December 5, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Turbulence Rocks KC Council As Decision Nears on $1 Billion Airport Bid

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Things are getting rough as the Kansas City Council moves to a decision on the $1 billion airport contract.

It has been a turbulent day or two as the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council moves to a $1 billion bid decision on a new terminal at KCI. KCI selection committee member and prime mover, Jolie Justus, was hit with an ethics complaint on a conflict of interest charge. And an aide to council member Katheryn Shields was publicly rebuked by Mayor Sly James for her too cozy relationship with one of the four firms bidding to build and finance the terminal.

Justus, an attorney, works at the Kansas City law firm, Shook, Hardy & Bacon. The firm has a relationship with KC-based engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, one of the two most aggressive of the four bidders. Indeed, had the City Council had its way, Burns & Mac would have been the only bidder. By now Burns & Mac executives have to be wondering why they got involved so deeply in this quagmire in the first place.

Kansas Citian Ryan Elsenpeter filed the ethics complaint against Justus. It goes before the Kansas City Municipal Ethics Commission on Wednesday afternoon. Justus has made a fairly strong case that her role at Shook Hardy’s and Shook Hardy’s relationship with Burns & Mac are too tangential to justify her recusing herself. The argument is undermined, says a spokesman for the Citizens for Responsible Government by Justus’s past recusal from a Council decision involving Kemper Arena.

“It appears Councilperson Justus recuses herself when her participation is insignificant,” says the CFRG, “but does not recuse when her vote is needed to help a client of her firm get a contract. It certainly has the appearance of impropriety or unfairness. Public servants should avoid such appearances.”

Burns & Mac is one of the two most likely candidates for the $1 billion contract. The other is a bidder known as the “AECOM-led KCI Partnership.” To muddy the waters even further, Mayor James accused Shields’s aide, Le’Shyeka Roland, with having a “rather close conversation” at last Thursday’s council meeting with a representative from the KCI Partnership. Said James, “No matter how you slice it, looks pretty bad, in my opinion.”

Said Shields, “When I saw her in the legislative chamber go over and sit by the guy, I sent her a text that said, ‘You can’t sit by him, he’s from AECOM.’” Shields claims that Roland had no idea who the fellow was or who he worked for.

Said James in reply, “Generally when you sit by somebody you don’t know, they don’t put their arm around you.” He also claims Roland had her head on the man’s shoulder.

Fasten your seat belts. More turbulence expected.

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