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A Kansas City PAC got less than a third of the signatures it needed to recall council members

A woman signs the petition to recall 4th Councilman Eric Bunch Sept. 7, 2021. The recall attempt was unsuccessful.
Zach Bauman
Kansas City Beacon
A woman signs the petition to recall 4th Councilman Eric Bunch Sept. 7, 2021. The recall attempt was unsuccessful.

To trigger a recall election, Taking KC Back would’ve had to collect 13,700 signatures per council member. But it failed to collect more than 4,000 signatures against any single one.

Even with a sharp increase in donations, the political action committee Taking KC Back has again failed to prompt a recall election in Kansas City, Missouri.

The group filed affidavits with the Kansas City clerk’s office in late September, giving notice of its effort to recall Mayor Quinton Lucas and at-large council members Katheryn Shields, Lee Barnes, Kevin O’Neill, Andrea Bough and Brandon Ellington. Taking KC Back had initiated previous unsuccessful campaigns to recall Lucas and 4th District Councilman Eric Bunch.

The group’s backers cited the council’s May vote to redirect about one-fifth of the police budget to fund a new “community services and prevention fund” as the primary reason for the recall effort. Kevin O’Neill, the at-large representative for the 1st District, opposed that controversial measure, but organizers said he is included in the recall petition for voting to give protesters amnesty from charges during the 2020 protests after the murder of George Floyd.

In emails to followers, Taking KC Back has also indicated unhappiness with the mayor and council members because of mask mandates intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

To trigger a recall election, the PAC would’ve had to collect 13,700 signatures per council member. But it failed to collect more than 4,000 signatures against any single one.

To begin the recall process, a voter from the elected official’s district must file an affidavit that includes the name of the official, their office and the grounds for removal. The city clerk then makes copies of the petition papers for distribution. After filing the affidavit, organizers have 30 days to gather signatures for the KC recall petition. If the petition drive succeeds, the city determines a recall election date.

Committee gets serious about fundraising

Now a little more than a year old, Taking KC Back saw a windfall of donations in the summer and fall. The PAC’s October quarterly report showed it had received $10,890.50 in donations from July to the end of September. In contrast, Taking KC Back raised nothing from December of last year through June.

The largest donation came from Kansas City resident Bridget Thomas, who donated $5,000 in August. Thomas listed her job as self-employed in sales. The second-largest donation was from John Hagan III, a physician at Discover Vision Centers, who gave $1,250 throughout August and September.

Approximately 10% of the quarter’s donations came from PAC members themselves. Treasurer Ronda Smith donated $668.70; President Rita Olson-Stawicki donated $152; and Shannon Bjornlie, who has helped the PAC’s media outreach efforts, donated $300.

The Beacon previously reported that both Smith and Olson-Stawicki have connections to the Kansas City Police Department — Smith’s husband is a retired officer who now works as a legislative aide to 1st District Councilwoman Heather Hall, and Olson-Stawicki is a retired officer.

Taking KC Back expands outreach

Kids trick-or-treating in Kansas City might have gotten more than a sugary treat from supporters of the recall petitions. In an emailed newsletter, Taking KC Back encouraged people to print the following message on flyers and hand it out alongside candy:


We are recalling the Mayor & City council members for their vote to DEFUND the KCPD by 42 MILLION DOLLARS. For more information on the recall effort and where to sign a petition in person visit www.takekcback.com.”

The Halloween strategy was part of a push by the PAC to garner greater individual involvement in the effort. Its dedication to grassroots organizing had become clear in September, when PAC members set up booths and sent volunteers door to door to collect signatures from 4th District residents in an effort to force a recall election of Bunch. The effort fell short by 220 signatures, but instead of reinventing its strategy, Taking KC Back opted to expand its efforts by seeking to recall Lucas and several at-large council members.

Taking KC Back listed nine locations in Kansas City, Grandview and Martin City where people could sign recall petitions. Daily time periods were listed for each location.

Losing steam in late October

By the end of October, the group’s emails to its list of followers had taken on a more urgent note.

“Here we are with one last attempt to plead for help,” Smith, the treasurer, wrote. “Maybe we have been going at this all the wrong way these past 30 plus days on the recalls for Lucas and the 5 at large council members…I have been focusing on only the 187 volunteers in this email list and I should have been asking all of the 827 here to help to make the load easier for all of us.”

If the recall attempt was unsuccessful, Smith said, it would “empower Lucas to do even more mandates on us or even break laws doing what they do down there.”

If successful, she added, Taking KC Back could make history or the national news. 

On Nov.19, the clerk’s office confirmed that the group had fallen short of its goal. Taking KC Back has been granted 10 days to gather supplemental signatures to try to reach 13,700 signatures for each council member it hopes to recall.

When reached by The Beacon, Bjornlie provided the following written statement:

“It’s shameful, however not surprising, that local media only has interest in the effort when they believe that we failed. That said, efforts to expose and remove Kansas City of this corrupt individuals will most definitely continue.”

This story was originally published on the Kansas City Beacon.

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.
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