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Meet The Four Finalists For One Of The Most Powerful Jobs In Kansas City

Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
Candidates for Kansas City Manager include (from left) Milton Dohoney, Jr., Janice Jackson, Kevin Jackson and Brian Platt.

Kansas City officials are deliberating who will become the next city manager, overseeing everything from snow removal to the annual budget.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the city council are now deliberating one of the most important decisions the legislative body will make — who will be the next city manager.

The city manager is one of the most powerful positions in local government, serving as an advisor to the mayor and city council and carrying out their policy decisions. They’re also a key player in putting together a billion-dollar-plus annual budget.

The city manager’s responsibilities are expansive and run the gamut from ensuring snow is removed in a timely manner to negotiating development deals to overseeing the completion of major infrastructure projects, like the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.

The critical position has been filled by an interim city manager for most of Lucas’ tenure as mayor. Lucas appointed Earnest Rouse to fill the role temporarily after longtime city manager Troy Schulte left to join Jackson County government in December, 2019.

Over the last two weeks, the city council, civic leaders and community members have been introduced to the four final candidates for the job.

Here’s a look at where they stand on major issues:

Milton Dohoney

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Milton Dohoney, Jr. addresses questions posed to him from the Kansas City mayor and council Monday morning inside council chambers.

Milton Dohoney is currently the assistant city manager in Phoenix, Arizona. Before that, he served as city manager in Cincinnati, Ohio. He said data science can be an acute driving factor in making decisions at the city level.

  • On COVID-19 response: Dohoney has led the COVID-19 response team in Phoenix where they have focused on adapting institutions to better serve the community during the pandemic. He outlined how Phoenix repurposed parts of its convention center to house those experiencing homelessness. Other sections of the convention center were converted into polling places so voters could maintain proper distance while casting their ballots.
  • On defunding the police department: Asked whether he agreed with calls to defund the police, Dohoney said he does not support eliminating the police department. If defunding means finding ways to support other services that the community may want — like more social workers, like more programs of that nature — I am supportive of that,” Dohoney said.
  • On football: Dohoney grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, although as a native of Louisville, his loyalty to the University of Louisville means he often roots for Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson. “But on the days you need me to be decked out in Chiefs’ red, I’m there,” Dohoney said.

Janice Jackson

Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
City Manager candidate Janice Jackson interviews with the Kansas City city council.

Janice Jackson is currently a principal at the management consulting firm Janice Allen Jackson and Associates. She’s the former city manager of Albany, Georgia and administrator of Augusta, Georgia. She says she was attracted to the job in Kansas City because of the city’s collaboration with neighborhood groups — she says bringing the community closer to the government keeps officials honest and accountable.

  • On local control of police: Asked about Kansas City’s model for overseeing police – whereby the city funds the department but a state-appointed board governs it, Jackson called it “highly unusual.” “You never want to feel like you’re in a situation where you’re paying for things that you don’t have control over,” she said. Still, she said she would reserve judgment until she spent more time in Kansas City.
  • On weathering a budget crisis: Having once been furloughed for two weeks while serving in government in Prince George’s County in Maryland decades ago, Jackson says furloughs can be useful as a short term cost-cutting measure. In the long term, Jackson says she looks at a crisis as an opportunity to streamline the workforce by cutting vacant positions, utilizing better technology and eliminating underutilized services.
  • On barbecue: Asked whether she had a favorite barbecue spot, Jackson said she’s a vegetarian so she can’t have any of the traditional barbecue options Kansas City has to offer. Perhaps, she will have an opportunity to try some of the vegetarian options.

Kevin Jackson

Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
City Manager candidate Kevin Jackson interviews with the Kansas City city council.

Kevin Jackson currently serves as Deputy City Manager of Long Beach, California. Previously, he served as director of neighborhood services in Champaign, Illinois and Neighborhood Partnership Administrator in Glendale, Arizona, where he says he helped usher in a new NFL stadium to bring the Arizona Cardinals to Glendale.

  • On mitigating revenue loss due to COVID-19: Long Beach, California, like Kansas City, failed to qualify for a direct allocation of federal coronavirus relief due to a population shortfall. He says early on in the pandemic, he created a team to identify other grants to address immediate spending needs. “We identified an additional $80 million or so in various grants that we brought into the city in a very short period of time,” Jackson said. Jackson says cannabis-related tax revenues also helped offset budget holes, an option not yet available in Missouri.
  • On negotiating tax incentives: Jackson says he would conduct an analysis of how special taxing districts are performing in Kansas City. He also says on tax incentives, all parties, including the jurisdictions affected by a potential loss of revenue, should be part of the negotiating process from the beginning.
  • On football: Jackson says while his daughters are enamored with Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, he has a family connection to the Chiefs. His uncle, Willie Peete, was a coach for the Chiefs in the 1980s.

Brian Platt

Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
City Manager candidate Brian Platt interviews with the Kansas City city council.

Brian Platt is currently the city manager of Jersey City, New Jersey. Previously, he was the chief innovation officer of the city, where he led sustainability efforts like utilizing electric trash trucks and building a robust system of bike lanes.

  • On tax incentives: Kansas City officials have been involved in years-long debates over the use of incentives, often in the form of tax breaks, to lure developers to the city. Platt says in Jersey City, they’ve used incentives only in targeted areas which need development and only for the first few projects. He says they eventually stop offering incentives once the initial investment is made.
  • On dealing with the economic toll of COVID-19: Platt says the city was able to save money amid the economic downturn by making small, targeted cuts to city departments rather than across-the board cuts. He also says they used their existing workforce to take care of some of the unexpected costs, like delivering meals to senior citizens and students. “So instead of spending more money to set up new types of delivery processes and hire people to do that, we used our existing employees to not have to spend those extra dollars,” Platt said.
  • On barbecue: In a video posted ahead of his interviews in Kansas City, Platt said he was looking forward to talking about innovation in government, but mostly, he was excited about returning to his favorite barbecue spot — Jack Stack.

Kansas City's next city manager is expected to start January 4, 2021.

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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