The event seemed straightforward enough: Kansas City would pay to bring in a world-famous boxer to counsel youths about healthy living.
But it’s prompted City Hall to launch an internal investigation and ask for its money back. It’s also led to calls for reform and pushed the promoter to rethink the whole thing.
At issue is the $15,000 check issued to bring Las Vegas boxer Floyd Mayweather to Kansas City on Dec. 8 as part of a program that strives to provide young people with positive role models and a path to success.
Among questions that have surfaced:
Is a boxer with a background of domestic violence the best role model?
And should the check have been issued based on a request from a single city council member to the city manager?
“There’s got to be a better way to vet these things,” Danny Rotert, spokesman for Mayor Sly James, said Tuesday.
The event was conceived by Ossco Bolton, executive director of P.O.S.S.E., which stands for Peers Organized to Support Student Excellence. The organization began in 1995 and bills itself as providing training, mentoring and constructive activities for young people to become leaders.
Bolton says he wanted to bring Mayweather in as a highly successful athlete and someone the city’s youths could look up to and learn from. The event was to be held at the Gregg Klice Community Center, with the topic “Healthy and Drug Free Living.”
Bolton approached 5th District Councilman Michael Brooks, who went to City Manager Troy Schulte for the funding.
Brooks said Bolton had helped provide security for a weekend nightlife program that Kansas City sponsored this summer for middle and high school-aged students, and said he and Bolton wanted to keep that positive momentum going.
“I agreed it would be a good opportunity for our young people to have a celebrity like that speak to them,” Brooks said, adding that involvement in boxing can serve as a positive alternative to the gun violence that consumes too many young men.
Brooks said he approached the city manager because Schulte had been involved in funding the summer events.
Schulte said the city has had good luck with Bolton’s organization in the past and he trusted this would be a good event. When he approved the funding in October, he was unaware Mayweather had served time this summer for a domestic violence charge.
Mayweather, whose nickname is “Money” according to his website, is an undefeated world champion boxer who has won eight world titles. He was named Forbes’ highest paid athlete this year.
According to his website, he has also been a staunch anti-doping advocate and owns a boxing club that is a training facility for other rising fighters.
But this summer, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he served two months of a three-month jail sentence. He had pleaded guilty in December 2011 to domestic battery and no contest to two counts of harassment, all misdemeanors, for assaulting the mother of three of his four children and threatening his two sons in 2010.
He also pleaded guilty in 2002 to two counts of domestic battery in connection with an assault on the mother of his other child, according to the newspaper.
Mayweather could not be reached for comment.
Brooks said he wasn’t initially aware of Mayweather’s domestic violence record, but even after he became aware of it, he thought Mayweather had paid his dues and could still be a useful role model to Kansas City’s youths.
“He did his time,” he said. “The young people we deal with, they don’t listen to people who seem perfect. His laundry has been aired. It’s hard to tell people who they want to be their hero.”
Bolton defended the effort to bring an athlete of Mayweather’s caliber to Kansas City, and said Mayweather could counsel youths not to make the same mistakes he did.
But he said he’s gotten negative public reaction about Mayweather’s domestic violence offense.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls about Mayweather’s background,” he said.
Bolton said he also got public pushback after Mayweather came to Kansas City Nov. 10 and attended a party at the Skyline Club, a hip hop club at 8625 Troost. Even though that event had nothing to do with the P.O.S.S.E. event and was not getting city money, Bolton said people misunderstood and thought the two events were connected.
So both Bolton and Brooks said this week they were postponing the event and instead planning to bring a different speaker to Kansas City, probably in February or March. Bolton said this shouldn’t be a big deal.
“All I want to do is an event for young people,” said Bolton, who thinks he should be given time to find a new speaker and date.
“This is $15,000 out of a billion dollar budget,” he said. “Come on.”
But Schulte said the city wants its money back if the event that was funded isn’t going to happen Dec. 8. “What we bought isn’t happening,” he said.After Schulte got wind of concerns about the proposed event, he asked Internal Auditor Roy Greenway about 10 days ago to investigate whether the money would be spent as intended on a youth event or whether some of the money had gone to the Skyline Club or to people not connected to P.O.S.S.E.
Greenway declined to comment about the details of his investigation.
The $15,000 came from the convention and tourism fund, which involves tourism-related taxes and is not from general taxpayer dollars. It was intended both for Mayweather and for promotion.
Schulte said he sometimes gets such funding requests and he tries to accommodate them when he can.
“We try to support these events that are important to the community if we can find out a way consistent with our efforts,” he said.
But he acknowledged the process of funding such events could be better.
“We’ll try to work to tighten up,” he said.
The mayor and other city council members said that clearly needs to happen.
Rotert said the mayor agreed that when council members seek funding from the city manager, it needs to be more transparent.
Rotert said the mayor did not learn about the proposed event until recently, when he got wind of some public opposition to Mayweather’s visit.
The mayor realizes there are times when council members or community advocates need money for worthwhile causes, Rotert said. But he added the mayor is concerned when the manager is trying to respond to requests from specific elected officials who are his bosses.
“We need to figure out a policy for him to better, and in a more public way, make sure these ad hoc or pop-up projects get funded,” Rotert said.