By Miranda Davis – Specials Editor, Kansas City Business Journal
The past six days have brought several unexpected twists and turns to the Kansas City Council's ongoing work on the Kansas City International Airport project — which left many onlookers wondering what the council would do next.
Some of those answers, along with more division on the council, became clear during a council work session Tuesday afternoon. Last week, the council rejected the initial memorandum of understanding between the city and Maryland-based Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate LLC, which won a four-team competition for the $1 billion single-terminal renovation.
At Tuesday's meeting, however, several council members said they still want to continue negotiations with Edgemoor, and Mayor Sly James introduced a measure that would allow the council to continue talks until reaching a solution or an impasse.
Councilwoman Jolie Justus, chairwoman of the Airport Committee, emphasized that the city has not ended discussions with Edgemoor.
"We are in a situation where we have obviously rejected the MOU that was put in front of us last week," she said. "We have not, however, terminated negotiations with Edgemoor."
The meeting came after two letters were sent to the council on Tuesday: One, from James, called for continuing good-faith negotiations with Edgemoor that would result in a revised MOU; the other, from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, called for transparent negotiations.
The chamber's letter said, in part:
"Kansas City voters said 'Yes' to 'A Better KCI,' expecting you and your colleagues to proceed in an open, transparent, and professional manner to bring the new terminal to fruition. The airport’s many regional users expect the same. As does the business community.
"The actions of these past few days do nothing to reassure Kansas Citians and the business community in the process now underway at City Hall, and is not a good example of how business should be conducted. We urge you to negotiate in good faith and in a transparent manner respecting the integrity of the process. We also urge you to 'get it done.'"
Although the council didn't discuss the specific issues of those members who rejected the MOU, they did talk about ways to bring all of those concerns together to present to Edgemoor and the city's attorneys.
Division within the council
Several members who voted against the MOU were concerned with what they called public attacks that followed Thursday's vote.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who voted no on the MOU, said that because a supermajority of the council voted against the agreement for different reasons, it shows the process in getting to the MOU was wrong.
"I received multiple communications where I was blamed by the mayor and Councilman [Jermaine] Reed that this council somehow took a dereliction of duty and did something that was not in the best interest of the public," Canady said. "We didn't take away the ability to build an airport when we voted down the MOU last week. What we did was send a very clear message that we're not going to settle."
Councilman Lee Barnes Jr., who voted against the proposed MOU, and Reed, one of the four yes votes, went back and forth debating the timeline of which council members knew specifics about the MOU.
Reed said the council needs to get back to conversations with Edgemoor and give it a chance to address issues in the MOU.
"We haven't even given them an opportunity to respond to some of those requests that we have, and I think it's important to point out," Reed said.
Canady called for a framework for moving forward and recommended that discussions about revising the MOU not take place in committee, but rather in a working session of the entire council.
For those who voted against the MOU, their positions aren't new, Canady said.
"Barnes' issues have been the same. My issues have been the same. [Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner's] issues have been the same. [Councilwoman Heather Hall's] issues have been the same. There are no new issues," Canady said. "So I don't see why we have to have this compartmentalized discussion, when we can all work together to address each other's issues."
Justus said she felt there was a consensus with the majority of the council to move forward with a framework and a timeline for those discussions about a revised MOU.
The Airport Committee, which will meet Thursday, will discuss a resolution introduced by Barnes to end negotiations with Edgemoor, though it appears many on the council want to continue those discussions.