New conflict of interest charges have muddied the already murky waters engulfing the selection of a builder for a proposed new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport. As reported in the Kansas City Star, David Frantze, an attorney representing Burns & McDonnell and its financing partner Americo Life, blasted City Hall for using an outside attorney who had once represented one of the four entities competing for the project.
Frantze claimed that Husch Blackwell attorney Charles Renner had previously represented Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate on a building project at KU. According to Frantze, the relationship “creates a horrible conflict of interest that has tainted the selection process.” Frantze demanded that Husch Blackwell’s other associates on the project, including financial advisory firm Ameritas, be fired as well.
Burns & Mac chimed in piously, “The non-disclosure of this relationship certainly gives the appearance of impropriety. In order to preserve the current selection process, we urge the City to remove Mr. Renner’s team from the selection process, immediately. We also ask that the City disregard any work or advice the City may have received from Mr. Renner and his team to preserve the appearance of an open and ethical selection process.” Renner denied any impropriety.
This new flare-up provides a useful smokescreen for a subtler conflict of interest problem unearthed by Marketing exec Kevin Koster. Koster has has been tracking airport shenanigans for the last few years through his website, savekci.org. As he noted, a “consortium of airliners” appeared on Friday to endorse Burns & Mac’s bid. “We are a strong supporter of the Kansas City community and our preference would be to stay local and work with KCI Hometown team,” said the consortium in a press release. The release than added a major qualifier, “No matter which team is selected, we will be happy to work together with the city to build a terminal that would improve the customer experience for all KCI travelers and Employees today, tomorrow, and in the decades to come.”
Burns & Mac promptly interpreted the airline’s “preference” to stay local into a ringing endorsement. “For the Airlines to say the Burns & McDonnell KCI HOMETOWN Team has the best proposal for KCI, its passengers and the airlines — is the ultimate stamp of approval,” said Burns & McDonnell vice president Mike Brown.” Of course, the “airlines” said no such thing.
Said Koster, “I find it curious that Burns and McDonnell, The City of Kansas City, and Southwest Airlines are all represented by the same lobbyist – Kit Bond Strategies.”
Koster added, “Finally, I’m curious about the discussion between the airlines regarding the statement. Is it a Southwest statement that the others deferred on (or didn’t know about) or did they all collaborate and collectively decide to breech protocol in this case. Regardless, I’m impressed with the speed with which Burns and McDonnell crafted their PR response given that they were no doubt caught off guard on a holiday weekend.”