Voters in the Northland should think hard before voting Nov. 7 to extend Kansas City’s bus system tax, presiding commissioners in Clay and Platte county argue.
That’s after the mayor of Kansas City earlier this year ignored the wishes of both the Clay and Platte county commissions and made his own appointments to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) – a move the two commissioners say is contrary to state law.
It also puts Northland voters in the position of voting to tax themselves and their fellow citizens without having their choice of appointments to the KCATA.
“If we’re going to be taxed, are we going to get our due legal representation?” asks Clay County Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte in an interview with The Heartlander.
“As a result of the Mayor’s actions, the citizens of Clay and Platte Counties do not have proper representation on the KCATA Board of Commissioners,” Nolte and Platte County Presiding Commissioner Scott Fricker wrote in a joint statement Oct. 17. “Clay and Platte County citizens are being taxed without proper representation as required by the law.”
Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot asks voters whether to extend the current 3/8th-cent sales tax to fund KCATA operations.The extension is projected to raise $421 million over 10 years.
“Before Northlanders vote to extend this tax, Kansas City should comply with the law and appoint members to the KCATA Board of Commissioners as required by Missouri Statute,” the two commissioners’ statement reads. “On November 7, Clay and Platte Kansas Citians should consider whether or not to support this taxation without the legitimate representation as guaranteed to us by law.”
Missouri statute 238.060 says Clay and Platte counties each are to submit a list of three names for the mayor to choose from to appoint to the 10-member KCATA Board of Commissioners. Nolte and Fricker say each of their counties did that, but Mayor Quinton Lucas chose his own appointees instead: Dr. Tyjaun Lee, president of the Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley Campus, for Platte County, and Jade Liska, deputy director in the city Aviation Department’s Planning and Engineering Division, for Clay County.
Nolte and Fricker note that a city employee’s appointment to the KCATA board “raises concerns about the independence of the KCATA Board and the undue influence of the Kansas City Mayor.”
The Heartlander has asked a spokesperson why Mayor Lucas ignored the two counties’ nominees, and whether he believes there’s a loophole in the law’s language allowing him to do so.
While a bus system board isn’t exactly top-of-mind for voters, following the law might be – as well as having the representation of their choice to go with their taxation.
So, what should voters in the Northland do on Nov. 7?
“I think they should take into account that, if they’re going to extend this tax, one of the facets of the tax is that they receive representation on the board,” Nolte says. “And I would contend that they are not getting the representation that’s prescribed by the law – and they should consider that in their decision-making process.”
Nolte won’t flat-out say that Lucas’s appointments are illegal, but does say, “I don’t think it was done legally, or at least in accordance with the law.” Nolte acknowledges having sought the advice of county counsel, but says he hopes legal action can be avoided.
“At the end of the day, to file some legal action is going to cost the taxpayers money. I would much rather try to sort this out without legal action and just say, ‘Look, fair is fair, come on.’ I wouldn’t rule [a lawsuit] out. It’s just that I am reluctant to go down that road unless all other options have been exhausted.”
At the very least, he and Fricker want voters in the Northland to know about the situation – especially after the Northland’s having felt chronically slighted by City Hall in matters relating to General Obligation bonds, redistricting, policing and more.
“I think there have been a number of issues that have come up” that would lead Northlanders to feel disconnected and disrespected by KC leaders, Nolte says. “I think that we do not get our due when it comes to the metro area. I think that the Northland just gets a little bit short-sheeted here on a lot of issues. And you know, I think it’s an easy conclusion to come to.
“I think we do feel a little like we are second-class citizens in a way.”
Nolte concedes the Missouri statute in question “was not maybe as tightly written” as it should have been. Indeed, while it provides that the two county commissions each send a list of three names to the mayor, that’s followed by “who shall appoint with the approval of a majority of the members of the city council …”
In other words, the law doesn’t precisely order the mayor to pick from those names, though that was the obvious intent.
“Could a lawyer pick that apart? Maybe,” Nolte says.
Mayor Lucas is a lawyer by training.
Whether the mayor’s end-run around Clay and Platte counties is part of an unspoken agenda is unclear. Nolte only observes that he’s seen what he believes to be mission creep in the transit authority.
“I had thought of the ATA as strictly buses and that sort of thing. Their mission seems to be broader. Whether they are broadening it or not, I guess that would be a question for their board, but it feels broader than I would have thought it was.
“They’re talking about more economic development-type issues. Clearly I’m not on that board, but it seems to me their primary mission is to provide transportation services. There are economic development considerations, but they seem to be going deeper into that than I would have thought they would.”
The transit system has a natural, positive impact on economic development in the act of getting people from where they live to where they can work.
“On the other hand,” Nolte says, “getting much more hands-on than that seems to me a job that is for the [Economic Development Corporations], the governmental entities who are involved in economic development. So, they seem to be taking that job on a little bit more. At least that’s the impression I’m getting.”