Mayor Sly James

We all know the old saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” but April also brings with it the long-awaited opening of the Kansas City Royals baseball season! Last fall, Kansas Citians watched in admiration as their team stole the hearts of Americans all across the country in their exciting World Series venture. I wish the Royals the best of luck and look forward to cheering them on to yet another successful season!

The City is busy preparing for another exciting summer full of activities at our 11th Annual Bright Future Summer Job and Internship Fair. The fair will take place Saturday, April 25 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at UMKC’s Student Union at 5100 Cherry Street. To register for the fair, please visit http://kcmayor.org/occe/brightfuture.

The fourth year of Club KC will kick off its festivities at the end of May with new locations and new events. To stay updated on dates and other details, check out http://kcmayor.org/mayorsnights.

There’s certainly a lot to be excited about right now in Kansas City and I can’t wait to see what this season has in store for us!

Sylvester "Sly" James

Where commerce takes root

When Kimiko Black Gilmore went back to school to earn a master’s degree in public administration, she never once thought she would find a job that involved trudging through a brushy landscape discussing goats. Or cover crops. Or hydroponically grown arugula.

“Working for the City is so interesting,” she says. “There are so many things going on, it’s a little bit of a juggling act, but that’s just local government.”

As Assistant City Manager for Special Projects, Gilmore’s day planner includes meetings about legislative issues, homeless camps, major sporting events and neighborhood redevelopment. But goats? Well, those are connected to one of her most recent projects: coordinating new uses for the old Municipal Farm, a 432-acre site west of Arrowhead Stadium that once housed a jail and a tuberculosis sanitarium. One of the first rental clients is Boys Grow, an agricultural entrepreneurship program for inner-city teens. The boys learn life skills as they raise vegetables, tend chickens and bees, and sell homemade products like salsa, ketchup and barbecue sauce.

Here’s how the collaboration started: City Councilman Scott Wagner heard about Boys Grow during an urban agriculture tour sponsored by Cultivate Kansas City and the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition. After bouncing around several locations, Boys Grow was looking for a permanent spot. The nonprofit group bought a small hilltop farm in south Kansas City with a grant from Cargill, and Wagner worked with City officials to secure another 10 acres for the group at the Municipal Farm. Boys Grow director and founder John Gordon Jr. “absolutely loved the site,” but realized the land needed clearing and the soil needed improving, says Gilmore. The group is now considering buying 10 to 20 goats to help with the clearing; the City might rent the animals to clean up other hard-to-mow parcels.

Meanwhile, in another section of the Municipal Farm, a produce supplier has tentatively scheduled a May groundbreaking for a giant, 120-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse that will be used to grow lettuce, herbs and tomatoes for area grocery stores. The greenhouse operator, BrightFarms, plans to create 25 green-collar jobs and facilitate over 100 part-time jobs to construct the building. BrightFarms may also offer internships for Boys Grow participants.

Adjacent to the Municipal Farm is Eastwood Hills Community Garden and an unused 90-acre parcel owned by Kansas City Public Schools. Gilmore is looking into possibilities for collaboration with these organizations as well as The Giving Grove, a nonprofit that plants orchards and berry bushes on vacant land for food pantries and community harvesting. And the City Planning and Development Department, which has been crucial to reimagining the farm, would like to see a recreational trail system crisscrossing the site, perhaps followed by a limited amount of residential or mixed use development.

“Opportunities are falling in our lap, and there’s a lot of natural cross-pollination going on,” Gilmore says. “The City’s role is to be a catalyst for urban agriculture expansion. There’s already a lot happening organically, and it’s my job to ensure we have the tools in place to encourage that development.”

Way to go, Kansas City. And way to grow!

Innovation rolls aboard

You’re invited to a party for unveiling the first streetcar stop on April 24. Be sure to glance down at your feet to see one of the City’s latest innovations. Read more.

Trikes save time, money

A “fleeting” pleasure for car mechanics is a worthwhile investment. But officials put the brakes on “ah-ooo-gah!” Read more.

