Government & Politics

Amid charges of bad faith, KC Council takes firmer hand with American Jazz Museum

The American Jazz Museum is still in need of a long-term answer.
The American Jazz Museum is still in need of a long-term answer. File photo

The Kansas City Council, over the objections of one member who accused his colleagues of bad faith, approved a pair of ordinances Thursday giving City Hall a more hands-on role in trying to fix the troubled American Jazz Museum.

Unhappy with the pace of reform at the 20-year-old institution in the 18th & Vine District, the council directed City Manager Troy Schulte to hire an interim executive director. The incumbent, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, resigned under pressure last week.

The measure also barred Schulte from spending more than the $750,000 the city budgeted this year for the museum without its approval. The city provides about half of the museum's funds.

The other resolution did away with the requirement that one of the city's two appointees to the board be a council member from the Third District.

The two current Third District councilmen, Quinton Lucas and Jermaine Reed, sit on the board. A recent consultant's report highly critical of museum leadership and operations recommended that council members be dropped from the board because the city's funding role created a conflict of interest.

Passage of the two measures, by margins of 11-to-1, amounted to a vote of no-confidence in Reed, the council member most heavily involved in museum issues. Reed argued Thursday that the council risked legal trouble if it was seen as dictating actions to the museum, a nonprofit operated by what is supposed to be an independent board.

Reed condemned both resolutions.

"It would seem that both are out of order, not in good faith, and only adding to the disarray. Furthermore, the apparent lack of due diligence is deeply concerning," he said, reading from a statement he sent to the council's finance and governance committee Wednesday.

Reed said the resolution releasing the mayor from being required to appoint a Third District council member to the board "smacks of political gamesmanship like few other resolutions I have seen in my political career."

He introduced his own resolution calling for a series of measures recommended by Museum Management Consultants, a San Francisco-based firm hired by the city last year. They include formation of a planning committee comprising board members and museum and city staff; a "highly inclusive strategic planning process" to redefine the museum's mission; and a complete overhaul of the visitor experience.

Reed's measure died on the council floor for lack of a second.

When he introduced the resolutions last week, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner said Reed had been a counterproductive influence exerting outsized power over board deliberations.

Lucas, asked if the Thursday's actions were a repudiation of Reed's leadership in museum matters, responded: "All I'll say is that the jazz museum is bigger than any one person."

Wagner and Reed are candidates for mayor in 2019. Lucas is widely expected to enter the race.

Consultants said in the April report that the museum was plagued by outmoded exhibits, lack of a clear mission and failure to build strong ties with the city's philanthropic leadership. Poor financial management and low staff morale had left it in perilous condition.

"AJM needs a complete rebirth, starting with its leadership, but continuing with a revamped financial model, visitor experience and operational infrastructure," the report said.

Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, executive director of the American Jazz Museum, disagrees with a consultant's report criticizing management and recommending that the museum close during a reorganization.

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