by bunny the news hound
Thomas Jefferson once said, in defense of the press, “Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Those on the 29th floor of city, specifically City Manager Brian “skinny jeans” Platt and former Chief Innovation Officer Melissa Kozakiewicz, heretofore referred to as Melissa K, should take heed of Jefferson’s words, especially after the stunt they pulled a couple weeks back when City Communications Director Chris Hernandez was very quietly relieved of his duties for no apparent reason, well other than the obvious power grab.
As soon as Hernandez was safely out of the way, on a mandated vacation, another internal memo was circulated, announcing Melissa K was the new head communications honcho and that moving forward, all media inquiries to the city were required to be submitted in advance, in writing and submitted directly to Platt and to her honor, Melissa K, thus rendering every City Public Information Officer (PIO) useless and throwing the First Amendment out the window in the process.
From what this News Dog has learned, the change up was to allow the City time to craft the best possible response to local journalists’ questions. This, of course, is so the City is cast in the best possible light, never mind truth or God forbid facts, just make the City look good, media deadlines or on-scene pressers be damned, everything goes through Platt and Melissa K regardless.
The change came Friday, Aug. 12, at 10 a.m., and was not shared with any media, to our knowledge. Hernandez, a longtime veteran of both the local journalism trenches and City Communications knew how the system worked and his department’s PIOs could be on the scene in a matter of minutes, depending on location. From what this News Dog understands, Hernandez interestingly was not terminated but is currently awaiting reassignment. Hopefully he’s lawyering up as well.
Now, Melissa K, who holds a master’s degree in poetry, mind you, and brings zero media experience to the table, is now queen of the City Communications roost, along with the narcissist Platt. The two now act as the all-powerful clearing house for all media inquiries sent to the City, regardless of department. All of this begs the question of what the department PIO’s now do all day given the new paradigm.
Case in point, on Monday Aug. 15, we sent an email to the City’s Neighborhood Services department when a longtime problem building in the 3200 block of Independence Avenue collapsed in the 7-11 parking lot. We had many questions about why the building languished on the Dangerous Buildings list for so long and if the 7-11 employee whose car was crushed had any claim against the City. Imagine our surprise when the response from the City didn’t come from a department PIO, but from Melissa K, Assistant City Manager and Chief Innovation Officer for the City, whatever that is. For the record, she addressed the questions she wanted to answer and ignored others, like if the poor 7-11 employee has a claim with the city. Under the previous paradigm, a department PIO would have been dispatched to the scene to address any media questions regarding the matter. You know, transparency in city government.
Instead we received canned, programmed responses to only the questions that didn’t paint the City in a negative light. We’re guessin’ the poor schlub at 7-11 is out his daily transportation too, but that question wasn’t addressed and we seriously doubt it ever will be.
In another example, following the recent release of the Rebuild KC Grant recipients list, our award winning news organization submitted a request to interview Public Works Director Forrest Decker to learn how those award decisions were made and the amounts awarded to each grant recipient. Our goal was to have Decker come into our studio for a podcast or hop on the phone to have that discussion, given the decisions made with taxpayer funds directly impact the city’s neighborhoods. In response, we were told that the City couldn’t release the amounts until the contracts were signed and any questions for Decker must be submitted in advance, in writing, and the City could then redact at will any questions deemed unfit or inappropriate.
Really? The City makes taxpayer funded grant award decisions based on submitted proposals with specific funding amounts then refuses to release those award amounts and the decision criteria used to arrive at what grant applicant got how much and why.
We’re still waiting on an answer on our interview request with Decker, nevermind we’ve already missed two print editions waiting for the new Poet in Chief to send permissions to speak from her ivory tower at 12th and Oak. As for answers to our questions, submitted in writing mind you, her majesty’s answers arrived twenty-five hours past our deadline.
A quick look at that grant recipient list however looks like a who’s who of City Hall insiders. Additionally, the list included a number of City agencies like the Health Department, the city’s Minor Home repair Program and the free T-Shirt bunch Aim-4-Peace that got funded by Rebuild KC grants, thus shutting out smaller community-based organizations such as Sewing Labs or the Independence Avenue CID that directly impact quality of life in their community.
Let this community journalism based NewsHound repeat for the record, Rebuild KC grants were intended to provide funding to community-based organizations, much like a PIAC request was back in the day, not act as a substitute for poor department budgeting which begs the question, why are there any City departments on that list?
Here’s a note to Melissa K and her newly created politburo of a communications department. Playing fast and loose with the First Amendment and treating local journalists as unwelcome serfs that you begrudgingly have to deal with will not end well. News organizations are already calling the City out on social media, noting the stark lack of transparency.
We’re called the Fourth Estate for a reason and we, the news media, exist to speak truth to power for the taxpayers of this city and expose corrupt policy for what it is. City government owes the taxpayers of this city honest answers when public funds are spent based on backroom decisions away from the shining light of the media. It’s “government of the people, for the people and by the people”, not the other way around. Let the News Dog put it another way, specifically for Platt and K, you work for us, we don’t work for you.