Making the list

During the past year and a half, our city received outstanding mentions in many national lists and articles. We’ve always known Kansas City was a gem, hidden in the heart of the nation. Read more.

Pollution solutions for a rainy day

Tackle a problem by turning it into an opportunity. That age-old advice has been put into action by the Water Services Department, and the result is both promising and historic.

Five years ago, when the federal government ordered Kansas City to control sewage overflows into local creeks and rivers, the typical response would have been to build very large, very expensive (and not very beautiful) storage tanks. City leaders and staff met with neighborhoods to gauge their reaction, and here’s what they discovered:

“We came to public meetings to talk about sewers, but the people wanted to talk about damaged sidewalks, curb and street repairs, and speeding traffic,” remembers Cindy Circo, Mayor Pro Tem.

So they came up with another idea—spend the money instead on green infrastructure like curbside rain gardens, cascades, and permeable sidewalk pavement to control the overflows. Those methods might solve the problem and improve neighborhood streets at the same time.

OK, give it a try, said the Environmental Protection Agency, approving Kansas City as the first in the nation to use green infrastructure for this type of consent decree, part of a $4.5 to $5 billion, 25-year Overflow Control Program—the largest infrastructure investment in the City’s history.

A pilot project was designed in the Middle Blue River watershed near 75th Street and Troost Avenue. Lisa Treese was hired about the same time as a senior landscape architect in Water Services.

One of her responsibilities has been coordinating care for 135 rain gardens on public right-of-ways between sidewalks and curbs in that watershed. The idea is to slow down and capture rainwater so that most of it is absorbed into the ground and not into the combined sewer system.

The plants she uses include switch grass, sedges, rushes, coneflowers, iris and amsonia (blue star) bordered by daylilies, yarrow, fountain grass, dianthus, sedum and boxwoods.

Treese also helps design green infrastructure for places like Arletta Park. Located in a valley, it serves as a natural funnel for rainwater. Plans call for a limestone cascade, a walking trail and a landscaped retention basin. Another project will add water features and a trail to a 4-acre illegal dumping spot bordering The Paseo.

Although green infrastructure projects like these are built with the goal of improving water quality, the benefits go further, Treese says. They bring art and beauty to the landscape in ways that improve quality of life, property values and the environment.

“Kansas City is leveraging each dollar spent as part of the Overflow Control Program,” says Andy Shively, Water Services Engineering Officer. “Our investment in green solutions is transforming neighborhoods and encouraging new community partnerships.”

So while water and sewage rates will continue to rise in order to satisfy the federal mandate, the good news is that green solutions are working. Researchers recently measured groundwater infiltration after rainfall, and confirmed absorption rates were on par with traditional methods.

Hiking and biking in the city

Kansas City continues to expand its system of trails and paved greenways. Here’s an update on upcoming projects and events. Read more.

Famous fountain comes back to life

The City’s best known and most photographed fountain is looking extra spiffy this spring after a major upgrade. Carry on, four horsemen. Read more.

Children with word gaps

How many words will your children or grandchildren hear before they reach the age of 3? Read more.

Justin Bond and the staff at the Airport Communications Center are trained for emergencies.

Your safety is their mission

There are no windows in a darkened room of the Airport Police building across from Terminal A, but the staff who sit there have a thousand eyes.

Their computer screens flicker with a constant stream of images from surveillance cameras aimed at nearly every corner of the Kansas City International Airport. Parking garages, escalators, stairwells, ticket counters, baggage claims, security checkpoints, boarding areas and jetways all are under observation. Even the air traffic control tower has cameras which relay images up to two miles away—a helpful vantage point since airport property covers more than 10,000 acres.

“We’re always looking for anomalies,” says Justin Bond, senior supervisor of the 1,000-camera operation known as the Airport Communications Center. “Every day there is some activity that requires further investigation, even if it’s just children playing on the baggage carousel or plane watchers looking at takeoffs and landings.”

The Communications Center employs 17 dispatchers and three supervisors watching crucial cameras on a 24/7-basis; other cameras are quiet until various alarms—fire or medical emergencies—trigger them into action.

