Ponder this fact for a moment: In the last three years, Kansas City has paid out at least $6.2 million — a whopping figure —to end age, race or gender discrimination lawsuits by former city employees.
That’s a lot of revenue diverted from the need to provide basic services to residents, as Mayor Sly James conceded earlier this year.
The city needs to do a better job of laying off or firing its employees, or reorganizing agency functions at 12th and Oak streets. While personnel-related lawsuits are common in the private and public sectors, what makes this string of legal maneuvers sting so badly is that they have been successful.
City Manager Troy Schulte has been in charge, either as budget officer or in his current role, during these troubles. He should be held accountable by James, the City Council and Kansas Citians in dramatically reducing the chances of successful lawsuits in the future.
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Schulte should get help from the city’s top legal and human resources officials for making sure the proper personnel policies are in place and are followed.
The city manager recently acknowledged that the lawsuits have cost the city precious revenue. He said, however, that the reorganization of the prosecutor’s office and the release of a Water Services Department employee — accounting for eight of the settled lawsuits — have led to upgrades in services to residents. For example, the water agency provided quicker answers to customers after a personnel change was made there.
So far, James and other council members have supported efforts by Schulte to instill what he calls a new “culture” at City Hall. But they must pay more attention to the costs of these suits.
Schulte said in an interview that, for too long, some city employees have felt entitled to certain jobs with the city.
“Those days are over,” he said. “We can’t afford that kind of approach.” Reorganizing city agencies or putting people in new jobs is a way to use city funds better, he said. But the costs of settling the lawsuits illustrate the downfall of an aggressive approach to changing the way City Hall does business.
In most cases, city officials like Schulte claim they have done all they can to follow the law while laying off or moving around workers who eventually have filed suits against the city.
The results of those legal challenges to the city’s actions, however, illustrate that Schulte and others continue to fall short of properly carrying out these crucial personnel decisions.