The Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri, is like a chamber of commerce with the power of the purse. The agency receives funding from the city to administer tax-increment financing (TIF) and other incentive programs that make developers squeal with delight.
Competent, conscientious people work at the EDC. But every once in a while, the staff can be conniving. The most recent scheme involves an apparent attempt to use residency requirements to oust a troublemaker.
The EDC provides staff support to the TIF Commission and other city agencies. The TIF Commission itself is a complicated beast. It's composed of 11 individuals, six appointed by the mayor and five representatives from the taxing jurisdictions affected by decisions to award tax-increment financing. (Among other things, TIF captures property taxes.)
There is tension between the staff at the EDC and officials from Jackson County, the Kansas City Public Library and the Kansas City, Missouri, School District. Essentially, the representatives from the county, library and schools think the EDC staff is too eager to assist developers who ask for tax breaks and other incentives.
The bias charge is rooted in the fact that a portion of the EDC's funding comes from the TIF plans that they are supposed to evaluate with clear eyes. The EDC's lack of objectivity was evident in 2009, when the TIF Commission determined that a TIF district in midtown had outlived its original purpose. The EDC staff tried to override the decision by questioning the legality of the move. Joe Gonzales, an EDC employee and the TIF Commission's chief administrator, was later reprimanded for not carrying out the wishes of the TIF Commission.
Gonzales is again waving law books in the air. He has told the members of the TIF Commission that they may lose their voting rights if they can't prove they live in the city.
Residency is an issue for Kelvin Perry, who represents the Kansas City, Missouri, School District on the TIF Commission. Perry lives in Shawnee, according to a recent report in the Kansas City Business Journal. Crosby Kemper III, the CEO of the Kansas City Public Library, told the Business Journal that he thinks the residency notice was as an attempt to silence Perry.
It's perfectly reasonable, of course, to expect that people who serve on the city's boards and commissions live in Kansas City, Missouri. Mayor Sly James would not think of replacing Mark Funkhouser's appointments to the TIF Commission with swells who live in Leawood.
The Missouri Constitution prohibits nonresidents from serving in civil office. But it's hard to see how someone in Perry's position holds "office." He wasn't appointed by the mayor to represent the citizens of Kansas City. He's an instrument of the school district. The votes he casts at TIF Commission meetings are an expression of the district's will, not his own. The location of his home seems about as relevant as his taste in footwear.
Gonzales, clearly, is being a pain in the ass for the sake of being a pain in the ass. After all, the EDC itself has a board of directors. Is Gonzales outraged that several of them live in Kansas? Of course not. They're not the ones complaining that the EDC staff puts its interests ahead of the city's from time to time.