Bond says the Communications Center records more video than Netflix streams. Sometimes the cameras show deer chancing upon a terminal’s automatic door and sauntering up to the ticket counter. At other times they record amorous behavior in the elevators. And recently they documented the security gate-turnaround of a young soldier who hailed a taxi after deciding not to report back to his base. “We were able to read the license plate on the cab after his family and friends became worried,” Bond says.

Of course, the center plans for much more serious situations such as bomb threats, active shooters and aircraft emergencies. Last December staff went into high gear when a passenger aircraft leaking fuel was diverted to KCI for an unplanned stop. Outside agencies were called for standby assistance, including local sheriff’s offices, specially trained firefighters and emergency medical services. Fortunately the plane landed safely, avoiding a fiery disaster.

The Communications Center wasn’t always this sophisticated. But like most airports after the September 11 attacks, KCI became more proactive and successfully acquired more than $17 million in federal grants to bolster security measures.

Although sometimes the job is monotonous (and a strain on the eyes), it also can be an adrenaline rush. Bond and his co-workers like the variety.

“Every day is different. Whatever emergencies come, that’s what we’ll be handling,” he says.

Health options for world travelers

Sunscreen… check. Bug repellant... check. Vaccinations… huh? Read more.

The Rumor Page

Maybe you’re at a public meeting or just chatting with a neighbor when you hear a startling statement about the folks at City Hall or Water Services or Public Works. Is what you hear true or just a rumor? Read more.

Eight seconds back, four seconds forward

He said, she said—too often that sums up the situation when accidents happen on the road or parking lot. The City has found a better approach. Read more.

Sue Patterson

Your eyes may be on the colorful flowers and vegetables for sale at the downtown City Market or the equally colorful throngs of people shopping there. But take a step back and you’ll notice some major improvements.

Roofs have been replaced on all five buildings, new windows have been installed, and some walkways, stairwells and ramps have been repaired. Two of the farmers market pavilions have been fitted with glass-paneled overhead doors that can be lowered to provide protection in cold weather for year-round vendors. These pavilions also have been fitted with new electrical wiring, lights and roofs.

In total, the City invested $5 million to fix up the popular 11-acre spot that draws a booming crowd on Saturdays and lately, Sundays, too. The money came from the sale of bonds which will be paid for by rent from the Isle of Capri casino.

These improvements follow a smaller enhancement in 2013 when a combination of grants totaling $150,000 allowed the market to turn an empty rental space into the Farm to Table Kitchen. This up-to-code commercial licensed kitchen is used by farmers to prepare bakery items, salsa and jellies for sale; by entrepreneurs and startups who need a walk-in cooler; and by food truck owners who require a preparation area. The University of Missouri Extension Office holds cooking classes and demonstrations there, and last summer Ball Foods sponsored canning lessons.

Open 365 days a year, the City Market is home to 40 retail shops, international grocers, restaurants, a museum and various office tenants. “It’s an eclectic mix of people, “says Sue Patterson, Director of Marketing and Events. “There are 12 different languages spoken here.”

Deb Connors, Farmers Market Manager, adds, “That’s what sets us apart from other farmers markets. We have the customer base for any type of produce, from heirloom tomatoes to exotic Asian greens to biodynamic blackberries.”

The farmers market pavilions located in the market’s center are open year-round on Saturday and Sunday. During peak season you’ll find more than 150 vendor stalls and 20 street performers scattered throughout the property. Special events include a weekly community yard sale, car clubs, the Busker Festival (June 13), Crawfish Festival (June 26) and Grub Crawl (fall 2015).

The City Market is always on the list of most popular downtown attractions, and the recent improvements should boost the visitor experience, says Claude Page, senior planner in the City Planning and Development Department, which is responsible for the market’s operation.

When the streetcar begins operations in 2016, it will stop at three locations as it runs counter-clockwise around the market’s perimeter. “We’re looking forward to streetcar riders coming to the market for lunch and dinner, and as well as the farmers market,” Page says.

Find more details about the market at www.thecitymarket.org.

A piece of the PIAC

The City’s one cent sales tax funds public improvements, and for the next fiscal year that amounts to $3.7 million per district. You have a say in how this money is spentRead more.

