New path forward for American Jazz Museum

Paul Thompson
Northeast News

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council took steps to protect the City’s investment in the American Jazz Museum (AJM) on Thursday, May 24, despite the reservations of 3rd District Councilman and AJM Board member Jermaine Reed.

Two resolutions – one that will give the Mayor more control over American Jazz Museum Board appointments and another that will withhold City funding for the Museum without City Council approval, among other restrictions – were passed by an overwhelming 11-1 majority of the City Council. Reed proved the lone dissenter, with 4th District Councilwoman Katheryn Shields not present for the vote.

On May 24, Reed voiced his opposition to the resolutions by reading from a prepared statement, which had previously been sent in memo form ahead of the May 23 Finance and Governance committee meeting.

“It would seem that both are out of order, not in good faith, and only adding to the disarray,” Reed wrote of the resolutions. “Furthermore, the apparent lack of due diligence is deeply concerning.”

First District Councilman Scott Wagner bristled when read the passage on May 23, offering his own criticism of Reed’s actions related to the American Jazz Museum over the course of the past year.

“If anyone should recognize causing disarray within the American Jazz Museum, my 3rd District colleague would be the one,” Wagner said.

Wagner pointed out that the issues surrounding the American Jazz Museum were initially brought to light in October of 2017, after Reed released a memo suggesting that the entire AJM Board should be replaced. At the time, Reed recommended that operational control shift to the KCMO Parks and Recreation department, which already oversees the operations of the Kansas City Museum. Reed’s memo preceded a $225,000 cash infusion into the museum by the City, and led to the Museum Management Consultants (MMC) report that recommended wholesale changes to the AJM leadership team.

Wagner has indicated that the City injected roughly $1.6 million into the American Jazz Museum during the last fiscal year, adding that the city’s share of the museum’s budget has already been increased (by $250,000) to $750,000 for the current fiscal year.

Reed’s own May 24 ordinance, which would have required City Manager Troy Schulte to implement the majority of the recommendations of the MMC study and provide a progress report to the Council within 45 days, failed to receive a second on the floor during legislative session. It was later referred to the Finance and Governance committee for further discussion.

While the Council grapples with the next steps forward, the American Jazz Museum has elevated Marissa Baum to the role of Interim Director of Operations. With a level of stability in place, City Manager Troy Schulte suggested during the May 23 Finance and Governance meeting that there is now ample time for a new AJM Board to be installed and the search for an interim Executive Director to continue. The first step for the AJM Board will be to alter its bylaws to allow a new board to step in.

During that May 23 committee meeting, 6th District Councilman Kevin McManus expressed concern that the ongoing uncertainty at the American Jazz Museum runs the risk of negatively impacting the perception of the 18th and Vine District as a whole. He relayed a recent conversation with a Missouri legislator who wondered if the district is in a stable position, asking his colleagues to consider short and long term implications.

“I think it’s important to note that our goal is to provide a platform for continued growth, not just for 18th and Vine, but for the Museum itself,” McManus said.

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