As much as he may want a job where he can make more money and sleep better, Troy Schulte was still Kansas City manager at the close of business Thursday.
And the proposed ordinance that triggered his searing broadside against some City Council members on Wednesday — the one limiting his power to spend money without council approval — never made it to the docket.
So ended the mini-drama Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner called “a discussion that got out of hand very quickly.”
But the confrontation also reflects simmering resentments among a faction of the council about the governing style of Schulte and Mayor Sly James.
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These members contend that information and decision-making have been too closely held on an array of matters, including the proposed single terminal at KCI, efforts to build a new downtown convention hotel and a study of possible downtown sites for a new baseball stadium.
“What the council wants is to be informed,” said Councilwoman Teresa Loar.
The latest dust-up began when Schulte all but invited the council to fire him after Councilman Quinton Lucas announced he would introduce a measure to require council approval of any construction contract worth more than $500,000, a sharp drop from the current $1.3 million threshold.
The plan would also require council action for any non-construction contract or purchase of goods and services of more than $160,000, much less than $400,000 cap now in effect. If Schulte wanted to hire a consultant or other expert for more than $50,000, that would also mandate council action.
Lucas and council members supporting the measure, including Lee Barnes, Alissia Canady, Teresa Loar and Katheryn Shields, said they were concerned that too much spending is “off book,” or outside council scrutiny.
Schulte suggested that the Lucas ordinance was part of a larger agenda.
“My sense is you’ve got a small minority of the City Council that don’t like the current leadership,” said in an interview with The Star on Wednesday. “They don’t like that I work well with the mayor, and this is a way to send a message.”
Schulte also said in the interview: “If the core issue is, quite honestly, that they don’t like my management style or where they think I’m taking the organization, that’s easy,” Schulte said. “That’s seven signatures on the paper with the mayor and nine without the mayor, and I’m gone tomorrow. I’ll earn more money and sleep better at night. Life’s too short.”
Sacking the city manager requires the support of the mayor and seven other council members. If the mayor is opposed, nine of 12 other members would have to favor dismissal.
On Thursday, Schulte didn’t back away from Wednesday’s diatribe. He said his only mistake was venting his frustrations to a reporter.
“I should have gone home and kicked the dog,” he said. He also allowed that City Hall’s focus should remain on the KCI ballot question.
“We’re going to keep working, keep moving forward,” he said. “We have an airport [to approve] on Nov. 7th.”
It quickly became clear Thursday that Schulte’s job was nowhere near jeopardy.
Mayor James, in Los Angeles for a meeting of the Urban Land Institute, said in a statement: “Troy Schulte has my full respect and support. He’s been a vital part of our City’s renaissance and I know stakeholders and residents across the city that deeply appreciate his vision and expertise.
“I fully expect a majority of the Council understands that Troy’s continued leadership is critical to our continued momentum.”
Council Dan Fowler said the problem was not Schulte but colleagues on the council.
“I’m very disappointed he was put in the position where he had to make those comments. He’s the best city manager we’ve ever had,” Fowler said.
One other council member less supportive of Schulte said his termination was not an option because of the significant severance package he would receive: a year’s salary, which would be more than $220,000.
“I’m not going to give him a golden parachute,” said Councilman Lee Barnes.
After conferring with Wagner, who promised a full hearing for the bill in the finance and governance committee he chairs, Lucas decided to hold the measure off Thursday’s docket.
“ I want to allow passions to cool down just a bit,” he said. “ I think it’s important for people to realize what this is about. “It’s about accountability. “This is something I would say regardless of who is the city manager.”
While the curtain came down on the most immediate drama, larger tensions over transparency and communication remain. The secrecy surrounding the abortive attempt by James and Schulte to award a no-bid contract to Burns & McDonnell for the $1 billion KCI project remains a sore subject. As does frustration about the protracted struggle to get the convention hotel built.
Council members say they haven’t been kept informed about the floundering project, which was announced in 2015. Construction was supposed to begin in 2016 with an opening in 2018. But a series of delays in financing and land acquisition have hindered progress.
Some members have taken exception to contracts awarded by Schulte to those with close ties to James. Amy Jordan Wooden, former communications director for Mayor Sly James’ transition team, has a $78,000 contract as a “crisis communications” counsel.
Former Councilman Russ Johnson, who worked closely with Schulte and James on the downtown street car venture, is paid $125 an hour through a contract with the Downtown Council to represent the city in attempts to repair the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge.
All too often, said Loar, Schulte seems to work for James and no one else.
“We do have a council-manager form of government,” she said. “I’ve been through four city managers now and I know how difficult it can be working for 13 bosses. But that’s the system we have.”