Kansas City Council Defies Hotel Vote Petitions

Nov 13, 2015

Credit Hyatt Hotels

Only one Kansas City council member voted Thursday to honor the petitions and submit the city's plans for tax incentives and other financial considerations to the voters. 

The Northland's Heather Hall said she simply did not believe the downtown convention hotel would produce the economic benefits developers speak of and that she has concerns about the effect on local businesses, particularly in the catering industry.

The other twelve council members expressed sympathy for the 1700 people who signed petitions demanding the election, but said in the final analysis they support the hotel financing arrangements and agree with the city attorney.

City Attorney Bill Geary has held that submitting the matter to the voters would be asking for a vote to violate the state constitution and statutes. Geary said the council clearly has the power to approve Tax Increment Financing, and that a vote to overrule the council's decision would amount to a vote to take away a power granted to the city under the Missouri constitution and other state laws.  He says that reversing course on the financing arrangements would force the city to breach already-signed contracts, which he holds is also against state law.

Council member Teresa Loar voted with the majority, but admonished her colleagues that the city has made a very big financial commitment to the $311 million project and must monitor its progress very closely.  More than half the cost of the project, she noted, depends on public financing.

Other council members spoke of the economic benefits of the hotel. Katheryn Shields told of recent commitments by the developers to sign a written guarantee that no portion of its cost would ever come from the city's general fund. 

Dan Coffey, spokesman for Citizens for Responsible Government, which mounted the petition drive, says his group will now meet and decide whether to challenge the council's refusal to honor the petitions in court.

For several weeks, Coffey has opined that the city's legal position was ludicrous and that the party violating the state constitution would be the city – by refusing to honor a legitimate petition drive that garnered more than the required number of signatures.

Coffey also said petition drives for recall elections were a possibility.

Steve Bell is afternoon news anchor and business news reporter for KCUR 89.3.  He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or by e-mail at steveb@kcur.org