Kansas City Mayor Sly James strongly supports extending the contract of City Manager Troy Schulte, the sooner the better. But first, let’s play some political games!
A few weeks ago, the City Council abruptly pulled the plug on endorsing a three-year extension for Schulte. Instead, the announced decision was that the members would revisit the situation by Feb. 25, 2016.
The supposed reasoning behind the delay: Some of the nine new council members who took office Aug. 1 wanted to get to know Schulte a little better and feel more comfortable that he’s the right person for the job.
The real reasoning behind the delay: A few council members wanted to send a message to James that he can’t always make them do what he wants.
James has been extremely clear in his backing for Schulte. And under the city charter, James’ vote counts the most. The mayor appoints a manager who then stands for council approval and — if someone wants to get rid of a mayor’s hire — it takes a super-majority council vote to do so.
To be crystal clear, Schulte is the best city manager I have covered while writing about Kansas City politics since 1987.
In quick summation, Dave Olson was a competent and bland leader; Larry Brown was a vocal but eventually incompetent leader; Bob Collins’ don’t-rock-the-boat approach didn’t serve the city well; and Wayne Cauthen got a lot done with Mayor Kay Barnes but flamed out and became irrelevant under Mayor Mark Funkhouser.
In evaluating Schulte — after starting with the obligatory “he’s far from perfect” notation — his strong positive points are that he has open lines of communication to the public and media, and he is laser-focused on doing the right thing for Kansas City. As a former budget director, Schulte is well-versed on how much the city ought to be paying for services it provides with a $1.4 billion budget.
His weak points include inability to get rid of city officials who aren’t serving the public well, and sometimes telling people what they want to hear on all sides of a dispute.
On Tuesday, I asked James if the three-month delay before making a contract extension decision was a good idea.
Nope, the mayor said, adding that he planned to raise the contract extension before that deadline with the full council.
“There’s nobody who thinks having him in limbo is good,” James said. “And I’m No. 1 on that list.”
The mayor said he had received a stack of testimonial letters “2 to 3 inches high” praising Schulte’s work.
Schulte took over as acting city manager in late 2009 when Funkhouser finally forced Cauthen out. Schulte was named the manager in May 2011, just weeks after James and the prior council had taken office.
Hmm, those elected officials didn’t need more than six months to determine if Schulte was the right fit.
Based on a discussion with Schulte, he appears ready to wait for James to lead the process of getting a new deal put together. That’s good news.
The city is making solid progress on boosting citizen satisfaction scores. It’s on a roll through the rebuilding of downtown. And the city is attracting more businesses, millennials and residents, especially in the Northland. And throw in great expectations for the streetcar line and national hype for the city’s technological advances.
Schulte’s decisions affect the lives of all Kansas Citians. The people he oversees run departments that provide fire protection, trash pickup, code enforcement and how Kansas City International Airport functions.
Kansas City needs Troy Schulte as its city manager. James and the council can make that happen by approving a contract extension for him ASAP.