Baseball in the City

Last fall Mayor Sly James and the City Council temporarily changed the name of Baltimore Avenue to Royals Avenue during the American League baseball playoffs. Read more.

City Real Estate Office is open for business

The City is revving up its marketing of parcels for sale or lease, ranging from a street corner to multiple acres. Read more.

Canines in the city

Dogs are people, too, goes a popular saying. And dogs as well as their owners enjoy dog parks where both groups can socialize and run free. Read more.

We live in an innovative city—a place that increasingly attracts entrepreneurs, artists and high tech alliances. You can see it in our growing skyline, our world-class architecture and our vibrant cultural events.

But you’ll have to glance down at your feet to see one of the latest innovations—an original structure conceived by the City’s Public Works staff.

At station stops being built for the new streetcar project, the same platform will be capable of servicing both buses and streetcars despite a 7-inch difference in door levels for the two modes of transportation. Jason Waldron, deputy project manager, and his team solved this problem with a unique design in the shape of a mini-plateau.

Poured concrete platforms are replacing the sidewalk at 16 streetcar stops. The platform surface is flat in the middle where the streetcar doors will open. On either side it slopes slightly, then flattens out to a lower level to accommodate the front and rear side doors of a bus.

Most cities with both buses and streetcars use separate stops for the vehicles. But Kansas City’s new platforms make this unnecessary, saving money in construction costs and maintenance as well as reducing street clutter.

“We’re not aware of any other community that has designed a level boarding platform at the same spot for the two modes of transportation,” said Waldron. “But we are being watched closely by other cities. I think we’ll see more of these types of platforms in the future.”

In addition to the new platforms, most streetcar stops will feature a 13-foot-long Plexiglass shelter with a windbreak wall, a wooden bench, LED lighting, real-time arrival signs and some type of public art. A platform party for the first stop to be completed will be held on April 24 at 5 p.m. at 16th and Main streets. The public is invited, and nearby restaurants will offer food and drink specials. The streetcars will provide free rides between the River Market area and Union Station beginning in 2016.

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“Ah-ooo-gah, ah-OOO-gah!” went the horn on the handlebars when City mechanics acquired their first industrial tricycle to quicken the distance between the Municipal Building repair shop and the storeroom.

“Yeah, we had to take the horn off,” said Sam Swearngin, manager of Fleet Services for the General Services Department. “The mechanics were having too much fun with it.”

But the jokes and kidding subsided after staff realized the sturdy-built adult tricycles are an efficient way to travel up to 200 feet across a hard concrete floor when they need a particular car or truck part.

“Every trip they make on a bike saves the City money,” Swearngin said. “The bikes paid for themselves the first year.”

At present, Fleet Services uses six industrial tricycles at two locations to maintain a fleet of more than 3,300 vehicles, including 271 compressed natural gas vehicles, 46 electric vehicles, 12 hybrids and six liquefied petroleum gas vehicles in addition to traditional diesel and unleaded gas vehicles.

The use of alternative vehicles reduces air pollution and saves millions of gallons of fuel each year—an accomplishment that helped Fleet Services achieve the nation’s top ranking at the North American Green Fleet Awards Forum last November. And in June, Swearngin and his employees will host a regional green fleet summit for other local government leaders.

The City bought its first tricycles two years ago. To see them in motion, check out this video.

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Kansas City is a great place for innovation, millennials, tourists, coffee and volunteerism

During the past year and a half, our city received outstanding mentions in many national lists and articles. We’ve always known Kansas City was a gem, hidden in the heart of the nation. We’re glad the rest of the world now agrees!

Kansas City ranked among the top five best cities worldwide for entrepreneurship, according to the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Congress’ Cities Challenge. The congress examined more than 50 up-and-coming metropolitan areas that are rapidly boosting entrepreneurship, attracting talent and leveraging public assets. Kansas City also is one of a select group to engage TechHire, a White House initiative aimed at training the long-term unemployed for high tech jobs. In its January edition, Fortune magazine wrote about Kansas City’s focus on becoming a smart city. And according to a Delta Sky magazine article, Kansas City is entering a new era, bolstered by growth across a range of industries and an urban revitalization that blends innovation and Midwestern can-do character.

