In an astonishing display of arrogance, nine members of the Kansas City Council on Thursday betrayed voters and rejected a negotiated memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor Infrastructure, the company picked to develop a terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
The decision — cooked up out of the public’s eye — once again injected chaos into the airport terminal project.
Council members disagreed on the next steps. Some said they might approach Edgemoor to see if an amended agreement is still possible, an effort Edgemoor said it would consider and the city should embrace.
But Councilman Lee Barnes, Jr. introduced a resolution to begin negotiations with AECOM, the second-place finisher in the airport competition. That resolution may come back to the council at a later date.
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Kansas City voters should be furious about the council’s ham-handed interference with the project. Less than six weeks ago, voters overwhelmingly endorsed construction of a new $1 billion terminal at KCI — a remarkable show of faith in their elected leaders.
Those voters knew Edgemoor had been selected in a relatively open procurement process. Now nine council members have betrayed that faith, in a stunning bait-and-switch. It confirms every claim of distrust in local government.
Some council members said they were disappointed in Edgemoor’s commitment to community benefits and minority hiring for the project. Perhaps those elected officials could have made their views known openly, instead of sneaking around City Hall, rounding up votes.
But the decision to abandon Edgemoor makes minority participation in the airport less likely. AECOM will be able to dictate the terms of a new agreement: Edgemoor will be gone, and no other original bidder is qualified.
And no other company will touch this project. There will be no alternative for the city to consider.
The decision should invite litigation, although few could blame Edgemoor if they walked away from Kansas City forever. It will almost certainly delay the project, perhaps for years.
And what of the city’s voters? What does this say to them? Does anyone think the airport would have passed had the council launched its backroom coup before Nov. 7? Of course not.
We never endorsed any specific bidder for the terminal. We argued instead for an open, transparent process that would produce the best project at the lowest cost. Several city officials and elected leaders worked tirelessly to make that happen. Edgemoor was their choice.
Now that work has been erased.
We applaud Mayor Sly James for his vote to approve the Edgemoor agreement. He supported another alternative, yet he knows the chaos this decision will cause. It will give this city a black eye in every boardroom in America.
Council members Katheryn Shields, Jermaine Reed, and Jolie Justus also voted yes. They care what voters think.
Their colleagues do not, to their shame. Kansas City is the worse for it.