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Ethics Reform Measure Gets Skeptical Response From Kansas City Council Committee

Julie Denesha
An ethics reform measure sponsored by councilman and mayoral candidate Scott Taylor got a cool reception from a city council committee on Wednesday.

The Kansas City Council is considering a measure to increase transparency in city government.

The measure, introduced by councilman Scott Taylor, would limit lobbyist gifts and meals to city councilmembers to $5, require city officials to wait two years after leaving office before lobbying or doing business in front of the city and limit taxpayer-funded travel for members of the city council.

The measure is designed to mirror some of the provisions included in a statewide initiative petition aimed at increasing transparency in Jefferson City.

But councilman Kevin McManus, who previously served in the state House of Representatives, hesitated to compare Kansas City to Jefferson City at a council committee meeting on Wednesday.

“It’s hard to walk down the hall in the state Capitol without getting hit by fried chicken or a roast beef sandwich,” McManus said. “I just don’t see that issue here, we buy our own lunches as far as I’m aware of.”

Still, McManus said he would welcome ethics reform that extends beyond Taylor’s ordinance to contain a re-evaluation of city campaign contribution limits, which is not included in the current legislation.

Another point of contention among council members was the limit on travel. Under the ordinance, all travel by council members using taxpayer money would need council authorization. Furthermore, councilmembers would be limited to attending no more than two conferences or conventions during their four-year term.

Councilman Lee Barnes said traveling to conventions sometimes yields direct benefits to the city. He pointed out the work that councilman Jermaine Reed does as a board member of the National League of Cities. Reed travels several times a year on behalf of the organization.

“I can pretty much guarantee that had he not done as much work and traveling as he’s done, we would not be getting the National League of Cities convention here in 2022,” Barnes said.   

While Taylor said he would be open to debate on the number of conferences allowed, he maintains that collaboration with other cities can be achieved without traveling on the taxpayer dollar.

“There’s a lot of information that can be gathered by staying in Kansas City, picking up the telephone,” Taylor said.  

The strongest criticism of the measure came from Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, who indicated this was a political move by Taylor. Both Taylor and Wagner are running to succeed Mayor Sly James in 2019.

Wagner said the weekend after the ordinance was first introduced in June, a postcard on the proposed reforms paid for by Taylor’s mayoral campaign committee was mailed to residents across the city.  

“And so I have to wonder when nothing has been said by the sponsor (of the ordinance) over seven years on these very issues and all of a sudden something is said and there is a political postcard mailed out, it does make one wonder what the motivation is for this particular ordinance,” Wagner said.

Wagner said he’s struggling to find the problem that the legislation aims to fix.

Taylor countered that Kansas City has a history of being pro-active when it comes to ethics.

“Why do we need to wait for a problem to increase transparency?”

Taylor said it’s been about five years since the city updated its ethics codes. He said the council should revisit transparency policies periodically.

He added that he’s willing to consider revisiting campaign contribution limits as part of the measure.

According to the latest campaign finance report from the Missouri Ethics Commission, Taylor has $351,531 cash on hand — by far the most of any of the nine candidates.

The finance and governance committee held the ordinance for a week until the entire city council has an opportunity to weigh in.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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