A New York Times report on Millennials Going to Kansas City, to Live and Work, cites the influence of the streetcar starter line in attracting hundreds of millions of dollars of new residential and retail projects downtown. “Over the last decade, Kansas City’s urban core has become known as a cool place to live instead of a dreary place to drive immediately away from after eight hours at the office,” the article says.

Kansas City placed third overall in America’s Favorite Cities 2014 in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual survey. We were in the top five for more than 15 categories including: culture, Christmas lights, free attractions, antiques shopping, boutiques, flea markets, home décor/design stores, cleanliness, good drivers, peace and quiet, friendly, geeky, passionate sports fans, dive bars, barbecue, craft beer and notable restaurants.

The Huffington Post also cited Kansas City in a list of 7 Off-The-Grid Travel Destinations Definitely Worth A Visit. “Sure, it's fun to book a weekend in popular American cities like Miami, New York and Los Angeles. But some of my favorite jaunts are in cities you might not expect,” says the author, who calls out Joes Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the National World War I and Nelson-Atkins museums, Schlitterbahn Water Park and the Negro Leagues Baseball and American Jazz museums.

Kansas City ranked among the top 10 U.S. cities for volunteering efforts in a report called the "Volunteering and Civic Life in America." We had the ninth-most volunteer commitments in 2013 with 487,500 volunteers giving 68.2 million hours of service in the last year. According to a summary of the report by the Kansas City Star, nearly one-third of metro residents did some kind of volunteering.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that readers ranked Kansas City in the top five for both burgers and barbecue. But we also won acclaim for our coffee houses, ranking No. 7 out of 22 in America’s Best Coffee Cities by Travel + Leisure. Two establishments mentioned were Parisi Artisan Coffee and Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters.

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Kansas City continues to expand its system of trails and paved greenways. Here’s an update on upcoming projects and events.

Coming soon
Construction should be completed by August for a 1-mile greenway from Alex George Lake on Blue River Road to the Minor Park tennis court, extending the current 5.6-mile Indian Creek and Blue River trails.

Planning has begun for the North Troost Trail connecting Vivion Road near Gorman Park to Englewood Park.

Construction is underway on several trail segments along Highway 152 west of Green Hills Road. Highway 152 currently connects to the 8-mile Long Creek Trail. The Downtown Loop and Neighborhood Connector Bikeway Project will add 13 miles of bikeways connecting State Line Road, the West Side, West Bottoms, Crossroads District, River Market, Columbus Jazz District and Old Northeast into downtown. Anticipated completion is late fall.

Cycle in the City
Saturday, May 16, 2-5 p.m.
Ward Parkway is the site of a family-friendly open streets festival that includes bicycling, skating, jogging and walking.
http://www.cycleinkc.com/site/index.html

Tour of KC
Monday, May 25 and Friday-Sunday, May 29-31
The City is co-sponsoring this four-day festival that includes bike races, fun rides, bike tours, a 5K run and a block party. A circuit race on Cliff Drive will be accompanied by a KC Microbrew Festival showcasing local breweries. Register for individual events at www.tourofkc.com.

National Trails Day
Saturday, June 6
Hike the new 2-mile loop of Little Blue Trace Trail at Little Blue Valley Park after a short ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Meet at the former race track area. There also will be a groundbreaking for a bridge to an adjacent Jackson County park.

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You know spring has truly arrived in Kansas City when the fountains begin to flow. On April 14 the City’s 48 public fountains came back to life as the Board of Parks and Recreation celebrated Fountain Day.

This year the occasion was marked at J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain at the Country Club Plaza. That fountain, the City’s best known and most photographed, received a major upgrade last winter. Sculptures were removed for cleaning and waxing, and the concrete basin was repaired. A new energy-efficient pump was installed earlier.

