NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

A Divided Kansas City Council Appoints Jersey City’s Brian Platt As The Next City Manager

102920_cm_BrianPlatt
Carlos Moreno/KCUR.org
Brian Platt, then a candidate for Kansas City city manager, answers questions from council members in early October. He was officially selected for the position Thursday.

The vote, which fell largely along racial lines, comes after a 13-month hiring process, capped off by a bumpy final week.

After nearly a year without a permanent city manager, Kansas City officials are a major step closer to filling the vitally important role.

The Kansas City Council on Thursday officially voted 9 to 4 to appoint Mayor Quinton Lucas’s selection of Brian Platt from Jersey City, New Jersey, as city manager.

“In his eight-and-a-half years of government service, he has really shown an exceptional command of leadership and an exceptional command of the issues that face the American city,” Lucas said ahead of the vote.

Platt is currently the business administrator of Jersey City, a role equivalent to city manager. He previously served as the city’s chief innovation officer.

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

A majority of the council had to approve the appointment before an official offer could be made. The vote fell largely along racial lines. With the exception of Lucas, every Black council member voted against the appointment.

Council members Melissa Robinson, Brandon Ellington, Ryana Parks-Shaw and Lee Barnes, Jr., all of whom represent the city’s most racially diverse districts, opposed the recommendation.

The vote came after a 13-month national search that Lucas called “probably the most transparent city manager hiring process we’ve had in the history of Kansas City.”

But several council members said events this week undermined that process.

News of Platt’s selection was leaked by a Jersey City publication on Tuesday, taking several council members by surprise. The Jersey City Times inaccurately reported that Platt had been offered and accepted the job. The story was later removed from the publication's website. The mayor’s office denies an offer was ever made.

102920_Screenshot_ParksShaw_CityManagerDebate.png
Screenshot
Kansas City Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw makes a floor speech before voting against Mayor Quinton Lucas' choice for city manager.

Parks-Shaw said it was offensive to learn about the mayor’s pick from a news story.

“I do not appreciate not just my vote but all of our council members’ votes being marginalized,” Parks Shaw said. “It’s not acceptable.”

Less than 24 hours after images of the article were circulated, Lucas officially announced his recommendation to the council.

Councilman Brandon Ellington said the order of events raised red flags.

“Personally, I don’t respond well to e-mails and phone calls after the decision has apparently been made,” Ellington said.

Robinson, Parks-Shaw and Barnes also questioned Platt’s experience in government leadership. Platt became business administrator of Jersey City in 2018. Of the four finalists, he had the least experience in city government. He also was the only white candidate.

“Although we can speak and propose about stopping bias… one has to question this recommendation,” Parks-Shaw said. “Name one $1.7 billion company that would hire a CEO with only two years of leadership experience. Why should we?”

The other three finalists for the job were Milton Dohoney, Jr. of Phoenix, Janice Jackson of Augusta, Georgia, and Kevin Jackson of Long Beach, California.

Several council members say they were extremely impressed with Platt — particularly with his knowledge of budget issues and his ability to cut Jersey City’s budget by $70 million during the coronavirus pandemic.

In announcing his recommendation, Lucas said that most council members had named Platt as their top pick.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields urged her colleagues not to lose sight of the ultimate goal just because the rollout of the announcement was not ideal.

“Would this gentleman be a good fit for Kansas City, Missouri? And does he bring qualities that will hopefully make this a better city? And having listened to him and the other three candidates, while I’m respectful of all of them, I do think Mr. Platt is the best choice among the candidates who applied for this position,” Shields said.

In a phone interview with KCUR, Platt said he was excited to work with council members and stakeholders in Kansas City “to make sure that we’re building a vibrant and equitable city in all neighborhoods.”

He said he’s confident that he’ll be able to work well with all council members.

While contract negotiations and a formal offer are still pending, Platt said his biggest priority — even before he starts at City Hall — will be to start analyzing the budget.

Kansas City faces a $60 million budget shortfall due to the ongoing pandemic.

“The budget is crucial to the success of all of our city operations, to providing city services and to making sure that all of our residents have the support that they need,” Platt said. “But it takes time and it takes a lot of working together and having a lot of tough decisions and discussions over time.”

Platt is scheduled to appear on KCUR’s Up To Date on Friday at 9 a.m., along with Mayor Quinton Lucas.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.