Dave Helling

Why KC Mayor Quinton Lucas isn’t sorry to see City Manager Troy Schulte go

City Manager Troy Schulte’s decision to leave his job is covered with the fingerprints of Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is clearly consolidating power at City Hall.

Friction between the two men has been evident for months. While Schulte’s decision was his own, Lucas made no effort to talk him into staying, his office confirmed Thursday. All indications suggest that Schulte would not have responded positively to such a request.

But Schulte’s departure is more than a personality clash between the mayor and the city manager, friends say.

Lucas is focused on three areas of concern: economic development reform and debt; the water department; and the Kansas City International Airport terminal project. Lucas and his allies on the City Council believed Schulte and his team were falling short on each of those fronts.

That’s why they’re not upset Schulte decided to go.

The KCI project is a particular focus. There are growing complaints at the airport over spending, quality and cost. To date, most of the workers on the project have come from outside of Kansas City, irking council members.

Some of this is inevitable in a generational, $1.5 billion project. But Lucas knows delays, overruns and disputes at KCI could overwhelm his first term unless they’re addressed aggressively.

Lucas was lukewarm about Edgemoor, the terminal project developer, and frustrated with Schulte’s bid-selection process. Those concerns never subsided.

The mayor and his supporters are also worried about Aviation Director Pat Klein, a Schulte appointee who lacked significant aviation experience when he took the airport job.

Klein was safe as long as Schulte remained on the job. That protection is gone.

The mayor is also focused on economic development reform.

On Monday, the port authority, which is known as Port KC, passed an agreement to end development incentives in the heart of the city unless the City Council requests them. The gesture, apparently suggested by council members, was intended to mollify critics who see Port KC as a rogue agency.

The peace offering may not be enough. In mid-September, Lucas asked for resignation letters from board members for a dozen city agencies, including Port KC. He wants his own people in those seats, he said Thursday.

Also on Thursday, Lucas said he’s considering limiting Port KC’s reach to a few geographic areas, rather than the entire city, as is now the case.

Again, Schulte is in the middle of the spat. He worked for months on a $132 million downtown office building project known as Strata, and Port KC was part of the plan. Lucas, and much of the council, oppose Strata, which remains in limbo at City Hall.

The days of cutting sweet deals for downtown projects are likely coming to an end. That made Schulte’s retirement decision easier.

Water? There was a huge blow-up recently concerning supervision of the massive sewer upgrade project. A person close to the mayor says Lucas is worried the water department is poorly supervised.

The mayor will lead the effort to find a new city manager, who won’t be fully up to speed until next summer at the earliest. Who fills the power vacuum between now and then? Quinton Lucas, that’s who.

In less than two months in office, Lucas has moved to take control of the city’s government. Troy Schulte’s departure is the clearest possible reflection of that effort.

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