The fountain’s largest sculptures, the four heroic horsemen, are thought to represent the four rivers of the world: the Mississippi River (fending off an alligator), the Volga River (with the bear), the Seine and the Rhine. The makeover also included restoration of an original dolphin sculpture that had been missing ever since the fountain was brought here in the 1950s. It was recovered about seven years ago and now has been reinstalled. The sculpture that served as its replacement during this period has been placed in a separate display nearby.

For more information on all Kansas City’s fountains see http://kcparks.org/fountains/.

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How many words will your children or grandchildren hear before they reach the age of 3?

Studies show there’s a 30 million “word gap” between children born into low-income families and those from more affluent households. That’s important, because even before children can talk their brains are acquiring language and pre-reading skills.

A campaign called “Talk, Read, Play with your Child Every Day” is being promoted by Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte with the application of 1,000 bumper stickers to City fleet vehicles and articles in employee newsletters. The idea is to improve children’s vocabulary with simple, nurturing activities (These activities do not include parking children in front of TV screens or saying “stop it” over and over).

The Mayor kicked off a community conversation to raise awareness about “Talk, Read, Play” last August, and since then, over 100 community leaders and 15 organizations have made commitments to help. The National League of Cities and the U.S. Department of Education also are offering support, and The Family Conservancy is the campaign’s lead local agency.

As Kansas City’s ninth largest employer, the City is taking an active role. “The Mayor wants the message of talk, read, play to be a new social norm—as second nature as buckling a child into a car seat,” says Julie Holland, his education advisor.

Developed by The Children's Campus of Kansas City, the campaign offers tips for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. These include:

  • Talk to your child during daily routines for bathing, feeding and playing
  • Read and look at books together
  • Sing simple songs and use rhyming words
  • Play make-believe
  • Talk about what happens during the day
  • Use complete sentences, not “baby talk”

For more information, see BornLearningKC.org.

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Sunscreen… check. Bug repellant... check. Vaccinations… huh?

When making plans for an out-of-the-country vacation or mission trip, remember to consider that you may encounter new diseases along with new experiences.

Travelers can find out if they need additional vaccines at www.cdc.gov/travel/. And they can obtain any vaccination (except Japanese Encephalitis) at the Kansas City Health Department’s travel vaccination clinic. You’ll need to make an appointment first, and there is a fee.

“Most vaccines take 14 days to become fully effective, but some, such as Hepatitis A and B and rabies, should be scheduled weeks or months in advance of a trip to obtain full effectiveness because they involve a series of shots,” says Marla Troncin, Public Health Nurse for the KCMO travel clinic.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine to prevent malaria, so travelers should talk with their primary care physician about a preventive prescription if they plan to visit a country where malaria is present. If you receive a travel vaccine from the Kansas City Health Department, you may be able to schedule a consultation with a physician there for a preventative prescription for a small fee.

For more information, see http://kcmo.gov/health/clinic-services/. To schedule an appointment or ask questions, call 816-513-6128.

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Maybe you’re at a public meeting or just chatting with a neighbor when you hear a startling statement about the folks at City Hall or Water Services or Public Works. Is what you hear true or just a rumor?

There’s a good chance you’ll find the correct facts on the City’s new Rumor Page at kcmo.gov. The page covers topics such as the FY 2015-16 Submitted Budget, the Vehicles for Hire Code revisions, questions about the 311 mobile app, and how funding for the Kansas City Zoo works.

“The Rumor Page is not meant to stop discussion on a hot topic,” said Chris Hernandez, director of the City’s Communications Office. “The debate should happen—we just want it to be based on the facts.”

Hernandez says it’s especially helpful to determine the source of inaccurate statements. For example, is false information being tweeted, printed in a brochure or emailed in a neighborhood newsletter? It’s important that we dispel rumors and correct misinformation. Because we can’t move forward as a city if we don’t agree on where we’re starting from.

If you have questions about issues that are not being addressed by the Rumor Page, contact the Communications Office at communications@kcmo.org. Regular questions about City services and the Municipal Court should be directed to the 311 Call Center by dialing 311 or visiting http://kcmo.gov/311/.

