LTE: American Jazz Museum needs leadership change

I’ve spent this term on the City Council as the Chair of our Finance & Governance Committee many times having to take the position of asking hard questions, challenging assumptions as to how taxpayer money should be spent, particularly in our contracts. On more than one occasion I’ve had to push back on what I perceive as our contracts being treated as “entitlements,” that we will simply “make good” the mistakes of others, even when we are not a party to that selection making. At the end of the day, people need to be held accountable. That’s why over the years I’ve had to take hard positions on the College Basketball Experience, Firefighter Overtime, Collective Bargaining Agreements, use of our Health Levy, the Airport Terminal, and now the American Jazz Museum, which we started talking about last July after their disastrous Memorial Day event.

Here’s the deal: We are now on the cusp of spending $1.4 million on the operations of the Museum by the end of this fiscal year, with the prospect of increasing our subsidy from $500k to $750k on an ongoing basis. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars for an outside consultant to tell us how things can be better. The top two recommendations are change staff and change the board. All other recommendations will rely on that.

I can not spend taxpayer money to relieve that organizations debts without changes. I can’t have this City bail out bad decision making when the decision makers don’t even recognize that change must come, or in some cases, that there isn’t even a problem. It suggests to me that bad decision making will continue and others will view this as license to ask the City to bail others out, too.

For those who think I’m being unfair, I’d remind them that back in July and in November I had the American Jazz Museum before the Finance Committee, when there wasn’t an ordinance, to talk about their situation and what was their plan of action. Both times we were told that the problems weren’t that bad and that they had a plan to move forward. No details. Then later we would hear the problems were worse. In private meetings with them I was made aware of the full extent of their issues and I implored them to be honest and truthful. I asked them to share everything early so a conversation could be had. They would not.

I’ve had enough. I want real action. Most of all, I want a successful American Jazz Museum. I am convinced that with its current leadership, it will not be possible.

If you have an interest in this and the time, I invite you to come to City Hall, 10th floor, at 8:30 am on Wednesday, April 25. If you think action is needed, tell us. If you are alright with their operations, tell us that, too.

Scott Wagner,
KCMO Councilman,
1st District At-Large

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