Is KCI developer living up to its promises for minority hiring on terminal project?

Are City Hall and Edgemoor, the terminal developer at Kansas City International Airport, falling short of promises to hire minority- and women-owned firms for the project?

That was the claim Monday from the Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. And it’s a question that should be answered — with more details and transparency.

To date, the chamber says, contracts have failed to meet Edgemoor’s hiring goals — and those goals are themselves insufficient, because they’re based on incomplete cost estimates.

“It is conceivable Edgemoor and the city knowingly misled the public by making a binding pledge agreement … on only 45% of the total project value,” Black Chamber president Kelvin Perry said in an email.

The Black Chamber’s concerns need a full examination. At the same time, some of its figures are confusing and potentially misleading.

During a year of difficult negotiations, Edgemoor and the City Council agreed to goals for inclusive contracts on the KCI project: 20% of the subcontracts should go to certified minority-owned firms, the agreement says, and 15% to women-owned businesses.

The Black Chamber argues that those percentages should apply to the entire $1.5 billion cost of the new terminal. Edgemoor and the city say some costs — contingencies, general conditions — should be excluded from the calculation.

“This approach was reviewed and approved by (the city),” Edgemoor spokeswoman Laurie Roberts said, noting the full City Council approved the agreements.

On Monday, the Black Chamber suggested the city renegotiate its contracts with Edgemoor to “more appropriately meet the city’s objectives” for hiring minority firms for the terminal. That’s unnecessary. Reaching a new deal now would take months and could delay the project.

At the same time, the Black Chamber made a reasonable suggestion that a special city committee be established to review Edgemoor’s minority hiring record. City Hall should set up that oversight committee as soon as possible.

The committee should meet at least monthly in public. It should provide figures related to the hiring of minority- and women-owned businesses. It should take testimony. It should review city compliance reports and provide an understandable yardstick for Kansas Citians to judge the firm’s performance.

Edgemoor says it is close to reaching its targets for minority contracts, and the numbers will improve as the project expands. If so, the company should embrace more public oversight, as proposed by the Black Chamber.

We’ve already expressed concern that few Kansas City residents have worked on the terminal so far. That worry hasn’t gone away. In fact, while the Black Chamber is upset about minority businesses at KCI, it should also be concerned about minority labor on the terminal project.

The Black Chamber of Commerce has raised an important issue that deserves the full attention of City Hall. At the same time, we’ve seen no significant evidence that Edgemoor is acting in bad faith.

The best way to solve this dispute is to talk about it in the open, every month. That process should start soon.

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