Kansas City Airport Effort Still not Transparent
After a year considering the need for a $1.2 billion new terminal at MCI airport, the final report issued on May 30 to Mayor Sly James by the Airport Terminal Advisory Group (ATAG) leaves much to be desired—both in its thoroughness and accurate representation of the facts. On page 15, the report still asserts that airport funds cannot be used for the “City’s financial needs related to sewers, hotels, neighborhood development, unfunded pension obligations et.al.” This is demonstrably false; the city does use airport funds for other needs.
Even if the report is factually flawed, it aspires to ensure good government. On page 30, the report recommends more transparency:
In addition to KCAD [Kansas City Aviation Department], the City should provide for additional oversight to maintain transparency and improve two-way communication. This oversight (possibly in the form of an informal oversight committee) would be responsible for insuring City involvement and help to oversee the process over the next two years. The oversight committee could also assist in vetting the planning and design process and communicating it to the Mayor of Kansas City, Kansas City Manager, City Council, as well as the general public and local businesses.
Several months have passed, and none of this has been acted upon. It was ignored on the day the City Council received the report. Mayor James said in the July 10, 2014, City Council business session that discussed the report (remarks begin at 37:52):
The question was, as currently configured, does KCI meet the needs of Kansas City now and into the future? And if not, what are our options? Now, the options are being determined now by the airlines as they are in consultations—secret, private consultations—with the Aviation Department. That is their job. They will determine how much money they want to spend. And when they determine how much money they want to spend they will pretty much tell us what they think we ought to do.
So much for transparency. Also, so much for the work of the ATAG in the first place; a year’s worth of work and $100,000 spent on consultants seems to have been wasted. (As for the financial costs and benefits of a new terminal, the Show-Me Institute has issued its own report.)
Kansas City leaders need to make sure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. While it is good that the airlines are involved—they should have been all along—it does not bode well that the process is again opaque. When the time comes to present options to the public, the truth still may be that, according to Kansas City Star editorialist Yael Abouhalkah, “Director Mark VanLoh does not have the public credibility to lead on this extremely crucial project.” The voters of Kansas City have spoken clearly on this matter, and they deserve to get the transparency and accountability necessary for good public policy.