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Kansas City Signed A Deal With Its New City Manager Despite Claims Of Racism In His Last Job

Brian Platt, a candidate for Kansas City city manager answers questions from council members in early October.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Brian Platt, a candidate for Kansas City city manager answers questions from council members in early October.

The new city manager’s hiring has underscored racial divisions on the Kansas City Council.

The Kansas City Council approved a contract with a new city manager over objections based on how Brian Platt allegedly treated Black workers as a top official in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Platt is named along with eight others as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by 10 Jersey City employees claiming discrimination based on race and age.

The lawsuit alleges those Black employees were “subjected to illegal transfers, title changes or demotions” while the majority of white employees were not. That stemmed from a controversial reorganization of the city’s recreation department that Platt oversaw. The suit contends that created a hostile work environment for Black city workers.

Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson raised concerns about the lawsuit and argued any approval of his contract should wait until after more investigation into Platt’s record in Jersey City. She and all but one other Black member of the council voted against approving his contract. The claims were not raised during his interview. They were first reported by The Call newspaper.

“We as a body say that we want racial reconciliation and we acknowledge the racial sins of the past, but we, for some reason, cannot come to grips with our continual decisions that continue to create a racial division,” Robinson said after the vote.

The city manager is one of the most powerful positions in city government, with responsibilities ranging from negotiating development deals to helping put together the city’s budget.

The city council voted to approve Platt’s contract largely along racial lines, with the exception of Mayor Quinton Lucas’ vote of support. An effort to delay approving the contract for a week fell one vote short.

Platt, who is white, will start the job Monday with an uphill battle to gain trust from Black council members who raised concerns in the hiring process that he didn’t have enough experience.

Platt oversaw a controversial reorganization of Jersey City’s recreation department. Employees were told they “must apply to a job posting … to be considered for a role in the (new) Department of Recreation and Youth Development,” according to Hudson County View.

He was grilled by Jersey City council members, but they ended up deciding not to reverse the reorganization plan. Platt said at the time that no one would have their pay cut or lose their job.

The plan angered recreation department employees who said they weren’t consulted. During a city council meeting discussing the changes, recreation employee Daniel Ali directly criticized Platt’s performance as a business administrator and said he “mixed truth with falsehood.”

“One of the ultimate levels of disrespect one human being could show or display to another is to be disingenuous, to tell lies, misleading, or deal in half-truths,” Ali said.

Ali is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Platt. In September, a judge dismissed it and sent it to be first heard by the Jersey City Civil Service Commission.

Jersey City Councilman Rolando Lavarro said the restructuring left employees like Ali “concerned and scared.” Lavarro originally supported hiring Platt as their city’s business administrator.

“I regret that vote,” Lavarro said. “He's had limited experience inside of government.”

During Thursday’s council meeting, Lucas told council members that Platt was recommended by the Jersey City mayor and there wasn’t a mention of “significant racial disputes in their communities or in their districts” from people who supervised Platt.

“I've been at this city as an elected official for five and a half years,” Lucas said. “We have approved dozens of settlements, many of which have related to racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, any number of issues. I never heard anyone make that part of the review of (former) city manager (Troy) Schulte or of acting city manager (Earnest) Rouse.”

Council members also raised concerns that Platt hadn’t adequately reached out to them.

Platt, reached through the mayor’s spokeswoman, did not directly answer a question about concerns Robinson raised related to discrimination. Yet Platt said he has had “introductory interactions” with every council member.

“I look forward to speaking with and learning from each of them about the needs of their districts and how I can best play a role in supporting them, as we work to build a better Kansas City for all,” Platt said in a statement.

Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields wanted to wait a week to vote on approving Platt’s contract so he could have time to speak with council members. Still, she ultimately voted for his contract.

“He did not reach out in any meaningful way to myself or my council colleagues,” Shields said.

Lucas and Councilwoman Teresa Loar pushed back on the idea that Platt wasn’t accessible. Loar said council members need to reach out to Platt.

“He’s always been very responsive,” Loar said. “I’m not going to sit here and wait for him to call me because people just don’t do that. I mean, I just call.”

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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