The Airport and Transparency
In the lead-up to the November vote on tearing down Kansas City International Airport’s terminals and building a new $1.2 billion single terminal, we editorialized on KMBC:
Important details of the new terminal remain unknown. We don’t know the final costs. We don’t know the financing details, or how building contracts will be awarded. All those things are being reevaluated now. Voters should vote no on Question 1 until they know exactly what is being asked of them. This is too important to get wrong.
Voters approved the measure by a wide margin, with three-fourths voting yes. It was a clear mandate to move forward. But the details remain murky even to insiders. Just last week, the City Council voted 9 to 4 against a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate. Following the vote, Mayor James described the vote as an “ambush” and excoriated his colleagues, saying “you can’t lead people you can’t trust. . . You can’t lead people who sneak.” But Councilman Quinton Lucas, who supported a yes vote on Question 1, told The Kansas City Star,
There’s a reimbursement agreement that obligates the city to potentially millions of dollars, a number of those costs incurred before the election. There was absolutely no detail on financing. I know we want flexibility, but we also want to know what we are binding the city to, potentially for years to come.
Lucas was not alone. Councilman Scott Wagner, who also supported approval of Question 1, issued a statement about his concerns on Facebook in which he detailed important matters that appear to be unresolved in the MOU. He indicated that he had been raising these concerns for quite some time. Just before the vote, Kansas City’s Black Chamber of Commerce said that the MOU before the Council lacked transparency and were “weak for minority participation.” As David Hudnall at The Pitch writes in an excellent overview of the debacle, the astonishing part is the failure of the MOU to protect the city’s interests.
These were all the same concerns I detailed before the public vote, and it is a shame that they were not addressed before the Council vote. Given all this, it’s surprising that Mayor James did not know that 9 of his colleagues were going to vote against the MOU. But in an effort “marked by distrust, misinformation, unnecessary secrecy and conflict,” maybe it should be no surprise at all.