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Kansas City Mayor Announces His Pick For City Manager, But Approval Still Hinges On Council Vote

102820_cm_BrianPlatt
Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
Brian Platt, a candidate for Kansas City city manager answers questions from council members on Friday, Oct. 2. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Platt as his selection for the job on Wednesday.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says he's confident the council will vote to approve Brian Platt of Jersey City, New Jersey as the next city manager.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Wednesday that Jersey City business administrator Brian Platt is his top choice for city manager.

In a press release announcing his selection, Lucas said after conversations with each member of the city council, Platt was the clear first choice — or tied for first — of a supermajority of the body.

“I am inclined to agree with a supermajority of the Council — not only because of the agreement among this supermajority of the Council — but because of this individual’s strong record on budget management, incentives, and affordable housing,” Lucas told the council in a letter ahead of the press release.

Lucas said the next highest vote-getter had only three votes from councilmembers as either their clear first choice or tied for first choice. He said he was particularly impressed with Platt's ability to trim Jersey City's budget mid-year.

“Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, Mr. Platt this year led Jersey City in reducing its City budget mid-year by $70 million, making creative, targeted reductions without imposing mass furloughs, layoffs, or disrupting the delivery of vital City services,” Lucas said.

Lucas noted in an interview with KCUR that Kansas City had struggled to meet a $30 million budget reduction.

"And we did that through some fairly extensive remedies — furloughs, etc. That was not something that was used in Jersey City," Lucas said.

The mayor plans to codify his recommendation and ask for a vote of the full council, as required by the city charter, on Thursday.

Wednesday's announcement comes a day after a Jersey City publication prematurely announced that Platt had already been offered the job.

A story in the Jersey City Times incorrectly announced, citing unnamed sources, that Platt had been offered and accepted the job as Kansas City city manager.

The article touched off a series of tweets from councilmembers who said they were "blindsided" by the article. The story is no longer posted on the website.

"I wish Mr. Platt all the best. Perhaps he will be the next manager but not before we all cast our vote," Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said in a tweet.

The mayor's office on Tuesday denied that any formal offer had been made.

“No formal job offer is extended, and presumably no candidate is separated from their place of employment until a contract has been signed," the mayor's spokesperson said.

Robinson told KCUR on Wednesday the issue put a cloud over the whole process.

"And when you look at the historical patterns of this council recently ... there's been some credible complaints around transparency and openness. And so I think that this puts him — to no fault of his own — puts him back," Robinson said.

Lucas said he was not concerned the Jersey City Times story would change anyone's vote. He touted the 13-month process used to narrow the search down to one person.

"And then finally, to get to this point now, where based on hours of interviews with community organizations ... we got to this point of an incredibly strong candidate. And I think that's what council members will evaluate," Lucas said.

Excitement from the city council

Several city councilmembers praised the mayor's announcement.

Councilman Eric Bunch said Platt was his top choice for the position. He said Platt's handling of budget cuts in Jersey City during the pandemic bode well for Kansas City.

Kansas City faces more than $60 million in budget cuts next year.

Bunch also said he appreciated Platt's approach to building a positive internal culture at city hall.

"For me, it was about who's going to do the best job in creating that culture and creating a system that encourages risk-taking and creative thinking. And I think that Mr. Platt is the one for the job," Bunch said.

He also acknowledged that while it was frustrating to hear the news leaked yesterday, it wouldn't change his vote on the matter.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said she was impressed with Platt's command of a variety of issues.

"Whether it's how you address budget problems and the time of a pandemic, or whether it's the whole issue of ... performance-based management," Shields said.

But Robinson said Platt's lack of experience is concerning.

"I'm remaining open, but right now my decision would be a no vote, again, because of the deep level of experience that the other candidates had," Robinson said.

She also pointed out that at the beginning of the city manager search, Lucas emphasized the importance of hiring a person of color for the job.

"And the fact that we have three, diverse candidates, three people of color, one woman, that are all ultimately prepared for this job, it would make it hard for me to vote for this candidate," Robinson said.

Brian Platt on Kansas City’s big issues

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 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.

In his public interview with the city council and civic leaders October 2, where he discussed topics ranging from his relationship with the police department cost-cutting measure he helped enact in Jersey City to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 said in Jersey City, they’ve used incentives only in targeted areas that need development and only for the first few projects. He says they eventually stop offering incentives once the initial investment is made.

Platt said the city was also able to save money amid the economic downturn by making small, targeted cuts to city departments rather than across-the-board cuts. He also said 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.

If approved, Platt is expected to begin his role as city manager on January 4, 2021.

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