American Public Square Series Debates Hot-Button Issues – Get This, with Reason and Respect

Here’s a novel idea for these mean-spirited, finger-jabbing, high-decibel times:

Civilized debate.

The Library and American Public Square, an organization founded by Allan Katz, a UMKC professor of public affairs and political science and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, kicks off a series of spring discussions of some of the city’s most polarizing issues—minus the invective that too often feeds polarity—in early December.

Topics range from what to do with Kansas City International Airport to the future of the city’s new streetcar system.

American Public Square will address other issues at additional events held across the area throughout the spring.

KCI Up in the Air
December 2, 2015 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Experts on both sides of the debate join University of Missouri-Kansas City professor and moderator Scott Helm in examining the future of Kansas City International Airport. Remodel or rebuild? Stay with multiple terminals or move to just one? The panel includes Skopos President Kevin Koster, a member of the KCI Airport Terminal Advisory Group; Rockhill Strategic President Jon Stephens, interim executive director of the Kansas City, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce; and Pitch writer Steve Vockrodt. There are fact checkers and a “civility bell.”

A Streetcar Named …
January 20, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

Kansas City’s new streetcar line will run from the River Market through downtown and to on Crown Center. Where should it go in the future? North to KCI? South to Brookside and Waldo? East? Is this the future for public transit in the city? If so, who pays for it?

Who Can Help Johnny Read?
March 16, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Third-grade reading proficiency is a major factor in determining youngsters’ future success. What’s being done – and what more needs to be done – to insure that local schools are helping their students make the grade?

Cents and Sensibility
May 11, 2016 | Reception: 6 p.m., Event 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

Where are our tax breaks and economic development dollars going and who is reaping the benefits? Are we getting the best bang for our bucks?

The format draws from town hall meetings of the past, emphasizing decorum. Speakers who cross the line on politeness are dinged by a “civility bell.” Applause is prohibited. There are on-the-spot fact-checkers.

It’s designed to be an antidote to today’s political rancor. Katz introduced the concept in Tallahassee, Florida, where he served as a member of the Tallahassee City Commission. It fostered a near-complete halt in negative political advertising by local candidates there.

In addition to the free events at the Library, American Public Square also is offering — with paid admittance — these events as part of two separate programming series:

Religious Literacy: What We Don't Know is Hurting Us
December 10, 2015 | Breakfast: 7:30 a.m., Program 8 a.m.
Village Presbyterian Church
in Prairie Village, Kansas

Part of APS’ Faith Fellowship series, it examines the state of religious literacy in contemporary America – why we need it, why we don't have it, and what it means to be religiously literate. Moderator Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a host and contributor at KCUR, is joined local religious leaders including Rabbi Mark Levin and Helen Stringer of KC Oasis.

All in the Family
January 28, 2016 | Dinner 5:30 p.m., Program: 6 p.m.
Pierson Auditorium
in UMKC’s Atterbury Student Success Center

Part of APS’ Dinner at the Square series, it spotlights the evolution of the family in contemporary America. Kansas City Councilwoman Jolie Justus will serve as moderator.

For additional paid programming, please visit
the American Public Square website.

Katz launched American Public Square—formerly called The Village Square—after joining UMKC’s faculty in August 2012. It, in turn, has inspired similar initiatives elsewhere in the country, most recently in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

“Political dialogue in America represents a food fight,” Katz told the Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle last month. “What we’ve discovered is people who are willing to come together and have a fact-based conversation, and who disagree significantly about what the facts mean, can actually come away with a different understanding of those facts.”