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He said, she said—too often that sums up the situation when accidents happen on the road or parking lot and drivers disagree about the circumstances.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a visual recording of the time immediately before and after an incident when you’re at the wheel? The City’s Corporate Safety and Risk Management Division believes this is an excellent idea—a way to reduce injuries, save money, provide coaching opportunities and perhaps save a life. That’s why event recorders have been mounted in some 200 City vehicles. In the future nearly every official car, truck and van will have this technology.

The program, called DriveCam, saves a video clip only when an unusual movement such as extreme braking, accelerating, swerving or a collision triggers the device. In addition to video footage, the DriveCam records sounds like sirens and horns , and has a button the driver can push manually to capture a clip whether an event is triggered or not. This data, consisting of eight seconds before and four seconds after a trigger, is transferred by satellite to a center in San Diego where it’s analyzed. If risky behavior is identified, a video clip is then sent to the City department involved.

“At this point an employee’s supervisor will say, ‘I need to show you an event and let’s talk about it,’” says Eric Hallerud, Corporate Safety Manager. “The idea is to have a conversation that will help the driver change the behavior, because risky behavior behind the wheel eventually will cause an accident.”

Since the DriveCam program began in May 2013, the City has seen a 42 percent reduction overall in risky driving behaviors, a 37 percent reduction in following too closely, and a 12 percent reduction in collisions. The first “exoneration” happened at KCI, where someone dropping off a passenger opened a car door into the path of an airport shuttle bus. In the past, the City often paid damages when it lacked the ability to successfully argue such cases, but this time the DriveCam clip was enough to prove the bus driver was not at fault.

Another program result is a renewed emphasis on good driving habits: reducing distractions such as cell phone use, being well rested and always wearing seatbelts. “We found out very quickly there were a lot of people not wearing seat belts,” Hallerud says. The City has now acquired seat belt extenders for employees who said the standard belts did not fit them. Data from the program also highlighted the need for new policies and training.

These improved driving habits have been noted and rewarded. Last fall City Manager Troy Schulte recognized 39 employees for safe driving achievements. And in June, the Corporate Safety and Risk Management Division will receive a national award from the Public Risk Management Association for its safe driving program.

“An important benefit of the program is that if employees change their driving behavior at work, it carries over to their home and family as well,” says Kristin Danner, Assistant Corporate Safety Manager. “We’re encouraging positive changes that make our city a safer place to live and work.”

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Each year the City’s one cent sales tax funds public improvements. For the coming fiscal year this amount totals nearly $74 million—a slight increase over last year, thanks to the Royals’ extra home games. The money is spent according to a formula: 50 percent goes to citywide projects, 15 percent goes for maintenance and 35 percent is divided equally among the six City Council districts. For Fiscal Year 2015-16 that amounts to $3.7 million per district.

How are these millions allocated? You have a say in that. Every year in June, residents are invited to voice their ideas at a series of community meetings. The schedule will be posted by May 1 at http://kcmo.gov/citymanagersoffice/piac/. Or you can submit an idea on paper or online.

“We receive lots of good requests, but each district has different needs,” says Rose A. Rhodes, the City’s administrator for the Public Improvement Advisory Committee or PIAC. She handles over 1,000 requests each year from residents and City departments (they also get to suggest district projects). Only about 60 requests will receive funding. “But I tell people to be persistent and come to the final meeting in person to plead their case,” Rhodes says.

Most of the time PIAC money is paired with federal, state, county or adjacent cities’ funds for projects such as road widening and drainage improvements. An offer to match funds can boost the chance of a neighborhood organization’s request. And if your group is submitting more than one application, make sure to mark your top priorities.

Think big, but also think small. Projects that cost under $2,000 (speed bumps, traffic islands, murals, etc.) can sometimes be accomplished with contingency PIAC funds to avoid the long review process.

In the past, PIAC projects have included street resurfacing, bridge repairs, tree trimming and planting, new parks and trails, playground equipment, curb and gutter repairs, and community center renovations. Other examples have included a firefighters memorial fountain, a storm shelter and a structure for controlling pigeons.

