How They Do Things in Kansas City
The Star has the goods on the latest disputes in the KC mayor’s office. I’ll let the story speak for itself, because commenting on political squabbles isn’t really our role. But this can serve as a jumping-off point for a brief discussion of the government structure in KC.
The mayoral positions for Kansas City and Saint Louis are two of the weakest, structurally, of any large city in the country. (I want to emphasize that I mean the structure of the positions, not the people holding those offices, now or in the past.) Kansas City is one of the largest cities in the country with a full-out city manager system, which is more common in mid-size cities and suburbs. The mayor is really just first among equals on the City Council, and the right to determine who sits on and chairs which committees is probably the strongest lever that the position holds. That’s why you see articles and disputes like the one in the Star today.
Saint Louis has no city manager, but the mayor’s power is dramatically checked by a powerful City Council and 10 other citywide elected officials. The mayor of Saint Louis is really first among equals on the city’s Board of Estimate & Apportionment, the committee of three that approves major issues on top of council approval. In many ways, the city functions like a bicameral legislature, and the Board of Estimate & Apportionment serves as a Senate to the council’s House.
In both cities, the bully pulpit of the mayoral position is as valuable as any structural power they hold. When people want answers, they go to the mayor rather than to a council member or other city official. Leveraging that bully pulpit into political power is the trick for occupants of both offices.