The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

Why open records matter

02/27/2014 5:50 PM

02/27/2014 5:50 PM

This week, The Star has been part of a tug of war with Kansas City and others over the area’s proposal for hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

We think you have a right to know how much taxpayers may be asked to contribute to the gathering.

They don’t. Trust us, they say, the money for the convention won’t come from local taxpayers. It will come from the feds, or private donors.

Heck, even the committee preparing the bid is a privately funded, nonprofit company.

So imagine our frustration Wednesday when the committee released a video dramatizing the submission of the convention bid. The video uses shots of uniformed Kansas City police officers driving marked police cars and motorcycles. One officer stops traffic as part of the video stunt.

Wait a minute. Who paid for them?

Um, taxpayers. In a tweet, Mayor Sly James said the police in the video were actually practicing for a future presidential motorcade. A video-shooting helicopter just happened to hover overhead. And camera operators sat inside the cop cars.

Reporters and politicians struggle over access to financial information all the time, of course, and sometimes the public yawns.

But a national political convention here could cost $100 million or more. If private fundraising falls short — which it has in other cities in other years — your tax money may be quietly diverted from parks or streets or police to make up the difference.

Other officials in the cities seeking the convention have openly admitted the possibility of some taxpayer cost. In 2012, Tampa, Fla., spent $677,000 on the GOP convention, about what Kansas City spent on baseball’s All-Star Game that year.

James says the local convention contribution would be much less. It would be easier to believe him, though, if taxpayers had the convention budget in hand.

Too cynical? Kansas City has a crime problem. Yet some of its uniformed officers apparently practiced for a presidential visit

in the middle of a commercial video production

.

That seems pretty cynical too.

The mayor, and the convention committee, would prefer all of us to simply look away. A national political convention is too important, they argue, for Kansas Citians to quibble over pesky open records laws and a few taxpayer bucks.

They may misread the public’s mood. Conventions are fun for delegates, less so for residents. Some are already complaining.

Those whispers could turn into shouts if organizers continue to work in secret. The public’s business should be done in public.

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