publisher's note
September 25, 2009


 

 

Dress code violations and other TIF business
by Bruce Rodgers

Press conferences held by city officials are usually sedate affairs, particularly when a mayor announces new appointments to some board. There’s the drone of accolades for this nominee and that nominee, followed by automatic promises from said nominee about the opportunity for “improving” the community, closely tied with the commonplace refrain about “giving back” — again coupled to the term “community” — which could mean just about anything or anybody within the orbit of political appointments and payback.

But at a downtown press conference on Sept. 23, Mayor Mark Funkhouser likely knew the confirmation of one of his nominees to the Kansas City Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Commission had a little more drawing power beyond canned verbiage. As he gripped the podium and brought his tall frame down on the microphone, he was a little more jazzed in announcing his new additions to the TIF Commission.

With the six commissioners standing behind him, Funkhouser said, “My appointments now make up the entire TIF Commission. That’s significant.” With the recent confirmation of Jeff Rumaner, better known as the sculpture artist Stretch, and clinical social worker Mary Lindsay, to the TIF Commission, Funkhouser declared, “I proud of the diversity of this TIF Commission in background and philosophy.” And as he acknowledged Stretch, Funkhouser added, “What’s good government without a little bit of controversy.”

When time came for Stretch to say a few words, he kept it at that. Using the familiar “give back to the community,” he added that he wanted to also “bring Kansas City to a national level,” without elaborating on whether he meant artistically or by increasing the number of TIF projects.

A few days before Lindsay and Stretch’s confirmation by the city council, Stretch likely became the first TIF commissioner ever to have a stand-alone photo on the front page of The Kansas City Star (Sept. 16) — tattoos, black T-shirt, soul patch, electrified hair, jeans, designer glasses and all. And he looked more jazzed than the mayor at the press conference a week later.

The long Star article played into controversy and had more to do about the fear Stretch seem to arouse in the political establishment than his accomplishments — be it in business or art. City Councilwoman Jan Marcason basically said Stretch was out of his realm on the TIF Commission; Councilman Ed Ford called Marcason’s assessment “alarming.” Development insiders voiced alarm about Funkhouser’s appointment of people “hostile” to the development process and there was a tired comparison of the way former Mayor Kay Barnes did things to Funkhouser’s approach — without mention as to whether Barnes’ TIF management was good financially for the city.

Buried somewhere in the middle of the article was a couple of paragraphs about Lindsay, including her involvement in a UMKC study (go to www.kcactive.com/news/newsfeat/newsfeat2007_01_19.htm) about how the tax incentive process mostly benefits the wealthy and well connected to the detriment of the city’s poor neighborhoods.

When Lindsay stepped to the microphone after Funkhouser’s introduction, she spoke of wanting to bring the tax increment financing process back to its “original purpose” in helping economic disadvantaged areas. Lindsay called on “a greater transparency for the TIF Commission” and added, “Even though TIF can continue for 23 years doesn’t mean it should continue for 23 years.”

While Lindsay’s statement may have raised the heartbeat of any TIF-inclined developer in the room, reporters there still appeared fascinated with Stretch’s wearing of his usual attired of T-shirt and jeans amid the authoritarian confines of the Economic Development Corporation offices, where the press conference was held.

KMBC reporter Mike Mahoney wasted no time. “Don’t you think this is a coat and tie event?” asked Mahoney.

Calmly, Stretch replied, “Not for me.”

Perturbed, Mahoney pressed on, finally asking Stretch if his choice of dress could affect a developer from “out of town looking for an impression of the city” where he might do business.

Stretch answered that he didn’t believe such a scenario was an issue of concern.

(An email sent to Mahoney asking him why he felt it necessary to ask about Stretch’s need for a coat and tie for the TIF press conference went unanswered.)

When I asked Funkhouser how much Lindsay’s involvement in pushing forward progressive social policies played a role in his decision to nominate her, he replied, “It was very important part of the decision.” Where I used the word “progressive,” Funkhouser called Lindsay’s involvement “liberal, left and an important ingredient” to what he wants in the makeup of the TIF Commission. He contrasted Lindsay’s political leanings to that of Lance McDonald, an earlier TIF commission nominee. Lindsay brings a “social justice perspective to the TIF Commission,” said Funkhouser, while McDonald comes from a more conservative point of view. McDonald termed his approach as one where he “looks out for the taxpayer.”

Funkhouser defended all his appointments with a certain relish as if he anticipates the TIF Commission will move away from long-established patterns. “I recommend the TIF Commission take a pro-active approach,” he said.

Significantly, Funkhouser recommended the person with the most expertise as chairperson of the commission. A subsequent meeting of the TIF Commission went along with Funkhouser’s wishes. Claudia Onate-Greim was elected chairwoman. The Harvard Law School graduate is considered an expert in regulatory compliance and urban development and financing issues. She served on the Missouri Housing Development Commission having been appointed to that agency by then Gov. Matt Blunt.

As for Stretch and Lindsay … Stretch will likely be more pro-business in his outlook than assumed — sans coat and tie or not. He knows about and welcomes tax breaks, having received tax abatements from the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority to help rehab properties near 18th & Locust.

Lindsay, whose Facebook page lists as a friend nearly every progressive activist in the city, is more an unknown. How far she pushes a social justice viewpoint and how successful she is in getting the TIF Commission to look at development in poor areas of Kansas City remains to be seen.

Ironically, it was the male posture as one of a rebel through Stretch that drew the most attention and concern while the female that is Lindsay garnered a sort of “also ran” consideration despite a more extensive resume of social and political involvement.

What does this say about current power structure in this town?

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.