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Kansas City Manager Brian Platt withdraws from Austin city manager job search

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt outside the Satchel Paige home on Aug. 9, 2021.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Manager Brian Platt talks about the city's efforts to be more environmentally conscious on KCUR's Up To Date on Aug. 30, 2023.

Platt was named one of three finalists for the role of Austin City Manager, but withdrew his application after Kansas City Council voted to renegotiate his contract. Appointed in 2020, Platt is the city's highest-paid employee, charged with executing basic city functions and overseeing the budget.

Kansas City Manager Brian Platt, one of the highest-ranking and the highest-paid official in City Hall, has withdrawn from consideration for the job of city manager in Austin, Texas.

Last week, Platt was named one of three finalists for the role, along with Dallas city manager T.C. Broadnax and Denton, Texas, city manager Sara Hensley, according to an announcement Tuesday on the Austin City Council message board.

Austin has been without a permanent city manager since last February, when the City Council voted to oust the previous officeholder, Spencer Cronk, over his botched response to winter ice storms.

Austin began a nationwide search for its new city manager in late 2023 using search firm Mosaic Public Partners. Applications closed on Feb. 26, 2024, after 39 candidates put their names forward.

“We appreciate Austin’s recognition of the success of Kansas City and its government over the past four years and our top administrator, Brian Platt,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas posted on social media on Tuesday. “I was proud to recommend his hire four years ago and we will work hard to retain him and his team in Kansas City.”

On Thursday, Kansas City Council voted for the mayor to negotiate a new contract extension for Platt, to last through Aug. 1, 2027, on the condition that Platt leave the Austin job search.

Over the weekend, Platt informed Austin's search firm that he was "withdrawing from consideration," according to a message Sunday on the Austin City Council board.

No terms of the new contract have been released yet. Platt has not responded to requests for comment.

In Austin, like in Kansas City, the mayor and city council work in tandem to carry out legislative functions like proposing and passing laws.

And like Kansas City, Austin’s mayor and city council appoint an unelected city manager to carry out their agenda. It’s arguably the most powerful unelected position in the city, and compensated accordingly — Platt’s annual salary of $265,000 makes him Kansas City’s highest paid city employee.

The Austin government website likens its city manager to a professional “who operates much like a CEO” in the private sector. Former Austin City Manager Cronk’s salary was increased to about $388,000 at the end of 2022. KUT reports that Austin and Mosaic Public Partners did not disclose the possible salary for the current opening, and the hiring process has so far been "messy" and "opaque."

The duties of a city manager in both Kansas City and Austin are similar, although on different scales. That includes assembling and overseeing the city budget, which is $2.3 billion in Kansas City compared to $5.5 billion in Austin. Kansas City is currently in the middle of negotiating its budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, with officials intending to pass it by the end of this month.

The position also manages city staff and spearheads many initiatives out of City Hall.

Austin will invite the finalists to the city on March 25 to meet with city staff, interview with the mayor and city council, and appear at a community town hall. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said he hopes to announce his choice by April 2, and then the city council will need to sign off.

How Platt came to Kansas City

A police captain sits at the end of a roar of people, all listening to a speaker.
Zach Perez
Kansas City City Manager Brian Platt and KCPD Chief Stacey Graves, attend the second term inauguration of Mayor Quinton Lucas.

Platt came to Kansas City from Jersey City, New Jersey, where he held a similar position.

In October 2020, Platt was one of four finalists considered to replace outgoing, longtime city manager Troy Schulte, who is now the county administrator for Jackson County.

At 35, Platt was the youngest finalist, had the least government experience and was the only white candidate.

Platt’s eventual appointment divided the city council, mostly along racial lines, in a contentious 9-4 vote. Although Mayor Quinton Lucas selected Platt and recommended him to the position, all four Black council members — Melissa Robinson, Brandon Ellington, Lee Barnes and Ryana Parks-Shaw — voted against him. They represented the most racially diverse districts in Kansas City.

The four council members cited a news story from a Jersey City publication leaking Platt’s selection to the job before the vote as a red flag. They also questioned Platt’s government experience.

Platt assumed the city manager position in December 2020. He immediately faced a $70 million budget deficit because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, and was tasked with directing the city out of that budget hole.

Three years later, the city is seeing increased revenue, leading Lucas to declare that last month the city is “in its strongest fiscal position ever.”

The laundry list of responsibilities for the Kansas City manager include snow removal, brokering development deals in a growing metro and overseeing major infrastructure projects like the Kansas City International Airport and the new KC Current women’s soccer stadium on the Berkley Riverfront.

During his more than three-year tenure, Platt has ramped up Kansas City’s winter weather response, pushed to resurface more city streets, fill potholes, and touted new city initiatives focused on combating homelessness, replacing all city streetlights with LEDs, planting more trees and overseen pay increases for city employees.

Under Platt’s direction, the city has changed its response to storms by putting more salt on the roads, deploying more snow removal vehicles and adding more shifts to clear city roads, particularly residential streets. The city has also dedicated more money in recent years to increase street resurfacing — with the goal for the upcoming year to resurface more than 400 miles of road.

Platt has also overseen city initiatives like Zero KC to dedicate funding to end homelessness. He recently posted the conversion of all streetlights to LEDs is two-thirds complete.

Controversies during Platt’s tenure

Platt’s time in Kansas City has not always been smooth, particularly within City Hall.

In one Dec. 2022 lawsuit, former communications director Chris Hernandez alleged he was demoted from his position because he refused Platt’s direction to lie to the media about street resurfacing and pothole repairs.

Kansas City filed a motion last January to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that lying to the media is not illegal. The city reiterated that it does not endorse lying to the press.

Platt was in hot water again last spring, when Andrea Dorch, former head of the city’s Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Office, alleged that Platt forced her to resign because she sounded the alarm about Facebook parent company Meta skirting minority hiring rules for its massive data campus in the Northland.

KCUR later reported that the city hired a private investigator to follow and surveil Dorch.

The city council later passed an ordinance requiring Meta to follow rules around hiring a certain number of minority and woman-owned contractors.

Following Dorch’s departure, several Civil Rights organizations in Kansas City called for Platt’s resignation and called Mayor Lucas complicit in a “culture of racism” within City Hall.

KCUR's Brian Ellison contributed reporting to this story.

Updated: March 11, 2024 at 1:49 PM CDT
Platt has withdrawn from the job search for Austin City Manager.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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