Editorials

Now Burns & McDonnell wants the KCI selection process to be fair and open?

File photo. Kansas City Mayor Sly James will have a lot to answer for when the KCI debate finally concludes.
File photo. Kansas City Mayor Sly James will have a lot to answer for when the KCI debate finally concludes. jledford@kcstar.com

We do not want to be like the parents who, when their adult children finally come to visit, spend the whole time complaining about how long it took them to show up.

If we did, we might just casually point out that though we’re awfully glad Burns & McDonnell now wants the city to use a fair and open process to choose the company that will build a single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, well, it took them long enough to come around.

In fact, for the firm to at this late date be calling on Kansas City to stop evaluating proposals and start the whole process over from scratch makes them seem both panicked and disingenuous.

Maybe they should have spent more of that big head start they had working on the details of the plan instead of cutting commercials about it and trying to game the system at every turn.

Now Burns & McDonnell is alleging that a lawyer advising the city on the selection process has a conflict of interest because he once represented a competitor. We’re not convinced that there’s any more of a conflict here than in the wisp of one alleged last week.

Whatever the motivation, we do agree with Burns & McDonnell’s late-breaking expression of interest in a free, fair and open process.

But whether the city should start this originally hush-hush botchathon over now is harder to say.

That would in effect give Burns & McDonnell yet another do-over — a third try to get its proposal right — and would doom a November vote.

If the airport question were removed from the ballot, would that harm our chances of getting voters to approve a much-needed new airport in April, or even later?

Perhaps. But whether such a delay would harm public confidence more than the hopelessly bungled process already has, is up for debate.

Burns & McDonnell’s galling new statement says that “flaws and irregularities of the current process have precluded a fair decision.”

“Rather than proceed with a selection that is subject to challenge…[the] process should be terminated and a new, open process commenced.”

That’s galling, of course, because it was the determination of city officials to present the voters with an unvetted, one-bidder, last-minute fait accompli — Burns & McDonnell or Burns & McDonnell? — that precluded fairness.

At this point, as Councilman Dan Forwler has said, “There are pitfalls and pratfalls no matter how you go.”

We also second the feeling of Councilman Scott Wagner that with Burns & McDonnell and AECOM both talking conflicts and lawsuits, “What’s clear is the level of competitiveness is such that they are more than willing to use whatever strategy is available to them, whether it helps the process or not.”

That neither the “hometown team” nor the away team has put the city’s interests ahead of their own is hardly surprising. That’s not really their job.

But Mayor Sly James has surprised us. It is his job. Instead of doing it, he’s given every appearance of believing that voters couldn’t be trusted with too much information, and that Burns & McDonnell’s interests and the city’s interests were one and the same.

And however this goes now, he has a lot to answer for.

This editorial originally misstated the source of a previous allegation of conflict of interest.

Mayor Sly James confirmed Thursday that he has threatened to file ethics complaints against council members who reveal what he considers secret information about the airport project.

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