On Lying, Kansas City Says the Quiet Part Out Loud
When I was at Saint Louis University’s School of Law back in 2006, I vividly remember finding out that SLU (a Jesuit school) had been arguing to Missouri courts that it was not, in fact, an institution “controlled by a religious creed” so that it could qualify for tax incentives for a new arena in midtown. The university got its tax incentives, but for many practicing Catholics who had attended SLU, the school’s court argument was both illuminating and disturbing. To the public, SLU portrayed itself as Catholic, period, and I think still does. But to the government, SLU portrayed itself as only in that “tradition”—and thus eligible for Caesar’s coin.
Court filings tend to draw the truth out of circumstances that marketing materials can often conceal and gloss over, and I was reminded of my alma mater’s proof of this years ago when I saw a story today about litigation involving the City of Kansas City, flagged to me by my colleague David Stokes. And boy, is the lesson a doozy:
The city filed a motion in Jackson County Circuit Court last week seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Chris Hernandez, the city’s former communications director. In his suit, Hernandez alleged that he was demoted for refusing to lie to the Star and other local news organizations about city projects and services at the behest of City Manager Brian Platt.
In its motion, the city argues that lying to the press is not a violation of any law, rule or regulation.
“Despite the respected place that the press has as the fourth estate of American politics, there is no law concerning false disclosures to the press,” the city’s motion reads. “Nor is there a rule or regulation set forth by any governmental entity, including the city, that governs false disclosures to the press.”
The specific issue is what Kansas City officials were saying to the press and the public about the extent of road resurfacing being done by the city in 2022. Being more generous, the city’s intended “media strategy” was to knowingly overstate the truth of the work by about one third; being less generous, the city’s plan was to lie to make itself look good.
Whatever the characterization you prefer, the city’s filing should be illuminating for big- and small-government types alike. Whatever your preferred size of government, truth and transparency in government operation is fundamental to justify taking money from the public through force of taxation and allowing elected officials and bureaucrats to spend it on the public’s behalf. Without it, government is just a self-serving cabal stealing money from you under color of law.
Kansas City’s “trust us, you can’t trust us” court filing reaffirms the importance of robust transparency and consequences for misbehavior for state and local governments. Without transparency and accountability, government will run roughshod over you and your rights. But you already knew that.