Putting the People Ahead of Privilege

My daughter just texted me that they were getting more snow in Lawrence, Kansas – along with photographic proof from the Dillon’s parking lot. It’s been a brutal winter in the Midwest, Northeast and Southeast.

We were remembering the many dismal winters in the ‘80s and ‘90s and my wife reminded me that when Dick Berkley was mayor of Kansas City the first street that got plowed after a snowstorm was Greenway Terrace. I’m sure this still happens everywhere; heck, it’s possible that Kansas City mayor Sly James’ street is the first to get the blade.

The point is, it doesn’t matter so long as the other streets are treated with equal urgency, and the city where I lived for three decades seems to be getting it right – finally. A recent article in the Kansas City Star points out that snow removal in the last snowstorm was damned efficient and the public was, for the most part, pleased.

Aside from improvements in forecasting and GPS technology and the hard work of the crews, the X-factor seems to be the mayor himself. Now, the article points out, the mayor doesn’t run the city; the city manager does. But James seems to be setting a tone that all leaders should emulate. He’s visible, he’s aware and he’s accountable.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James
Kansas City Star

James scored major points for showing up on the 5 o’clock news from the command center, giving tips to help residents prepare and assuring them that the snowplows were ready to roll. People want to know someone is in charge, and whether or not that person is pulling the strings, perception is reality. Not only have residents warmed to James’ transparency, but his mere presence at the command center no doubt boosted the morale of city workers.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and this time around most gave the city high marks. I can remember a time when our side street in the Armour Hills district never did get plowed and it would turn to ice for the rest of the winter. Obviously, Kansas City’s public works department has come a long way and it’s due to effective planning and preparation, but in the end the only thing people will remember is the reassuring presence of their leader.

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