Kansas City council appoints new city manager

Abby Hoover
Managing Editor

Kansas City has a new city manager, Brian Platt, business administrator for the City of Jersey City, N.J.

The City Council passed the ordinance to codify the recommendation to hire Platt on Thursday, Oct. 29, in a vote of 9 to 4. The ordinance needed a majority vote to pass.

Council members Ryana Parks-Shaw, Brandon Ellington, Melissa Robinson and Lee Barnes, Jr., voted no. They are the only Black council members, aside from Lucas, and also represent the most diverse districts in the city.

The dissenting members of council cited an article by the Jersey City Times announcing an offer and his acceptance of the new role before it had been voted on by Council.

They questioned Platt’s experience in government leadership, noting that he had the least experience in city government of the four final candidates, and was the only white candidate. He has been business administrator of Jersey City since 2018.

“This candidate has in terms of progressive experience, five years of progressive government experience and which the other candidates had an average of 29 years experience,” Robinson said. “There’s a saying in the African-American community, you have to be twice as prepared to get half as much.”

The three other finalists were Janice Jackson of Augusta, Ga., Kevin Jackson of Long Beach, Calif., and Milton Dohoney, Jr. of Phoenix, Ariz.

“Although we can speak and propose about stopping bias… one has to question this recommendation,” Parks-Shaw said. “Name one $1.7 billion company that would hire a CEO with only two years of leadership experience. Why should we?”

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields urged her colleagues to focus on what will be important in the long run, even if the way they got there was not ideal.

“Would this gentleman be a good fit for Kansas City, Missouri?” Shields asked. “And does he bring qualities that will hopefully make this a better city? And having listened to him and the other three candidates, while I’m respectful of all of them, I do think Mr. Platt is the best choice among the candidates who applied for this position.”

On Oct. 28, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas made a formal recommendation for Platt to the City Council. According to Lucas, following the final interviews, he met with each council member separately to discuss their preference for city manager and saw that a supermajority of council members named Platt as either their clear first choice, or tied for first, for city manager. The second most popular choice had three votes from council members as either their clear first choice or tied for first choice, Lucas said.

“I am inclined to agree with a supermajority of the Council—not only because of the agreement among this supermajority of the Council—but because of this individual’s strong record on budget management, incentives, and affordable housing,” Lucas wrote in a letter to the City Council. “Based upon sterling recommendations provided by his own colleagues and citizens, the review of our colleagues and community interview viewers and participants, and his strong work on budget challenges over recent years and reorganization of Jersey City departments, I will recommend, based upon my authority under Section 218(b) of the Kansas City Charter, Brian Platt to serve as Kansas City’s sixteenth permanent city manager.”

Platt holds a Masters in Public Administration from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy at Emory University.

He previously served as Jersey City’s first Chief Innovation Officer and established the City’s Office of Innovation in 2015. He consulted on management with McKinsey & Company and served as a kindergarten teacher with Teach for America.

“Mr. Platt has great experience leading one of America’s most diverse cities,” Lucas wrote. “As city manager of Jersey City, New Jersey, Mr. Platt has built a more fiscally prudent and stable government operation. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, Mr. Platt this year led Jersey City in reducing its City budget mid-year by $70 million, making creative, targeted reductions without imposing mass furloughs, layoffs, or disrupting the delivery of vital City services.”

The 13-month long process for the 16th city manager began last fall after longtime city manager Troy Schulte retired.

Kansas City received more than 70 initial applications that met initial criteria. Each of those names was provided to all councilmembers for their review. Council narrowed the list to 19 candidates for the semi-final list. National search firm Baker Tilly then conducted thorough screenings on the remaining candidates.

“After the firm’s screenings, the full Council again joined in several more meetings to identify our finalists,” Lucas wrote. “To ensure that the pool of applicants was adequate, each council member was allotted additional time to supplement the list of candidates. After several weeks of deliberation and meetings with councilmembers, we again came together to affirm our final four candidates, with each councilmember and the mayor having equal votes.”

They were invited to Kansas City for several hours of meetings with council members, community organizations, and the public. Lucas touted the transparency of the process, despite COVID-19.

Each finalist began with at least a 90-minute long public meeting with the full City Council then participated in an hour-long lunch meeting gaining feedback from stakeholder organizations throughout the community, of which several dozen organizations were represented, and dozens more were invited. Finalists participated in a public town hall, during which community members were invited to ask direct questions of each finalist.

“Following these twelve meetings over a two-week period, the City solicited feedback from the community and received hundreds of responses from Kansas Citians,” Lucas wrote. “The responses we received from the community are reflective of the recommendation I will make today.”

Lucas thanked Acting City Manager Earnest Rouse for his dedicated service to Kansas City. “Particularly through this unprecedented time: he has been a steady hand as the city has navigated a global pandemic, an unexpected and steep budget hole, and difficult but necessary discussions on policing in America,” Lucas wrote.

Although Platt was present for a walking tour of Northeast neighborhood Sheffield with the mayor on Friday, he is expected to officially enter the role in January.

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