The Star endorses Katheryn Shields for 4th District at-large Kansas City Council seat

Katheryn Shields’ curriculum vitae is longer than your average elected official’s. After serving two terms in the 4th District at-large seat on the Kansas City Council from 1987 to 1994, she ran successfully for Jackson County executive — an office she held for an unprecedented three terms.

Then in 2015, she emerged after eight years out of public service to reclaim the same council seat she had served in under Mayors Dick Berkley and Emanuel Cleaver. And in Tuesday’s election, voters should give Shields the nod yet again.

But why, exactly, does she want back in? “I think I still have many characteristics that made me an effective council person and county executive,” she said. “I’m getting pretty good at reaching out to people and working with them to find solutions to problems. And there are many issues in this city that still need to be addressed.”

That’s what voters ought to be looking for. Though she was accustomed to being the big boss at the county level — a job with a significant level of autonomy — Shields has developed a reputation on the City Council for drilling down on the often-mundane basics, prioritizing promised city services over flashy signature projects.

No. 1 on her list remains the unsexy but crucial topic of infrastructure, especially taking care of a street system that is already testing the capacity of the public works department. “Maintaining our roads is more than just a city responsibility,” she said. “It’s an economic development tool, and we’re not doing well enough at it now.”

And while she’s obviously a proponent of developing the local economy, Shields also remembers that we have to plan smartly before we grow: “Instead of expanding our road system, we should be making sure we are able to maintain existing ones first.”


Who decides the endorsements?

Members of The Kansas City Star editorial board interview political candidates, as well as advocates and opponents of ballot measures. The editorial board is comprised of experienced opinion journalists and is separate from The Star’s newsroom. Members of The Star editorial board are: Star publisher Tony Berg, Colleen McCain Nelson, Derek Donovan, Dave Helling, Melinda Henneberger, Toriano Porter and Michael Ryan. Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.

What does the endorsement process entail?

The Star editorial board meets with political candidates. The interviews are largely focused on public policy, and each lasts about an hour. Board members do additional reporting and research to learn as much as possible about the candidates. The editorial board then convenes to discuss the candidates in each race. Board members seek to reach a consensus on the endorsements, but not every decision is unanimous.

Is the editorial board partisan?

No. In making endorsements, members of the editorial board consider which candidates are well prepared to represent their constituents — not whether they agree with us or belong to a particular political party. We evaluate candidates’ relevant experience, their readiness for office, their depth of knowledge of key issues and their understanding of public policy. We’re seeking candidates who are thoughtful and who offer more than just party-line talking points. The editorial board will endorse both Republicans and Democrats. We make recommendations about who the best-qualified candidates for these jobs are.

Why are endorsements unsigned?

Endorsements reflect the collective views of The Star’s editorial board — not just the opinion of one writer. Board members all discuss and contribute ideas to each endorsement editorial.

Shields was an early and vocal critic of Mayor Sly James’ secretive plan to award a no-bid contract to Burns & McDonnell to design and build a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport in the spring of 2017. “We need an explanation as to why we didn’t want to use the competitive process,” she told The Star that May, and she supported the public option of issuing traditional airport bonds for the project — an important good-government alternative we supported.

Opposing her in the general election is political newcomer Robert Westfall, a University of Missouri grad who has been an impressive candidate. His passion for the underdog, combined with his unique backstory of addiction and redemption, make him a future leader to watch.

But Katheryn Shields’ peerless track record and continued enthusiasm for public service make her the better choice — and earn her The Star’s endorsement for the 4th District at-large seat on Tuesday’s ballot.

The Star is partnering with the nonprofit Verify More on candidate background checks, and you can see the results of that screening process at verifymore.org.