How Kansas City Set an Example For the US

How Kansas City Set an Example For the US

I was sitting on the bus on the way to work as I finished reading this past week’s issue of The Economist. It contained article after article about global politics, global finance, and global economics. Lives were counted in the millions and money was counted in the billions. The scope of the magazine’s content was encompassing. As I closed the magazine, I noticed the full page ad on the back for CitiBank. It was a picture of a woman with the following quote:

“People couldn’t wait to get out of Kansas City, Kansas – Not anymore” – Carol Marinovich

What she said struck me; it was honest. I wanted to learn more about her and Kansas City, Kansas.

Carol Marinovich was the former mayor of Kansas City, Kansas or “KCK” for short. She graduated from the University of Kansas in 1982 with a Master’s in education. She loved her home town, KCK, and went to work for the public school district. She taught there for twenty-three years. During that time, she saw the quality of life in her beloved city declining.

KCK was and still is a factory town with manufacturing as the main source of employment. Companies like General Motors, Sunshine Biscuits, and Bichelmeyer Meats owned and operated factories. Like other factory towns, KCK saw its heyday in the 1950s and saw an enormous economic decline in the 1970s. After major population and business flight in the 1980s, KCK has been in a slow declining freefall ever since.

Marinovich was used to living in a city on the decline but began noticing problems such as the rise in crime and sordidness in the late 1990s. As Marinovich saw the quality of life decline around her, she was afraid that her quiet community was becoming a pit-stop for criminals and degenerates. She led other concerned citizens to rally the city government to enact change. When she found that city government was not “empathetic to {their} needs,” Marinovich decided to run for office.

In 1989, Marinovich ran for city council and won by a considerable amount. Her first project was to go after the local strip club in town. Using her influence, she convinced a progressive district attorney to clamp down rules on operating adult entertainment clubs within city limits. Marinovich’s success and ability to get the job done resonated with her constituents. In 1995, she was elected in a landslide 71 percent to become KCK’s first female mayor.

Her first major action as mayor was to consolidate KCK and the surrounding Wyandotte County into a unified government. She found the expansive municipal government to be inefficient and unable to govern. The move faced opposition from local politicians since the consolidation would force up elections two years early, therefore risking their seats. In 1997, working with Kansas’ capital, Topeka, and the citizens of Wyandotte County, Marinovich pushed the consolidation through with another victory of 60% in the referendum. Marinovich was no longer just the mayor of KCK but the chief executive official of the new unified government. Synergy within the new government allowed enough spending cuts, which in turn led to the slashing of property taxes for more than four years in a row.

Marinovich had made her municipality efficient and friendly to business and commerce. Upon hearing that NASCAR was looking for a new location to build their new speedway, she sprung at the opportunity. Kansas was neither the most populous or prosperous of southern states, and KCK wasn’t even Kansas’ largest city. Despite this, Marinovich made the case for KCK and NASCAR was sold. The development led to the construction of a new hotel and the Legend’s shopping center. In its entirety, these actions created more than 4,000 jobs, $7 million in tax revenue, and attracted over 10 million visitors a year.

Multiple successes were attributed to Marinovich’s tenure: 2,331 new businesses had come to KCK since 1998, single family housing permits rose 250%, and the city saw increased property values and decreased taxes. By many accounts, Marinovich was KCK savior and people knew it. In 2009 while receiving an award from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Marinovich attributed her success to three influences: the consolidation and creation of the efficient unified government, support from local businesses, and citizens’ “vision for a community.”

I think when we read newspapers or magazines, we begin to forget about the importance of a community. Publications like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal focus on national and more often global events. We begin to forget that society, at its core, is a bottom-up creation: politics and business begin at the levels of an individual or a community. For example, if a small business is successful, it can grow into a major corporation. A major international conglomerate does not break apart and divvy out to small mom and pop local businesses. The same applies to politics. Change and action begin at local, municipal levels. Carol Marinovich is a perfect example of that.


Sources:

“Pulling Together: Strong Partnerships Spur Urban Revitalization,” n.d. http://www.governing.com/poy/Carol-Marinovich.html.

Carol Marinovich and her Legacy in KCK “41 Action News 2012.’ 27 June 2012

“Home – Unified Government.” Accessed August 15, 2017. http://www.wycokck.org/Home.aspx.