Dan Coffey isn’t expecting a Christmas card from Kansas City Mayor Sly James this year. Every time Mayor James turns around and tries to do something, Coffey’s organization, Citizens for Responsible Government, is there to remind him of the power of the people.
James is not a fan.
“He called us ‘CAVE-men,” Coffey told SamePageNation, referring to James’ assertion they were “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”
“He just left off one letter,” he joked. “I told him he should be calling us ‘CAVES-men.’ Citizens Against Virtually Everything Stupid.”
A few years back, Coffey’s group was looking to effect some change in the Kansas City area, but he said they didn’t really know what change they wanted to tackle.
“We had had a couple of meeting when all of a sudden that airport thing came up,” he said.
The “airport thing” is the movement to renovate Kansas City International Airport, changing it from three terminals down to one. The cost for the project would be over a billion dollars. Coffey described what happened when his group participated in a meeting on the changes.
“We went to a couple meetings and at this one meeting, we were questioning the council person on the board and the aviation director,” he recalled. “They were asking them some pretty good questions. Some of the local TV stations. And they got kind of huffy.”
Then, one of Coffey’s associates asked a question.
“They said, ‘We’re gonna build this and you can’t stop us,'” he said. “So that’s kinda what got everybody started.”
Coffey said the next meeting they were discussing how they would stop it when someone suggested an initiative petition.
“We got it done. We got it passed. We took it to City Hall,” he said. “That was the first thing.”
But it wasn’t the last.
Coffey said the success of the effort against the airport helped grow the organization and while the group started out more conservative, it’s now more ideologically diverse.
“As our group grew, we realized we got more than conservatives in here. We got Democrats saying, ‘How can I help you on the airport?’ Liberals, libertarians. All kinds of people,” he said. “So we just decided to change our name to ‘Citizens for Responsible Government.’ And that’s how it all got started.
He said if someone were looking to do something similar in their city, there were two things they needed to do. First, find out if you can even do a petition.
“You got to get the city charter and you got to see if they have referendums,” he advised. “Do they have a petition process and then what are the rules and regulations that control that process?”
“The city charter will tell you how many signatures you have to get and how long you have to get them in.”
Once you find out if petitions are an option, find the right person to put pen to paper.
“Make sure you have somebody competent enough to write it,” he said. “Then you get the wording right, you can take it down to City Hall and the City Attorney will look at it and tell you if he thinks you got it right or not. If it’s the first time, you might want to do that.”
Since the airport petition, Citizens for Responsible Government has tackled medical tax issues, street car projects and is now focusing on a huge pet project of the Mayor’s — an 800-room, $311 million hotel in Kansas City. $164 million of which will be public money.
Citizens for Responsible Government’s radical idea?
Put it to a public vote.
They gathered the required signatures and now the city council and Mayor James have to figure out how to deal with it.
Mayor James told the Kansas City Star Coffey’s name, when mentioned, evoked one word from him — concern.
“We spend a lot of time and work our tails off to do things that make sense for this city,” James told the Star. “If everything we do is subject to an initiative petition, then the people that we do business with will simply stop doing business with us.”
“I respect people’s right to voice their opinion, but I’m going to fight for what I believe in, and I’m going to fight for this hotel deal.”
He’ll have to fight for it, because Citizens for Responsible Government is going to make him.
“I call it democracy,” Coffey said. “As long as you have government that isn’t doing what the people elected them to do, make decisions that are in the best interest of the populace, you’re going to have initiative petitions.”
“It’s in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Coffey is demonstrating the kind of initiative SamePameNation advocates through our Direct Democracy portal. If you’re interested in taking action on a local level through a petition initiative, click here and let us know. We’ll help make it easy.