Applications for funding projects for Fiscal Year 2016-17 are due at the end of August. These will be reviewed in November by a 13-member PIAC committee made up of community members. Their recommendations, in turn, are sent to the City Council, which has the final say.

Contact Rhodes at rose.rhodes@kcmo.org or 816-513-8828 to receive a copy of the City Council’s decision on how your district’s $3.7 million has been allocated for Fiscal Year 2015-16.

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Last fall Mayor Sly James and the City Council temporarily changed the name of Baltimore Avenue to Royals Avenue during the American League baseball playoffs. The City Communications Office recognized this as a great idea for engaging fans throughout the area and ordered nearly 4,800 commemorative blue and white street signs.

This spring, as the Royals start a new season, the City will use the proceeds from the street sign sale to make a sizeable donation (announcement to come) to the Boys and Girls Club for its Reviving Baseball in the Inner City program. The money will be channeled through the City’s Parks and Recreation Department to support youth baseball.

Meanwhile, signups for adult recreational leagues and youth sports camps are underway. Visit kcparks.org for information.

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Running a city of half a million people and more than 300 square miles is a complex business. Property is continuously bought and sold. Land is sometimes leftover after major road or water projects, for example. At other times, buildings are no longer needed when operations are streamlined or new facilities built.

In the past the City was somewhat of a real estate wallflower, sitting shyly in the corner until potential buyers made inquiries. But since the worst of the recession is over and business is picking up, that attitude is changing.

“We used to wait to be contacted. Now we’re reaching out to the public and marketing more aggressively,” says Vanessa Williams, who became manager of the City Real Estate Office last fall.

Williams spent the first six months in her position researching and reclassifying inventory, including land and buildings “with a really rich history”—structures built by the Work Progress Administration in the 1930s, old fire and police stations, and land acquired before the 1900s. She also worked with other City offices to streamline the buying and selling process for customers.

Here’s how the process works. The City Real Estate Office reviews a list of properties to make certain they’re not needed anymore. The City Council then passes an ordinance to declare the properties as surplus and the office puts them out for public bid. Typical buyers are citizens, developers, business owners and adjacent landowners.

Most of the property marketed by the City Real Estate Office is zoned for commercial use, however there are other properties in the portfolio. The office manages over 2,000 parcels, ranging from a street corner to multiple acres. There are also properties for lease, including ground leases, offices, retail space, the old Municipal Farm and even some community spaces, such as the Mohart Multipurpose Center where four nonprofit organizations recently signed leases.

Word of mouth is bringing lots of interest. People also hear about the office after calling 311 or reaching out to the City Manager’s Office about a particular property. The City’s website will increasingly serve as a resource.

“There’s a nice momentum building in the office and we’re receiving great feedback,” says Williams. “The word seems to be out that the City Real Estate Office is open for business.”

Interested? Go to kcmo.gov/generalservices/realestate or contact Williams at vanessa.williams@kcmo.org or 816-548-7071.

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Dogs are people, too, goes a popular saying. And dogs as well as their owners enjoy dog parks where both groups can socialize and run free. The City offers three dog parks:

  • Penn Valley Off-Leash Dog Park, 29th Street and Wyandotte
  • Swope Park Off-Leash Dog Park, Gregory Boulevard east of Elmwood Avenue
  • Waggin’ Trails Off-Leash Dog Park, Northeast 32nd Street and Swift
Construction begins this summer on a fourth dog park at West Terrace and Case parks. More information is at http://kcparks.org/about-parks/dog-parks/.

Other canine activities include:

Chihuahua Parade
Sunday, May 3
Barney Allis Plaza at 12th and Central streets is the site of this annual event featuring dogs in costumes. All breeds are welcome. Register at http://kcdogparade.com/.

Dippin’ Dogs swim party
Early to mid-September
Dogs swim and play in the pool at this end-of-the- season event. Look for more details in August at kcparks.org.

Helping pets in fires
The Kansas City Fire Department now has special respirators at some stations that fit the snouts of dogs and cats. If a pet is rescued from a fire and needs oxygen, the gear can be used to help revive the animal. Leave the rescue to firefighters, though—don’t go into a burning building to retrieve a pet.

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