Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed said Friday that a personal matter kept him from potentially voting on a new policy for economic development incentives the day before.
Reed’s departure left the council with an apparent 6-6 deadlock, which would have sunk the measure. Instead of voting, the City Council decided to wait two weeks before taking it up again.
“I had a personal matter which I had to attend to and made it known I would need to leave before the ordinance debate began,” Reed said in a text message.
Reed was among seven co-sponsors of the economic development ordinance in Kansas City, giving its proponents an apparent edge with 13 votes at stake.
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The ordinance caps the level of tax abatements and redirections at 75 percent. The ordinance includes two exceptions to that limit: projects in distressed census tracts and those that score “high impact” on the AdvanceKC scorecard. AdvanceKC is a policy that evaluates whether projects should receive incentives. The scoring rubric favors projects that bring well-paying jobs and significant investment to the city.
Reed left about halfway through a lengthy debate Thursday. His departure seemed to surprise other co-sponsors of the legislation.
“I’ll just say I thought we’d be able to have a debate and get to it,” said Quinton Lucas, who has carried the effort to reform incentive policy. “But I don’t want to start any conflict on that.”
Councilwoman Heather Hall, a fellow co-sponsor of the legislation, said she wasn’t told that Reed would miss the vote.
The Urban Summit, an urban-advocacy group, took issue with Reed not casting a vote.
“The Urban Summit is disappointed that Councilman Jermaine Reed was not sufficiently committed to tax incentive reform to remain at the council meeting on September 22, 2016 long enough to vote for the ordinance he cosponsored,” said Urban Summit founder James Tindall in a statement to The Star.
The Urban Summit worked with Lucas and others on the measure.
“When he skipped out before the vote, he skipped out on us, his constituents,” Tindall’s statement reads.
Mayor Sly James and five other council members who were not co-sponsors of Lucas’ ordinance called for a delay in casting an up-or-down vote in order to smooth out various misgivings about the legislation.
James requested that a component of Lucas’ ordinance, called a Shared Success Fund, be removed and handled separately. The Shared Success Fund would receive money from certain payments in lieu of taxes from economic development projects to fund projects in distressed areas.
James has his own version of the Shared Success Fund that puts the responsibility of dispersing the money to an appointed board. Lucas’ version puts those decisions in the hands of the council.
Another concern was whether taxing jurisdictions — counties, school districts and library districts — supported the measure.
Councilman Scott Taylor wanted governing boards for taxing jurisdictions to pass formal resolutions of support. Councilwoman Jolie Justus said she didn’t want resolutions, but at least assurances. Justus said she wasn’t clear whether taxing jurisdictions were on board.
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell, for example, said in a letter that he supported Lucas’ ordinance but had concerns about forthcoming changes the city is considering to the AdvanceKC scoring system.
“I had told Councilman Lucas that I wanted assurances, I wanted to hear from taxing jurisdictions that they were comfortable with what we were doing,” Justus said. “We had not gotten that until we walked into the (council) chamber at 3 o’clock yesterday.”
Justus added that she understood that an amendment to the ordinance on Thursday would affect support for the ordinance. The council’s amendment Thursday made the incentive policy apply to future projects only, and not those that had been approved previously.
“I was told in writing and in person from Councilman Lucas that there were people who were no longer agreeing to the compromise if we amended it,” Justus said. “I was asking for a hold because I wanted to make sure they were all in on the compromise.”
Lucas said he had concerns that Thursday’s debate portrayed taxing jurisdictions as untrustworthy.
“I do plan to write a letter of apology on behalf of me, I guess, to the heads of the taxing jurisdictions, who I think sustained a good deal of attack yesterday, particularly Dr. Bedell of the Kansas City school district,” Lucas said. “I think the way we addressed our taxing jurisdictions, the way they were described, their purported bad acting, was not fair.”