The Buzz

Sly James adds to mayor’s authority in proposing new, expanded committee structure

Kansas City Mayor Sly James
Kansas City Mayor Sly James

The attention paid to Thursday’s announcement of new Kansas City Council committee chairs and members may lack an important detail.

Mayor Sly James, entering his second term, has proposed a significant restructuring and expansion of the council’s committee structure, a reshuffling that requires approval from the new council before it takes effect.

For years, the council had just four standing committees. It will have 10 if the full council approves the new blueprint.

It will take seven votes to do so.

Adding standing committees increases James’ power to name committee members and chairs — and gives him, or any mayor, more plums to distribute.

Additionally, James has shuffled committee responsibilities. Ethics is now a stand-alone committee, no longer linked to Finance; Housing also stands alone, no longer part of Neighborhoods.

Public Safety used to oversee emergency services; now, public safety (including the police) is folded into neighborhoods. The Airport Committee is new. So is Youth Development.

There are other changes. And since the mayor is allowed, under the rules, to assign proposed ordinances and resolutions to the committee of his or her choice, the new structure expands his ability to assign proposals to friendly committees.

The new committee structure is the first item on the agenda for the new council, which meets for the first time Saturday. It doesn’t appear that the council has had an opportunity to discuss, in public, a major change in the way it does business.

It would not be unusual for an incumbent mayor to offer a take-it-or-leave-it change in the way the government operates. Kay Barnes expanded committees from six to seven at the start of her second term in 2003.

And the rules specifically allow a resolution that changes the standing committees to be considered at the same time they’re offered, without referral or other council discussion.

But Mayor James has done more than name new committee members and chairs. He wants to expand his authority over the way the council does its business, and has asked its members for permission to do so.