Lewis Diuguid

Mass transit service must strive for more transparency, accountability, professionalism

A new federal tax lien adds to the financial difficulties that have dogged Jackson County Executive Frank White in recent years.
A new federal tax lien adds to the financial difficulties that have dogged Jackson County Executive Frank White in recent years. tljungblad@kcstar.com

New people may fill the offices in Jackson County, but old habits are nearly impossible to break — especially those that raise eyebrows.

That latest was Kansas City Area Transportation Authority president and chief executive Robbie Makinen, hiring Frank White III for a new management post without advertising the position so others could apply for the $80,000-a-year job. The added wrinkle is that White is the son of Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr., a member of the Kansas City Royals team that won the World Series in 1985.

Makinen had been Jackson County’s director of governmental relations for former County Executive Mike Sanders, who resigned for personal reasons. Frank White Jr., who had been a member of the Legislature, replaced Sanders in January.

Frank White III will become the ATA’s senior manager of marketing. Makinen explained to The Star that Frank White III has more than two decades of work in marketing and sales positions, most recently as an independent insurance broker.

But to ensure that there was no question that the best person was hired for the job, the position should have been advertised and candidates screened and interviewed. Closed door patronage deals have long been a political staple at the Jackson County Courthouse.

The ATA isn’t part of county government, however, the county executive appoints one member to the 10-person ATA board of commissioners, and Makinen reports to that board. It all looks a little too chummy.

Add to that The Star disclosing earlier this year that Sanders will get six, $10,000 monthly checks to advise Frank White Jr. on Jackson County’s plans to buy the Rock Island rail corridor and extend the Katy Trail into Kansas City. That deal was inked without the needed public disclosure.

It all looks too shady, particularly when the ATA has a lot on its plate in the coming months.

The mass transit agency is expanding its late-night bus service on its Main Street MAX, Troost MAX and Broadway-47 Street routes to connect to the new Crown Center to River Market streetcar system, which will start carrying passengers in May. The buses will be running until 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, starting May 13 to match the streetcar schedule.

ATA also has been working on getting a Prospect MAX. ATA also has begun Ride KC: Bridj, a new on-demand shuttle service that uses a mobile app and Ford transport vans to get riders to jobs.

There’s definitely a need to market and promote the mass transit services — especially the improvements to the system to meet the commuting needs of more people. Getting more area residents to give up their cars and ride buses to and from work cuts individuals’ expenses, lessens congestion on roads, and benefits air quality and the environment.

But it is important that transparency, professionalism and accountability are part of the process. Even the appearance of a conflict of interest is enough to turn people off from taking a second look at riding ATA buses.