Government & Politics

‘Ten years was long enough’: City Manager Troy Schulte explains his choice to retire

Kansas City’s retiring City Manager Troy Schulte said Wednesday he believed he had the votes to keep his job if he still wanted it, despite widespread speculation over his future at City Hall.

Speaking with reporters for the first time since he announced his retirement Tuesday, Schulte, 49, said he had been weighing whether to step down from his post for months.

“To me, it was a perfect time to just transition, let Mayor (Quinton) Lucas and the City Council find [a city manager] that can take them forward,” said Schulte, who will exit when his contract expires on Feb. 29. “Ten years was long enough in this role, and it’s time for me to do something different and this allows the city to go a different direction if they want to.”

During that decade, primarily in partnership with former Mayor Sly James, Schulte saw the city through its recovery from the Great Recession. He also helped negotiate major economic development deals, including the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport and a downtown convention hotel.

And as the city’s highest-ranking non-elected officer, Schulte’s portfolio included overseeing the nitty-gritty of daily operations — improving trash collection service in the Northland, for example — and finding money to fund the city’s half of a deal with Missouri to replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge.

His proudest accomplishment, he said, was developing an $800 million infrastructure bond package and helping persuade voters to approve it.

“I was going through most of my to-do list, and most of my to-do list was done,” Schulte said.

He also leaves behind a list of challenges for his successor. A revitalized downtown and upgrades to infrastructure have significantly increased the city’s debt load. This winter, residents complained of pervasive potholes that opened up as aging roads were hit with massive amounts of snow and ice.

As this summer’s mayoral election drew near, speculation over Schulte’s future was rampant. He worked closely with James, who favored then-Councilwoman Jolie Justus as a successor.

Lucas, by contrast, had criticized Schulte — and James and Justus — on major issues, including the procurement of a developer at KCI. Schulte helped negotiate a proposed deal for a speculative downtown office tower that Lucas opposes and council members have eyed skeptically.

Schulte said Wednesday that scuffles with the council “kind of firmed up that maybe there’s an interest from some members go a different direction,” but that neither Lucas’ election nor council friction played a major role in his decision to retire.

In the coming months, Schulte said he expects to see turnover among senior city staff. He’s the third high-ranking city official to announce his retirement in recent months following former Finance Director Randy Landes and Human Resources Director Gary O’Bannon.

“We’re going to have a number of key retirements that are going to take place over the next six months to a year,” Schulte said, noting that 30 percent of the city’s workforce is currently eligible for retirement.

Schulte served the city for 21 years, first in the city’s budget office. He became interim city manager in 2009 and assumed the role permanently in 2011. Before coming to Kansas City, he was a city administrator in Marengo, Iowa.

He’s eligible for retirement benefits from the city but said he will find other employment after his contract ends.

“I would assume my wife will let me stay home exactly one day before she throws me back out,” Schulte said.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.