By now, many Kansas Citians are probably confused about the ongoing struggle over a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Competing proposals were unveiled and discussed Monday — then, for the moment, tabled.
The City Council met privately Tuesday to talk about options. They may do so again Thursday and Friday. Members still face an Aug. 24 deadline to put the airport on the ballot this year.
It would be easy for voters to throw up their hands in despair at the wobbly process. But as strange as it might seem, Kansas City has taken important steps in the last weeks to find a terminal proposal voters can endorse.
There is still much work to do, and mistakes are possible. Secrecy and political maneuvering could yield an unacceptable project. Yet supporters of a new terminal can point to progress.
Four firms submitted proposals, giving city officials important points of comparison and a range of options.
Competition has also meant a dramatic reduction in costs. The final project will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars less than the original no-bid plan offered by Mayor Sly James and Burns & McDonnell in May. That’s exactly why The Star urged the council to open the process to competition.
To their credit, three of the proposers made their plans public, a decision that was in Kansas Citians’ best interest. The firms were far more transparent than City Hall.
Kansas City voters must be assured their representatives picked the right proposal, for the right cost, for the right reasons. A transparent process is the only way to do that.
Some council members — and at least one proposer — have expressed concerns about additional questions submitted after Monday’s session.
The additional inquiries aren’t particularly worrisome. Selection committee members have a right to make sure they understand what they’re being offered.
At the same time, the city shouldn’t be changing the rules now. If there’s evidence the questions are designed to delay the process or tilt the selection to a specific proposer, voters will properly reject the selection.
That’s why the answers to the inquiries must be made public. Selection committee members said they want an apples-to-apples comparison of proposers’ financing offers. Kansas Citians will want the same information.
There are other hurdles. The City Council must still decide what language to put on the ballot. That decision now appears easier because the two front-running proposers have agreed that private or semi-private financing is preferable to public aviation bonds.
Eventually, the council will have to pick a winning proposer. That decision need not be made before Aug. 24, and members should take as much time as is reasonable to reach a fact-based choice.
The criteria are clear: a modern, convenient, accessible terminal, built as quickly and safely as possible at the lowest possible cost.
At some point before Election Day, city officials will have to publicly defend their decision against those measuring sticks. If they can’t do it, the airport project will lose at the polls.
That sad outcome can still be avoided. Kansas Citians are fair-minded and support progress. If the City Council makes an objective decision in an open process, voters will support a 21st-century KCI.