Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Observer Goes to City Hall

The last time I went to a City Hall was in the city of Grandview back about 1997 or '98 when the apartment complex I was living in was being condemned. I had never been to Kansas City, Missouri's city hall before today. I went down today to watch and to support those against the measure to create a "ambulance department" and change the governance of MAST.

This was a hearing of the Public Safety and Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Cathy Jolly, with council members John Sharp, Cindy Circo, and Melba Curls. MAST was not the only thing on the agenda, ordinances with regard to licenses for restaurants/bars were also on the agenda. Both items brought out a healthy number of people, although fewer of the restaurant people commented. There was also presentations on safety and health by Rex Archer and others.

First, Cindy Circo should not be involved in this issue. Her husband is a firefighter, and she is on the MAST board. The latter doesn't concern me as much as the former. That's a vested interest in what happens with the fire department and by extension, what happens to MAST. Also, let's face it, if she votes opposite her hubby's wishes, how's that playin' at home? I wouldn't want that sort of issue impinging on my household!

So, the meeting starts at 10 a.m. with the presentation by the health and safety people. Then the alcohol/license issue is dealt with. Next, the reason all four TV stations are there--and the Kansas City Star is there we hope--the creation of a new ambulance department. First, John Sharp reveals that the wording of the ordinance has been changed. It was hard to follow just by hearing, but it seemed to be an attempt to ward off the worry that the new "ambulance department" would just be sucked into the fire department at the earliest opportunity. There is testimony from one of the consultant/committee people who have been studying the savings that might occur. He presents the first solid numbers I have heard on any savings that could be had by changing MAST's administration and governance. They are "back room" savings, things like insurance, phone, etc. My informants tell me that the numbers he presented today are less than the numbers they had heard in a meeting for MAST people.

Next the meeting opens for public comment. The first several commenters are people in favor of the ordinance. Two of them are the same union thuggy type dudes who were at the community meeting. Another commenter reports she is a medic, working out in the field. She claims MAST is broken. A third union thug declines to comment, thank God. I can only take so much self serving drivel in one day.

The next commenters are all against the ordinance, or at least, against the concept of MAST changing its governing structure. They include myself, Lesa, Susan, Yancy, Steve Glorioso, and one lady who is a MAST medic whose name I did not catch. I may have missed one person, to them I apologize. Steve, who frankly I have always considered a terminal liberal progressive asshat, gave a great testimony, very similar to my own. This is an organization that gives great service, don't mess it up. Others had more personal and specific views. In my own testimony, I made reference to the good care MAST gives, and pleaded with the committee to avoid placing MAST in a structure where politics can harm the care given, and I'll add here, for the sake of a few dollars. I was a little nervous, and two minutes is not very long. Lesa did a great job, talking about the "brain drain" that has been going on at MAST the last months. Everyone really did a nice job, bringing out many of the political under currents with Louie Wright and local 42, the pensions and employment of MAST personnel, MAST people needing to live in KC, MO etc.

City council members then had a chance to respond to some of the citizen testimony. Cindy Circo stated that you couldn't believe what you read on the blogs. (humph.) Sharp said, Not My Fault. Melba Curls gave this rather long spiel about how long she'd been serving the community. Cathy Jolly talked about saving as much money from the health levy fund--the fund that helps pay for indigent care--as possible.

The committee then proceeded to, if I heard right, gut the revised ordinance of one of the firewalls against take over or collapse of the department. They did this after public comment was closed. John Sharp voted against this change in the ordinance to his very small credit. They voted 4-0 to pass the ordinance onto the full City Council, meeting tomorrow at 1 pm.

While I know that they have been studying this with committees and consultants since March, the publicity to the people of Kansas City, and even to some of the directly affected has been very light and very scattered. It was taken up briefly in March, dropped, then suddenly reappeared in mid-August. People reacted, with the petition drive and at the community meeting. The next thing, there is this ordinance, which, if my understanding is correct, if passed will be binding, and not subject to a community vote or voice. For something this serious, this important, that's just wrong. It smells incredibly political, like someone's getting a pay back or a favor for the future. And the pols know the people would reject this idea, because, as the community meeting revealed, most folks in this city don't trust the city to run something as important as MAST correctly. Thus this end run around the people, keeping the people in the dark, until it is all done.

Let the facts out. Full data on the new command structure, both transitional and permanent. Full numbers on anticipated savings. Full report on the impact on current and future MAST employees. Full disclosure on any anticipated changes in MAST's daily operations due to the changes in command structure and administration.

Remove the threat from local 42 to MAST employees and KCMO firefighters who have a different view on whether on not this is a good idea. Not one MAST employee or one firefighter should have a reprimand on their record if they voiced a contrary opinion. Even those who took it public. Since when should a person fear their own union?

And let the people hear. Let the people decide. Should MAST remain as it is, or should MAST be taken into this city's government as just another department?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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