This is going to end up being a rant. It's one measily story -- about not one of the most important topics in Kansas City, but I think, in a nutshell, it emcompasses almost everything that is wrong with politics in this city.
If you're a normal taxpaying citizen of the community, your opinion doesn't matter. Even if you get on a citizens committee, your opinion doesn't matter. The city doesn't have to -- and won't likely -- listen to you. At some point the government in this town quit caring about its residents, and now takes a "Daddy knows best attitude" toward the people. And we need to fix it.
The Dog Park Debate
I quit caring much about the dog park in Sunnyside Park awhile ago. I was never the biggest plan of the proposal but even less of a fan of how it's been handled by our city officials.
Two years ago a group of citizens approached the parks board with the idea of building a dog park in Sunnyside Park in Waldo. They had raised $20,000 of their own money to help pay. They had crafted a design. In a back room deal that I'm pretty sure violated open meetings laws, the parks board unanimously agreed on a proposal that required a dog park to be a certain minimum size, and that no dog park could exceed 20% of the size of the overall park. The proposal essentially eliminated 90% of all of the parks in Kansas City from being able to contain an off-leash dog park -- including Sunnyside Park.
After much debate, the Parks Board decided to create a citizens committee to make recommendations on potential dog park sites in the city.
For the next nearly two years, this committee met. They studied parks based on Walkability, vegetation, topography, distance from programmed areas, rainwater management, availability of parking (it wouldn't be a KC discussion if we didn't discuss parking), restrooms and availability of water for a drinking fountain.
The committee wasn't swift in its findings, but it was thorough. And even though I don't agree with all of their recommendations, it was tough to find fault in their effort for their 47 page report.
Unless of course, you are our parks board. Which once again came back with a unanimous decision to createits own set of rules for the requirements of dog parks - -including that all dog parks must be no less than 5 acres big (this ignores the reality that Kansas City's only current dog park - -one that by everyone's assessment is extremely successfull - is only 3 1/2 acres big). The new criteria virtually assure anyone living in on of the city's many older neighborhoods that will never get a dog park in their community -- based on an arbitrary size made up by 6 parks board appointees.
So while the Citizen's Committee created recommendations for up to 22 parks in the city that could be used for varying sizes of dog parks, the Parks Board came back with 6. The one in the "South Region" (nearest Sunnyside Park) that is recommeded is at South Oak Park. While very close to Sunnyside Park, it's terrain is very wooded and would require the removal of 5 acres of trees to create the dog park -- making it so costly that it likely will never get done. The Citizens Committee ranked this park 12th best out of 15 parks in this region for suitability for the dog park. Nice.
The Parks Board essentially ignored the citizen committee's recommendations - wasting 2 years of time for a committee of 14 people. Daddy knows best. And the idea of creating a second dog park in the city of 500,000 people is on year 3 with virtually no progress.
There have been a lot of comments about dog parks being for dogs, and parks for people, and all kinds of things on the internets. I want to set the record straight here. Dog parks are for dog owners as a place to take their dogs in the same way that Tennis Courts are for people who play tennis - -not for tennis rackets. I've never quite understood why people think it's ok to build tennis courts with taxpayer money, disc golf courses,skateboard parks, playground equipment for kids, softball fields, soccer fields, bike trails, running trails and the vast array of things we put in our parks, but for some reason, not for dog owners. We share our park space. I don't play tennis -- but I think it's great that we have tennis courts for these people. I don't have kids, but like that kids have a place to play. Shared park space makes for a better city for everyone. But I don't quite get how a larger percentage of people can own dogs than have kids under the age of 12, or participate in most of the specific activities we put in parks and yet people who own dogs don't get much respect when it comes to their own space. It doesn't make much sense to me.
In the 2008 citizen satisfaction survey, 51% of people said they don't feel safe in our city parks during the day. 90% don't at night. In large part this is because our parks are terribly underutilized and it isn't an odd occurrence to be in a city park and be the only one there. Putting dog parks in many of our city parks would increase usage (see what it's done for Penn Valley park?) and the increased usage would increase the feeling of safety. We're missing a huge opportunity with our under-utilized parks system.
Speaking of the parks system - -it should be noted that less than 50% of the population in the Citizen satisfaction survey were satisfied with every single element of the parks and recreation district (except the location of the parks). And only 18% of citizens are happy with our appointed boards, including the parks board.
But is anyone listening to the citizens?
Three years ago, mayor Mark Funkhouser announced his new parks board and it was with great satisfaction that he declared that this would be a non-elitest group (implying that the old board was). But since then, the board has been infested with the same old same old (or worse than the old group) problems. It started with the problems (and eventual stepping down) of Francis Semler who was a member of the minute men group and has manifested itself through an entire group of people who make snap, rash decisions, who put arbitrary limits in place with no rationale at all, and who seem more interested in using power to settle personal vendettas against other people than actually following any type of real public input and public service. It's been a real disgrace to this city in so many ways.
"Are we gong to disappoint people?" asked Parks Board President John Fierro. "Of course. We disappoint people every Tuesday when we meet here."
It shouldn't be that way.
We must make the change
The citizens of this city need to take back their government. At some point over the past few decades we became a a group of people that fears their government -- when it should be the government that fears us. They work for us: the voters, the taxpayers. We need to demand better. We should no longer allow a few high-dollar campaign donors to raise enough money to keep electing THEIR candidates into office. We need to vote in OUR people. This may mean voting for the person with less money, without the snazzy ad campaign and signs. It may take going to forums, meeting the candidates, reading their websites and really getting to know them outside of the pages of the Kansas City Star. But the citizens need to do it. The information is too readily available now online and in blogs for us to continue to make bad decisions on candidates who don't represent us -- or who think they can appoint a board that doesn't need to listen to its constituents -- or its own appointed citizen committees.
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm tired of living in a city where the citizens don't matter....and we somehow accept it.
This story is only about dog parks....but the same thing happens daily in virtually every area of our governing body.
Shame on us.