the Selection Committee 
• Each Commissioner and the Mayor will be provided with a listing of all grant applications and, upon request, the actual applications.
• Each Commissioner and the Mayor will designate in writing how they wish to allocate their share of the total funds ($44,990 each). 
• The final distribution of funds must be approved by majority vote of the Board of Commissioners at a Commission meeting." 
Commissioner Jim Walters said the new process would help the Unified Government address needs all across the county. 

"One of my primary concerns is trying to make sure we are addressing the needs of the entire county," Walters said. 

Commissioner Mike Kane said his district out in Western Wyandotte County has not had its needs addressed with the casino funding. 

"I want the Wyandotte County Fairgrounds and the Piper School District to receive some money," Kane said. "I have made no bones about it. District 5 pays a boat load of taxes....they are entitled to that money as much as anybody in Wyandotte County." 

Unified Government At-Large Commissioner Hal Walker was initially hesitant to support changes. However, Walker changed his mind after hearing from smaller non-profit groups about the process. 

"My initial intention was not to support this," Walker said. "But what became clear in talking to less financially robust (non-profit organizations) was they didn't apply because of the nature of the process."

Walker also expressed disappointment that this became an issue among certain non-profit groups. Before the commissioners spoke and voted on the matter, a handful of organizations offered public comments, opposing the changes. 

"Out of the blue, this has been stirred up," Walker said. "I'm disappointed in the way this has been stirred up."

"I am disappointed that groups have taken a stand on this," he later added. "It did not come out of the blue. We spoke about this at two different meetings." 

One criticism leveled at the new process by those speaking in opposition to the move was lack of transparency. But Walker said transparency would not change with the new process.

"This is every bit as transparent," Walker said. 

The most notable portion of the debate came when Commissioner Ann Murguia read a written statement about the issue. She said that a representative from Holland's office appeared at a Livable Neighborhood meeting earlier in the day and spoke in opposition to the proposed changes. 

Full statement Murguia made during the meeting: 
"This morning, I received a number of phone calls from community groups across this county. I was angry, hurt, and flat out frustrated that a representative from our Mayor's office showed up at the livable neighborhood meeting and insinuated that this commission would be tempted by dirty corrupt politics. 
I am finding it incredibly difficult to respond to that in a professional manner this evening. So I have written out my comments in order to avoid saying something I regret. And as a Democrat, in a Democrat county, I thought I might use the words of a mutually respected elected official to get my point across tonight. 
This week, we heard the State of the Union address by our President. We also have had the good fortune of him visiting our wonderful state today. So, I thought it was fitting to let his words speak for me as my frustration tonight goes well beyond this one hugely disappointing issue. 
I am hoping these words can repair the damage to this political body. I will modify slightly for a more personal touch. 
Our President said: 
"Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another — or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America/Wyandotte County forward?" 
I know how tempting cynicism can be. It plays on the fears of our constituents to imply dirty politics is occurring in WYCO. I share the President's question to all of you on a local level, will you allow this old school politics and tired thinking drive every decision in this county? I think we must move beyond our sketchy past in WYCO, it is a new day. Much progress has been made, we have a new form of government. 
Better politics is where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our baseless fears. Better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; that has nothing to do with making WYCO better. 
If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments — but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this county. 
We may have different takes on many things but lets deal with them in a professional dignified way not with unfounded personal attacks.  
That’s better politics. That’s how we start rebuilding trust. That’s how we move this county forward. That’s what the Wyandotte County people want. That’s what they deserve. 
So, in the words of President Obama, let’s begin a new chapter — tonight, and let’s start the work right now."
 Holland said he was later made aware of his staff member being at the event, but said it was not coordinated.

"That was news to me," Holland said. "I did not hear anything about dirty politics being mentioned."

Changes were approved. Below is the timeline for those groups interested in applying for casino dollars:
  • Application Available Monday, Feb.. 9, 2015
  • Grant Information Sessions Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015 and Wednesday, March 11, 2015
  • Application Deadline Friday, March 27, 2015
  • GKCCF Review/ Eligibility Recommendations Complete Friday, April 10, 2015
  • Commissioner/Mayor Review Monday, April 13, 2015 through Thursday, April 29, 2015
  • Commissioner/Mayor Designations Due Thursday, April 30, 2015
  • Distribution of Proposed Designations Monday, May 11, 2015
  • Commission Meeting to Vote on Distribution Thursday, May 21, 2015
  • Notifications Sent Friday, May 22, 2015