MO: Clay Chastain's Light-Rail Plan Goes to Voters -- Sort Of

Aug. 15--The Kansas City Council voted 9-1 Thursday to put Clay Chastain's light-rail plan on the November ballot -- not that the ballot language will mention light rail or any plan, for that matter.

Saying they were following a judge's order, Mayor Sly James and the council approved two ballot questions for voters to consider.

If passed, one would authorize a quarter-cent sales tax for "capital improvements" and the other an eighth-cent sales tax for "public transportation purposes."

Neither mentions the light rail system that the 4,000 people signing Chastain's petition in 2011 thought they were supporting.

If the measures pass, the council would be under no obligation to spend the money on anything in particular, which is why city officials don't expect voter approval.

A series of legal decisions led to this moment. When the council refused to put Chastain's light rail initiative on the ballot three years ago, petitioners sued and ended up with only a partial victory.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in February that the council had to put the two proposed tax increases on the ballot, but that no specific project had to be built if passed.

It then came down to the ballot language. Last month, Jackson County Circuit Judge Sandra Midkiff specified the vague ballot language that the council approved Thursday, but she also said the city and Chastain could work out a compromise.

None was reached. Chastain claims the city legal department refused to negotiate. On Thursday, James claimed it was Chastain who wouldn't talk and criticized him for lobbying council members instead.

At least one of them was responsive. Councilman John Sharp asked for a one-week delay to craft language that at least mentioned light rail. But Councilman Ed Ford said it was better to approve the vague language and give Chastain time to appeal.

He said the deadline for an appeal is late next week, and the deadline for getting something on the ballot is the week after.

But in a phone interview, Chastain said the time for making an appeal is past. He lashed out at James and "his fellow cheaters at City Hall" for "betray(ing) the American democratic spirit and the 4,000 voters who signed the light rail petition."

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to

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