Kansas City’s process for picking an airport terminal developer sank deeper into the quicksand Tuesday.
For two days, city officials tried to keep documents related to the selection process secret from the press and public. It was yet another disturbing example of the city’s relentless attempts to obscure the terminal selection effort.
On Tuesday, after serious prodding from The Kansas City Star, the city finally released two documents compiled for the terminal selection committee and distributed to the full City Council.
One provides a side-by-side comparison of proposals from Edgemoor Infrastructure, AECOM, and Burns & McDonnell, the three major bidders on the terminal project.
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Disappointingly, the document includes no analysis of the plans, or ranking of the proposals, or any way to understand how the committee settled on Edgemoor. A second document, also made public Tuesday, explains why.
“The selection committee did not use any form of matrix in considering the proposals,” the memo says. “Nor did it engage in an official vote in making its selection.”
That’s no way to build an airport. It’s no way for public officials to buy a box of pencils, either.
The whole point of an independent selection committee — for any public purchase — is to remove subjective political considerations from the process. Experts, not politicians, should review proposals, decide which is the best and then negotiate a contract.
But that process only works if selection committee members use clear guidelines to reach decisions as objectively as possible. Otherwise, winning bids are indefensible.
In this case, no one can explain why Edgemoor is preferable to any other bidder in the airport competition. The documents provided Tuesday provide no clarity on that question.
How can voters have confidence in this decision without a clear explanation of how it was reached?
In the absence of real evidence, political muscle too often takes over. Selections are made not on merit or qualifications but on campaign contributions, lobbying connections, advertising, clever slogans and the like.
On Tuesday, selection committee member and City Councilman Jermaine Reed said publicly for the first time that AECOM was at the top of an informal ranking of proposers on Aug. 14, the first day of presentations. Somehow in the next three weeks, Edgemoor rose to the top spot.
How? Why? That seems important. AECOM’s bid may still be on the table.
This selection effort, flawed from the beginning, could have been different. It should have included objective rankings, formal votes, transparency and full disclosure. It included none of those things.
It’s clear the city’s procurement process is irretrievably broken. When the drama of the airport terminal has passed, City Council members should begin an immediate and thorough re-write of their purchasing procedures.
The goals: objective decision-making; exclusion of elected officials until a contract is finalized; transparency; and a complete, publicly available record of deliberations, including a number-based decision matrix and recorded votes.
Other cities do it all the time. Kansas City should, too.
The full council is expected Thursday to discuss its options at KCI. That debate — itself outside of the normal procurement procedure — will be complicated and obscure.
But the damage this messy, secretive process has caused seems clear.