Transit activist Clay Chastain was quoted as saying at his news conference at Union Station on Wednesday that Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders had called him Tuesday and offered to work with Chastain in developing a unified regional rail transit plan.
Remember, Sanders on Monday unveiled the outline of a commuter rail plan using existing tracks to connect eastern and southern Jackson County to Union Station, a plan which Sanders, significantly, proposed to carry out using 100 percent federal funds.
Sanders, also the senior elected Democratic leader in Jackson County, just might be able to attract a billion-dollar (or more) federal transit grant to this region. Indeed, following news coverage of Sanders’ plan, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver applauded Sanders’ involvement and said he would do what he could in Washington to bring home the federal funding.
Now, I guess, we’ll see whether Chastain has the political skills to take advantage of Sanders’ generous offer of cooperation, or whether Chastain chooses to go down in local history as nothing more than an egomaniac, an eccentric fool good at circulating initiative petitions and not much else.
After all, anyone can draw lines on a map, find a few pretty pictures to go with it, pull cost estimates out of the air, and propose a (regressive) sales tax to pay for it all. Voila, a transit plan!
That is what Chastain, a former Kansas City resident who now lives in Virginia, has done here time after time with his half-baked schemes and dreams. Indeed, that is what Chastain did in 2006, when he secured voter approval for one of his plans.
Chastain’s 2006 proposal gained voter approval only because it deceptively “stole” a three-eighths-cent city sales tax that was already being used to subsidize bus service. That way, Chastain could claim that his plan involved no new taxes. So the only Chastain initiative ever approved by voters was essentially based on smoke and mirrors.
The Kansas City Council, faced with the prospect of implementing that plan, found the plan to be “unworkable,” certainly not within the “budget” which accompanied Chastain’s plan. The Council repealed it, and rightly so.
Since then, Chastain has been bitching and moaning about how he (and the voters) were robbed when the Council repealed the referendum. Chastain appealed the action all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. Now Chastain plans to circulate an initiative that would deny the City Council authority to review initiative petitions, no matter how outrageous and costly.
Then we could have government by initiative petition, I suppose.
This mutual antagonism has pretty much typified Chastain's relationship with local government officials for more than a decade. This atmosphere has sapped the public's genuine support for building a modern transit system. Public cynicism has resulted in derisive comments about "Toy Trains" if officials or journalists even mention the need for an improved transit system.
That is why Mike Sanders' apparent willingness to include Chastain in the development of a credible regional transit plan--with a realistic chance of being funded and actually built--is both encouraging and high-risk. Knowing Clay, he will probably waste the opportunity. Clay has shown time and time again that he can't work with others.