Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte sent a stunning message to his City Council bosses this week: Support what I’m doing, or fire me.
“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,” he told The Star.
“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.”
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Let’s hope he’s bluffing. The city faces enormous technical challenges in the months ahead, including efficiently allocating new bond money, and Schulte is in the best position to lead that effort.
Schulte’s solid reputation for understanding the city is well-earned. He is typically candid with the public and the press.
And who would replace him? Qualified candidates might be reluctant to apply for Schulte’s job, knowing a new mayor and council will be chosen in 2019.
Schulte’s long experience in city government is a valuable asset. He should stay in the job.
At the same time, simmering disagreements between Schulte and the council are not helpful. The city manager’s defiant comments are a clear signal that something is wrong — something that all sides must work to fix, and quickly.
The immediate problem is a disagreement over Schulte’s authorization of city funds to study a downtown baseball stadium. Some council members are upset the city manager can authorize construction contracts up to $1.3 million without their vote.
Kansas City uses a city manager form of government in part to avoid political squabbles over low-impact city business. But spending more than $1 million without council review seems risky.
Requiring review of agreements for more than $250,000, for example, would be a compromise that would protect the city manager’s prerogatives while ensuring buy-in from elected officials for important contracts. All sides should pursue such guidelines.
But Schulte’s angry remarks aren’t about downtown baseball. An important bloc of council members has been upset with the city manager for months, particularly over his role in the chaotic KCI selection process this summer.
He, in turn, is upset with them, as this week’s outburst made clear.
The airport decision was indeed unnecessarily messy. But Schulte isn’t solely responsible for the foul-ups. Mayor Sly James’ determined effort to do the public’s work in secret fueled much of the chaos.
The KCI election is now just days away. A fistfight between the city manager and several council members imperils the outcome and should be abandoned now.
Then the council and Schulte should sit down and work through their differences.
The council must recognize the manager needs flexibility to run City Hall on a day-to-day basis. But Schulte and James may be too closely aligned — the manager should do a better job of communicating with all council members, not just the mayor.
We’re confident those understandings can be reached.
The last thing Kansas City needs now is a messy, expensive political feud on the 29th floor of City Hall.