Kansas City Council Approves Review Of American Jazz Museum Management And Assets

Oct 26, 2017

Update: The Kansas City Council approved this proposal on Thursday, October 26.

The Kansas City Council’s finance and governance committee on Wednesday approved a proposal for the city manager to take a closer look at the assets and management of the American Jazz Museum. The ordinance also requests a $250,000 boost for the museum, which faces an estimated $1 million shortfall. 

City Councilman Jermaine Reed introduced the measure, with different language, last week. It proposed that the city's parks and recreation department take over management of the museum and other city-owned assets, such as the Blue Room and the Gem Theater, as of May 1, 2018.

But on Wednesday, the committee substitute suggested the city manager "perform an organizational assessment" and then make a recommendation to the City Council. 

"What we wanted to do was not necessarily jump to the end, but rather do that due diligence, so that if the recommendation is the parks system, then they know some of the issues going into making that decision," explained Councilman Scott Wagner, who chairs the committee and co-sponsored the ordinance.

"Part of what we would expect out of any sort of assessment," Wagner added, "is not even so much who will be the operator, but rather, what do you have to do in order to operate? Period." 

That was clearly a concern for citizens who spoke up during public testimony. Others voiced support and skepticism for the city's efforts to revitalize the 18th and Vine district and its amenities. 

The American Jazz Museum opened 20 years ago.
Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Carol Coe, a former city councilwoman, endorsed the idea of placing management under parks and recreation, where it could be overseen by director Mark McHenry.

"We have to increase his budget to hire some people to oversee this," Coe argued. "We cannot afford, you all cannot afford, to not have the jazz museum succeed. We have paid millions of dollars for that in city money. And we have an obligation to them to make sure they survive." 

But others, including jazz pianist Charles Williams, wanted more accountability when it comes to additional city funding. 

"We want to know what’s going on with all of the monies and what’s going to be done. So we can enjoy and not have such a big heaviness," said Williams. "I’m tired of it. That’s all I’m here to say."

Also testifying was Karen Anderson, who worked at the museum for nearly 20 years until she was one of three long-time employees laid off recently due to the museum's financial struggles. 

"Serving four directors, and two interim directors, I must now express my disappointment at the recent turn of events," said Anderson, who spoke out about the jazz museum's board and its response to outstanding debt, due to overspending and the festival losses. 

"They are too afraid to demand the director's resignation once it came to light that the organization was in a million dollar deficit situation," Anderson said. "While I continue to remain passionate about the museum's jazz legacy and Kansas City's phenomenal musicians who are fighting to keep jazz alive, I am outraged that my city tax dollars continue to be poured into this institution while individuals that have discredited the museum's reputation ... are allowed to remain at the helm of the organization."

The ordinance now goes before the full City Council on Thursday. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.