You know that old joke about how every member of the U.S. Senate looks in the mirror and sees a president? The local version is that every member of the Kansas City Council looks in the mirror and sees a mayor.
This naturally causes some tensions among council colleagues, five of whom are running to succeed Sly James next year after a sixth dropped out. And it’s that jostling that’s behind at least some of the pushback against the ethics reforms recently proposed by Councilman Scott Taylor, who is among those running.
In a discussion of the reforms at a committee hearing on Wednesday, one of Taylor’s rivals in the race, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, repeatedly told Taylor that he couldn’t see what problem the proposed $5 cap on gifts is supposed to solve, especially given that it leaves campaign contributions untouched. Taylor collects plenty of campaign contributions from those with business before the city, so why put Royals tickets from those same interested parties out of bounds?
To Taylor’s description of his plan to crack down on personal gifts as a “common-sense proposal for transparency,” Wagner said he’d look forward to the day “when we get one of those proposed.”
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“Oh, jeez,” Taylor responded, with an eye roll.
We’ve already said we’re for his reforms, which would also limit travel by council members and extend the “cooling-off period” between office-holding and officeholder-lobbying.
But while looking over the list of the gifts that members report receiving now, what struck us as more interesting than who is getting various goodies — Chiefs and Royals tickets and help hosting neighborhood holiday parties — is who is not getting them.
Of the 13 council members, including Mayor James, the two who reported receiving no gifts at all during the last four years were Alissia Canady and Jolie Justus, while Katheryn Shields received just $470 in gifts over the same period.
The other two women on the council, Teresa Loar and Heather Hall, were in the middle of the pack. But is it a coincidence that those receiving few to no freebies are all female?
And if not, do they come in last because they give more attention to the ethics of personal gifts, or were they invited less frequently to games and other events?
“A little bit of a combo,” said Shields. “I’m careful about things. I’m careful about the appearance of things. But I also don’t get a lot of invitations to ball games, frankly because I don’t really care if I go.”
Canady, who is also running for mayor, said, “I’m not a partaker, so I can’t even answer that question. But I typically prioritize my time to attend neighborhood activities first, so I wouldn’t have time to go even if I was invited. ”
And is she invited? “People do things with people they like, and the guys hang out and have drinks and form these relationships. Sometimes the guys may be asking for those tickets, and I’m not. Kansas City is very collegial, and that’s a nice way of saying there’s a club and either you’re in or you’re out.”
She has not found that has limited her ability to do her job, because “if there’s a matter before me, I reach out” as needed. “I just buy my own dinner, but that’s my rule.”
Shouldn’t everyone pay their own way? Both Canady’s rule and Taylor’s proposal make sense to us. Though no, as in the political system as a whole, they don’t address the larger question of campaign contributions from those seeking influence.